Daily Reform, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
From the Reformer
Now he borrows a similitude from the race-course. For as in that case many descend into the arena, but he alone is crowned who has first reached the goal, so there is no reason why any one should feel satisfied with himself on the ground of his having once entered upon the race prescribed in the gospel, unless he persevere in it until death. There is, however, this difference between our contest and theirs, that among them only one is victorious, and obtains the palm—the man who has got before all the others; but our condition is superior in this respect, that there may be many at the same time. For God requires from us nothing more than that we press on vigorously until we reach the goal. Thus one does not hinder another: nay more, those who run in the Christian race are mutually helpful to each other. He expresses the same sentiment in another form in 2 Timothy 2:5: If any one striveth, he is not crowned, unless he strives lawfully.
So run. Here we have the application of the similitude—that it is not enough to have set out, if we do not continue to run during our whole life. For our life is like a race-course. We must not therefore become wearied after a short time, like one that stops short in the middle of the race-course, but instead of this, death alone must put a period to our running. The particle so may be taken in two ways. Chrysostom connects it with what goes before, in this manner: as those who run do not stop running until they have reached the goal, so do ye also persevere, and do not stop running so long as you live. It will, however, correspond not inaptly with what follows. “You must not run so as to stop short in the middle of the race-course, but so as to obtain the prize.”
—John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians
Pulling It Together
He had always been the fastest boy in his class. A few times, he shared the prize with another but no one was ever faster. As years went by and he promoted to larger schools, he kept running but others of more physical strength and dedication to training became faster by far than he. But he kept running. One day he made the mistake of teasing a brainy boy who had been training with the Junior High track team. He had beaten this boy in many a playground foot race and knew the boy had no business on the track. The next day, they competed in a one mile run. The brainy boy taught him a thing or two about the past that day. (Ph 3:12-16)
Having been the fastest does not make you the fastest. From the outset of the race, it was obvious to the once-fast child that the brighter boy was now in better condition. He was going to beat him in the mile run. What became important then, was that he finish the race. He must not quit, but press on, shake the boy’s hand at the finish line, and take whatever ribbing from coach and teammates he might deserve. At all costs though—burning lungs or bruised ego—he must keep running.
A generation later and he is still running but now in a much longer race. The finish line lies somewhere ahead; he will only know where when he crosses it. He is not trying to beat others in the race; indeed he is trying to encourage them in their own running. Being the best in his class stopped being important a long time ago. All he wants to do now is finish the race.