“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 someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
There are 297 members in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader (Pete Rose) and all-time home runs leader (Barry Bonds) are not one of them. Now why would the all-time leaders in the two most highly touted statistics that baseball keeps be excluded from the highest honor a player can receive? If it were only about the numbers (what they did), they should have earned the prize of the Hall of Fame. However, no matter how great they may have in their craft, they were not beyond disqualification. Their tragic story can quickly become our own if we don’t understand four things talked about in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
1. There’s confusion in what the prize is. Recognition is a crown that will not last. Money is a crown that will not last. Even playing “for” God is a fruitless endeavor. The only crown that will last forever is induction into the Kingdom of Heaven. Not knowing the prize is running aimlessly. In order to avoid running aimlessly, you need to know the meaning of strict training.
2. What strict training is NOT. “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:22-23). What you do does not qualify you for the prize, but it can disqualify you. You can do all the right things (i/e being the all-time hits or home runs leader) and come up short. Being a moral or “good” person earns you nothing and is not “strict training”.
3. What strict training IS. “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28). Jesus showed us what strict training was. He looked to the Father and did what He did and spoke what He said. We are to do the same. So what did Jesus do? He died as the payment for our sins and gave us His life and righteousness (the prize; the crown that lasts forever) and asked us to follow Him. Following Him is our strict training and he told us how to do it. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23-25).
4. Qualified and Disqualified. Jesus died for our sin and asked us to mirror Him. We must die every day to sin in our flesh so we can live in the Spirit. So He can live in us. Our failure to crucify our sin and “deliver a striking a blow to our bodies”, our flesh, our sin, disqualifies us for the prize that we did not earn in the first place, but was given to us. Do not disqualify yourself from the prize that Jesus died to qualify you for. Don’t merely try to act like Him, for it also is a fruitless endeavor. Die to yourself so He can live in you and the result will be you doing what He does and saying what He says. I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.