Francis Bourdillon, 1864
1 CORINTHIANS 9:24-27.
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize!"
The apostle's faith did not fail. He did not think that he would be a castaway. In another place he says, "I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He will keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." But he knew that if he would win the prize — he must run the race, and run it aright, keeping his body under control and bringing it into subjection.
We all have this race to run — this prize to win. The race means our Christian course — our life here on earth. The prize is Heaven. It is a race that requires all our exertions and all our self-denial — but the prize is so great that it will repay them all a thousand-fold. No one who gets to Heaven will say that it was not worth so many pains as he took. No one who knows anything now of the happiness of being with God — will say that to be with Him forever is not worth more than heart can think. And this is the very thing that God promises — this is the prize — to be with Him forever. We do not know a great deal about Heaven yet — but we do know that there we shall always be with God, loving Him, serving Him, and rejoicing in Him.
Paul led an active life, and it does not seem strange that such a life as his should be compared to running a race. But people whose life is very quiet and retired, nay, those whose health is weak so that they can do but little, and even sick people — have the race to run as well. God appoints the race for us; and, outwardly, it is not the same for all. The chief part of the race is not outward, but inward. It is a thing of the heart, quite as much as of the conduct, or even more so. One lying on a sick-bed may be running this race — and running it faithfully and well.
Paul writes as if he had many enemies. In fact, in one part of what he says, he changes the figure from a race to a battle: "Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air." They were real enemies. But they were not all outward, such as the persecuting Jews and the unbelieving heathen. Some of them, and those the worst, were inward — evil thoughts and wrong desires.
Now a sick person may have these. Indeed, wherever we may be, we are never out of danger from enemies of this kind. Impatience, discontent, fretfulness, a rebellious feeling against God's dealings — these are some of the temptations of a sick-bed. They are so many enemies to be fought against in running the race.
The apostle did not give way when he was tempted. "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." We must never yield. We must watch and strive and pray against every wrong thought and feeling. Many a battle is fought on a sick-bed; many a battle is fought — and many a victory won. A sick person, lying day after day, weak and weary and in pain, is as much in the race and the battle as any can be. It is often a hard struggle, and a weary race. But think of the crown and the prize!
"Run in such a way as to get the prize," he says. We may get the prize. Yes. Because Jesus Christ has won for us. He endured the cross, despising the shame. He bore our guilt. He died to save us. He redeemed us by His blood. And more than this. When He had finished His work and went back to His Father, He did not stop caring for us. He still knows all our difficulties — and still cares for us and helps us by His Spirit. In all our temptations and struggles, in all our fight, in all our race — He is with us, if we seek Him.
There is not a poor suffering Christian on earth, whom He is not able and willing to help and comfort. There is not a sick-room, in which His presence may not be found. We could never win, if we were left to ourselves. But we are not left to ourselves, and we are not to run as if we were. We are to "run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!" No one who looks to Him, will look in vain.
Yes, we may obtain, through Him. In a common race, only one can win: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run — but only one gets the prize?" But here there is a prize for all who run the heavenly race aright.
"Run in such a way as to get the prize," he says. Run the race as earnestly as if there were but one prize — yet run with the happy thought that there is certainly a prize for you, if you run aright. If only we run the race with patience, looking unto Jesus — then no one will be able to rob us of the prize by running better. On the contrary, in this race all the true runners are helpers to each other, not hinderers. They love to see one another getting on in the race.
They cheer one another along the course;
they build their hopes on the same foundation;
they love the same Savior;
they are led by the same Holy Spirit;
they look up to one reconciled Father;
and they hope to dwell together in one home.
There is no hatred or strife among them. They are bound to one another — as travelers along the same road, and soldiers in the same army.
It is comforting to think of this. It makes us feel not alone in the race. But the greatest comfort of all, is that God is with us. He who has set us in the race and will give the prize — He is with us all through. If we do but cleave to Him by faith, then He will never forsake us. His grace is sufficient for us. There cannot come to us any trial or difficulty too great for His power, His Wisdom, His love. He can help, and He will help!