Could we say that all of God’s heroes have been runners? And I don’t mean they were just casually running. They were running to WIN!
Running is a metaphor used all through Scripture. Just as physical running needs exertion, effort, push, and a mindset to keep going, so spiritual running—for the prize of life eternal—needs all these qualities. Breath deeply, and summon your muscles to do their best.
For Paul, it was a natural topic to bring up to the Corinthian church, because everyone knew about the Isthmian games that were held each year at Corinth. The Isthmian games were second only to the Olympics. Everyone knew the self-discipline and torturous training the athletes underwent—and all to win a crown of laurel leaves that within a few days would be a withered chaplet! How much more, said Paul, should the Christian summon his best strength and subject himself to the disciplines of God’s law to win a crown that will be eternal!
Let’s read the passage in 1 Corinthians 9:
1 Cor. 9:24–27 24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
But there is one huge difference between the contests in Corinth and the Christian race. Those contests had only one winner. In the Christian race, says Paul, every one who runs can WIN! Yes, you can all be winners. It’s up to you, and how you train, and how much effort you put into running. Verse 25:
25And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.
The meaning of “temperate” is “exhibiting self-government, conducting one’s self temperately” (Thayer’s lexicon).
Why do athletes do it? Paul says,
Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
What a contrast! Their “crown” perishes in a few days; ours will NEVER perish! That, says Paul, is why I’m running! Verse 26:
26Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
27But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
“Disqualified” means not passing the test, “disapproved after testing.” As Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, we must all pass testing.
2 Cor. 5:10 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
We want to be ready to stand approved when tested. That is why Paul says,
“Run in such a way that you may obtain [the prize].“
Paul gave special running instructions to his son-in-the-faith Timothy. Something to run FROM and something to run TOWARD.
1 Tim. 6:10–11 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11But you, O man of God, flee these things [run FROM] and pursue [run TOWARD] righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
Run FROM greed and the love of money, and run TOWARD all these virtues:
11…Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
Paul said a similar command using the word “flee.”And here also, there is something to run FROM and something to run TOWARD.
2 Tim. 2:22 22Flee also youthful lusts [run FROM]; but pursue [run TOWARD] righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
What else in Scripture needs our spiritual running shoes? Here is a command to “flee” out of spiritual Babylon, and that means… RUN!
Jer. 51:6 (KJV 1900) 6Flee out of the midst of Babylon, And deliver every man his soul: Be not cut off in her iniquity; For this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance; He will render unto her a recompense.
Babylon has nothing to attract us if we have set our heart on eternal life in Christ’s Kingdom. It’s time to RUN, because Babylon has nothing we want. When Christ arrives with His judgments and Babylon comes crashing down, we don’t want to be there! That is why Revelation says,
Rev. 18:4–5 (KJV 1900) 4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, That ye be not partakers of her sins, And that ye receive not of her plagues. 5For her sins have reached unto heaven, And God hath remembered her iniquities.
It was a running command that the angel gave Lot and his wife and two daughters when they were leaving Sodom. No tarrying, no looking back, but straight ahead… and RUN!
Gen. 19:17 17So it came to pass, when they [the angels] had brought them outside, that he [the angel] said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”
It was time to RUN. And don’t we feel the same urgency today, living in the midst of a culture so diametrically opposed to God? There is no place to run physically, but we don’t have to dwell here mentally or emotionally. Our heart is in the coming world, not this world.
There is more about running in Scripture. The Psalmist besides being a musician was also a runner.
Ps. 119:32 (KJV 1900) 32I will run the way of thy commandments, When thou shalt enlarge my heart.
The Revised English Bible is perhaps clearer:
Ps. 119:32 (REB) 32I shall run the course made known in your commandments, for you set free my heart.
“You set my heart free”—free from the goals and strife and worries of this world, free from earthbound interests to seek God and the heavenlies.
What else do we have about running?
Ps. 55:8 8I would hasten my escape From the windy storm and tempest.”
Was the Psalmist thinking about the coming storm of God’s judgments that will descend on a world that doesn’t know God? He wanted to escape in advance, to have God’s protection. And that means running!
Why the running? Because the great day of the Lord is “coming on apace,” as one translation phrases it.
Zeph. 1:14 (KJV 1900) 14The great day of the Lord is near, It is near, and hasteth greatly, Even the voice of the day of the Lord: The mighty man shall cry there bitterly.
Habakkuk said the same, and used the metaphor of RUNNING directly relating it to the surety of Christ’s coming.
Hab. 2:1–3 1I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected. 2Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision [the revealing of the prophecy] And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.
Other translations suggest the thought of “speed-reading” it, or “write it plainly,” or “write it so the messenger can read it on the run.” Why? Because the reality is imminent!
3For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries [though it seems to tarry], wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry [it will not be late!].
What better reason to keep those running shoes on, and RUN!
Remember, this run is not for a fading wreath but for an imperishable crown of life!