"Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what I should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified."
Paul said this in his first letter to the church at Corinth in the early days of the Christian church, most likely around AD 49-50. Corinth was an interesting place: it was once a thoroughly Greek city that had since been turned into a Roman province, popular as a retirement destination for Roman soldiers. In essence, it was the Roman version of Florida! During it's time as a Greek city, it housed the famed temple of Aphrodite, to which were attached 1,000 prostitutes. To call someone a "Corinthian" wasn't necessarily a compliment, much like "bless your heart" isn't always a nice Southern phrase. To be called "Corinthian" was synonymous to being called "loose" or "living a riotous lifestyle".
By the time Paul visited Corinth, Aphrodite's temple, and much of the city, had been destroyed by an earthquake some 150 years earlier. We're uncertain as to whether or not the fertility cult surrounding Aphrodite continued during Paul's day, but (and personal thought here...) I feel sure that it still wasn't a nice thing to be called a "Corinthian. Sometimes it takes a long time for a phrase to wither away into obscurity. I honestly don't know if us Southerners will ever cease with "bless your heart"!
When Paul first came to Corinth, he came alone; Silas and Timothy were on assignment in Macedonia. As such, Paul experienced much discouragement. Put yourself in his place for a moment... You've been called to leave your comfortable home and income and family and move to a new, bustling city indefinitely. The culture is very similar and you can speak the language, but there is no one - or practically no one - there who believes as you do, acts as you do, lives as you do. They all have their own systems of belief to which they ascribe, and you become an easy target for pranks and mocking. And to top it all off, you're there alone! No one for comfort or encouragement or back-up! Just you, chugging along, working hard at what you'e been called to do. It would be easy to become discouraged. But Paul didn't let this discouragement hinder him and his mission: he persevered and remained in Corinth for 18 months, planting the Corinthian church.
So, you see, Paul knows a little something about persevering and running the race to the complete end. He understands that the longer you run, the harder it seems. He can sympathize with the desire to give up and quit. This is why I love these verses: he's writing from experience. He lived it and so he can say it to others. And this is a wonderful testimony. You know, we find, here at the Center, that the testimonies that impact our clients the most are the ones that correlate to their own stories. God, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge, orchestrates our clients' arrivals and appointments to coincide with the Client Advocate whose testimony the client needs to hear.
Do they always listen and take to heart what the Client Advocate has to say? No, and neither would we if we were in their shoes! But still, we persevere and continue sharing our stories with those who come here seeking assistance.
A couple of weekends ago we held our first (and hopefully annual) race. We partnered with the Run for God Bible study group to host the "Running to Save a Life" 5K Walk/Run and 10K Run. And it was a wonderful time had by all! We were hoping for around 100 participants, and we had around 116 registered runners/walkers! The Lord definitely blessed this event, and we are so grateful for all those who worked hard to make it such a success. We are also very thankful for the folks in our community who came out and participated. Without you guys, it would not have been the wonderful provision it turned out to be!
I am not a member of Run for God, but I did learn some wonderful things about this group during the race. They don't just exercise. That's only part of the purpose. You see, God is interested in the health of our entire bodies, not just our physical health or just our spiritual health or just our mental health. He tells us that our bodies are temples, and we should treat them as such. That means we are to focus on our complete health. This is what Run for God strives to do under the encouragement we receive from Paul - to run the race that is set before us until the day we are called Home.
Because our race is so much more than a 5K or 10K. Our race is about how we can best glorify God with what He's so graciously given us during our moment in time here on this earth. Our race is about who we can live Jesus to and with. Our race is about becoming more like Him.
So I would like to leave you with one more passage of Scripture that deals with running our race and running it well. A lot of people think Paul wrote this, as well, but we can't be sure until we can ask him for ourselves. Regardless of who wrote it, it is divinely inspired and good for us to hear:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won't become weary and give up. (Hebrews 12:1-3)