Run in such a way that you may win the prize

by Mike Ratliff

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (1 Corinthians 9:24 NASB)

Back in the late 1970’s, through the 1980’s and even into the late 1990’s I was a runner. I trained on long daily runs between 6 and 7 minutes per mile. During a race, I could lower that by quite a bit when the time was right, like the last few hundred yards to the finish line. You would never believe that that was true by looking at me now that I am in my mid-60’s. My left knee will not allow me to run anymore. I miss it. However, I do remember very well preparing for a race and that high anxiety, high-energy period leading up to the starting gun. Then there would be the mad sprint for the first few hundred yards before the experienced runners would settle in and run according to their strategy. My favorite races were those in which the finish line was around a turn instead of at the end of a long straight. In those, I could hear the people at the finish line, but I could not see them. Then as I made the last turn to sprint to the finish line the people would begin applauding, some cried encouraging things. Then there was the last 50 yards or so in which I would run as fast as I physically could. As I crossed that finish line, it was incredible to look up at the clock and be amazed that I was physically able to cover that many kilometers or miles in such a short time. I would look back and the line of runners still on the course would stretch down the road. There was one common thread for me in all those years of running. If I trained well, I raced well. If I could not put in the miles in training for whatever reason, I simply could not compete. This is a direct parallel for us in how we walk before the face of God in our daily walk in this life. There is no way we can have the spiritual acumen to run the race set before us by God if we do not prepare correctly to do so. Then as we run the race, we must do so correctly or we will run poorly and may even fall out in shame.

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, (Philippians 3:8 NASB)

Here we read from Paul what it takes to “press on toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” What is it? It begins with where our priorities are. If we value anything or anyone with a higher worth than that of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord then we are not pressing on toward the goal that Paul is talking about. No, we are pressing on toward our own goals. Paul counted everything as loss that competed in his heart for first place with knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. The word “count” in v8 is the Greek word ηγουμαι. This word means, “to bring or lead.” It primarily signifies to lead on or forward to be the chief or principal participant. It also means to think, esteem, or reckon. I believe that this is what Paul is telling us in v8. All those things that most people count dear, he counts as “loss.” The word “loss” here is the Greek word ζημιαν. This word gives us a picture of things that are damaged somehow and are no longer worth anything because of that. My brethren, this is a vital component in running the race unhindered that God has set before us.  When we are encumbered by affection for people or things in such a way that they take away from our devotion to our Lord then we are not doing as Paul describes in v8.

Paul makes it clear that knowing Christ Jesus as Lord is of “surpassing value.” This is actually one word in Greek, υπερεχον. This word is translated as “excellency” in the KJV in this passage. This word means, “better, excellency, higher, pass, supreme.” In other words, Paul’s evaluation of knowing Christ as Lord is of the highest value while all other things, even good things, are counted as rubbish in comparison. Notice that Paul says this is necessary in order to “gain Christ.” The KJV translates this as “win Christ.” It is vital that we come to understand this my brethren. Paul is telling us that to “win Christ” all things that compete with our affection and devotion for Him must be valued by us as garbage in comparison. This seems to be a parallel to our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 16:25-26).

25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:25-26 NASB)

This is an incredible statement my brethren. Our Lord is saying that those who find eternal life are those who lose their life for His sake. This is talking about becoming a slave (δουλος) of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who find their true life in Christ become his δουλος. Slaves cannot demand their rights. They serve their master as He demands. Therefore, becoming a genuine disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ is done by giving up all of ones rights in return for eternal life in Him. This does not mean that God will not bless us or give us good things. It means that even in this, we must value the fact that Christ is our Lord as higher than anything or anyone because He is our Lord and He gave up His life in order to purchase us, to redeem us, from eternity in Hell.

9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:9-11 NASB)

In v9 we see that those who are truly in Christ are not in Him based on personal righteousness that comes from the law, but only by possessing a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. This relationship in Christ is designed by God so that each disciple will share in Christ’s suffering, becoming like Him in His death. What does this mean? This refers to a partnership—a deep communion of suffering that each believer shares with Christ, who is able to comfort suffering Christians because He has already been down this path and suffered infinitely more. Therefore, when we stand firm and contend for God’s truth against false teachers and prophets and their apologists we will suffer the wrath or our enemy and those who belong to him. They will abuse us and through it all, our enemy is accusing us. In these fiery trials, we must look to the Saviour. He has already been through this. Notice in vv10-11 in this passage how Paul is actually looking forward to his death and the resurrection from the dead. When we view all that the world has to offer as a manure pile in comparison to our being in Christ then our focus becomes eternal rather than temporal and this is a good thing. The Emergents decry this. They insist that we focus on the here and now and make the world a better place and so look at salvation as something temporal that happens through this. Utter nonsense! No, we must emulate Paul and as our Lord’s δουλος, we obey Him and count the temporal as worthless because we are pressing forward to the prize, the upward call of God.

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16 NASB)

Carefully read v12 my brethren. Do you desire Christlikeness? The race toward Christlikeness begins with a sense of honesty and dissatisfaction as Paul shared here. We will never be perfect in these bodies, but that does not mean that we can be satisfied here and now. No, we must press on as if in a hard fought race to the finish line. Why? It is because of what Christ has done for us, not what we have done for Him. When we believe we are Christians because of what we have done then we cannot have this mindset. I know this, because I used to believe this way. However, when God drew me into the truth of His Sovereignty then I understood that I was a Christian because Christ had made me His own. I did not make Him Lord, the Lord made me His δουλος. Another vital thing that we must do in order to run this race correctly is by “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” We must refuse to rely on past virtuous deeds and achievements in ministry or to dwell on sins an failures. I have done both and in each I become paralyzed somehow. When I think of all these posts, et cetera, I make the mistake of focusing on these works rather than the Lord who enables me to do them. When I think of all of my past sins and failures, I wonder how God could ever love someone like me. We must forsake both of these things as we strain forward to what lies ahead. What lies ahead? It is the goal, the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The goal for this life is Christlikeness my brethren. However, there is also the upward call of God in which He will call each of us to heaven and into His presence. It is then that we will receive the prize that is unattainable in this life.

We are commanded here to make this manner of thinking our own. However, we do fail in this quite a bit don’t we? Sure we do, but in vv15-16 Paul tells us that even if we are dwelling on the past that God will uncover and reveal the truth to us even if it requires chastening to get us to let go of what is hindering us from straining forward to what lies ahead. In v16 we see that spiritual growth is accomplished as we consistently hold true to these principles.

17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:17-4:1 NASB)

We must follow those who are less imperfect than us who know how to deal with imperfection and who can model the process of pursuing the goal of Christlikeness. Paul was that model and we would do well to follow his example. Notice in vv18-19 how sad Paul is about those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. We should not rejoice in the coming destruction of those whose god is themselves and their focus the temporal. No, we must pray that God will have mercy on them. On the other hand, those who are truly in Christ are citizens of heaven. We await the return of our Lord who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. This will be by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. This is our blessed hope my brethren, not making this world a better place. Therefore, let us stand firm in our precious Lord and run this race He has set before us, straining toward the goal.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “Run in such a way that you may win the prize

  1. I just want to tell you that this is a powerful and freeing article. We do have to run and we have to rest in His provision and strength. The battles seem to intensify, but I can forgive even myself because I must forget what was behind. New days and knowing that time is flying by!
    You have helped and encouraged me! We can only write what the Lord has taken us through and has taught us in His classroom called life, Also I can just imagine you as a runner and even in that you learned how to stay focused and stay in the race!
    Blessings, Roxy


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