I don’t run. Ever. When it comes to fight or flight, my natural response is to stand my ground. And as far as exercise goes…well, let’s just say I don’t own a pair of jogging shorts.
In fact, if you ever do catch me running, something really horrible must be chasing me—like a homicidal snow beast wielding a basket full of spiders. In that case, I suggest that we all run until we reach the next town.
What are We Running From?
Some people are born to run, and I’m beginning to think the apostle Paul was one of them. Throughout his pastoral letters in the New Testament, he references running or fleeing several times, and yet none of those situations involve snow beasts. So, what exactly are we supposed to be running from?
Paul specifically mentions the following:
- Sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18)
- Idolatry (1 Cor 10:14)
- Love of money (1 Tim 6:10-11)
- Youthful desires that cause division in the church (2 Tim 2:22-23)
In other words, we should flee from sin.
And what should we run to?
- Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Tim 6:11)
- Peace, kindness, and patience (2 Tim 2:22-26)
Or, as Moses simply put it, we should run to God. (See Deut 4:29.)
How Do We Prepare?
A marathon runner doesn’t simply wake up one day, lace his shoes, and then run 26.2 miles. He has to commit himself to daily discipline for months just so he can compete well and avoid ending up in the hospital.
Paul referenced this need for discipline in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things…I discipline my body and make it my slave…” (1 Corinthians 9:25 and 27a NAS).
Paul is saying here that we should approach our spiritual journey with the same effort and diligence of an athlete training for a competition. However, we can’t develop this level of discipline overnight. Instead, it must be cultivated over time through such spiritual exercises as learning God’s Word, developing a spirit of obedience, and loving others as we love ourselves. Only by stretching these spiritual muscles can we hope to run the race well.
What Do We Win?
Nevertheless, discipline should never be developed for its own sake. The runner doesn’t train so he can train some more. He trains so he can run the official race and lay claim to the prize!
“Run in such a way that you may win. … [Those who compete] do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air…” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NAS).
Here, Paul says we should run our spiritual race so that we may win. But what is this imperishable prize he’s referring to? Fortunately, he provides some clarification:
- “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1 Cor 9:23)
- “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so…I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27)
- “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philip 3:13)
In these verses, Paul isn’t referring to salvation but sanctification—that process where we become more holy, and more like Jesus, as we grow closer to Him. Discipline is an important part of that sanctification process because it enables us to grow closer to the Lord—and that is the ultimate prize.
Run With Purpose
Perhaps you’re one of those people who love to jog, sprint, or do the Cliffy shuffle across the country. Or maybe you’re more like me, and just the thought of lacing up those tennis shoes makes you want to take a nap. Either way, we should all seek to discipline ourselves spiritually so that we can run the most important of races—away from sin and toward the One who has forgiven us.
May you run with purpose and lay hold of the Prize.
“Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31 NAS).