The Long Run

DSC_0107 resizeAs I sit here watching my son practice for competitive cross country, I can’t help but think about 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. This passage parallels the physical and spiritual race, with the Apostle Paul comparing the obtaining of a heavenly prize, to a physical one. I’ve never really given the competition aspect much thought. I’ve always just moved straight to the concept of the race itself. Is it a competition? Well no, at least not in the same way we might consider sports competitions today. Those types of competitions are combative in nature. Certainly we expect good sportsmanship, but still, you are literally attempting to out-do, in this case out-run, all of the other competitors. The Church is not so.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 encourages us to have no divisions, to be united and of the same mind. Romans 16:17-18 tells us to watch out for those who thrive on divisions, and to avoid them. There are many other verses, including the words of Jesus Christ himself, when he notes that a kingdom divided against itself will fall in Luke 11:17. No, there should be no division in The Church, but sadly there is. The how, why and in-what-way may be good subject matter for a future Spiritual Precept, but not at this time. Divisiveness is not the purpose of this one. This Spiritual Precept is about running the race, and how we can win, not be beating our other competitors, but by beating ourselves!

I can’t help but wonder if the Apostle Paul was witness to the ancient games that were staged in Greece during his lifetime, and if he saw the validity of comparing a long distance run to the spiritual life. He is after all writing to the people that lived in Corinth, Greece. Why is this significant?

large-map-paul-second-missionary-journeyIt is supposed that Paul began his second missionary journey in the spring of 49 AD. This trip took him north from Jerusalem to Antioch, then west and northwest to  Troas, which is on the east side of the Aegean Sea,  then across to Philippi. From Philippi he visited other cities, including Thessalonica, traveling back south on the western side of the Aegean to Athens. From there he traveled west to Corinth with all of these 450 or so miles from Philippi to Corinth being in Greece. Annotation 2019-09-28 155339As he made this trek across land and sometimes sea, no doubt he would’ve heard talk of the competitive games, and of all the cities he traveled to in Greece, Corinth was the closest to where those games were held in Olympia, about 109 miles or so to the west.

 

As human nature goes, I’m sure the people of Greece had their favorites in each of the competitive sports, and naturally this very well could’ve been part of their everyday conversation during Paul’s travels. Again, Paul wrote this concept of running the spiritual race to the church at Corinth; and in this same letter, just a few verses above actually in verse 23; he talks about how he became all things to all people. Because of this, I believe it is very reasonable to suggest that he purposefully chose the subject of competitive running to make a point to those at Corinth, who would’ve been familiar, even if a little, with the subject.

So let’s talk about long distance running. The great thing about it, is that you are running not just against others to receive the prize, you are running as much, if not more so, against yourself. Long distance running is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one, and Paul being somewhat familiar with the concept (I can’t imagine him even discussing it if he wasn’t), speaks of both, the physical and the mental. His suggestion of having self-control is the foundation of both.

DSC_0489In a long distance run, self-control physically is very important. The best of the best run with certainty. Eyes are always looking ahead. Head and shoulders are tilted forward, with the legs moving in long confident strides. They don’t wave their arms all over the place, but keep them in close.

In our spiritual race, self-control is also very important. Paul speaks of bringing the body into bondage, keeping it under control. Proverbs 25:28 compares a man without self-control to a city broken and without its walls for protection. The best of the best run the spiritual race with certainty. Eyes are always looking ahead, moving in confident strides, the body in control. That would mean not doing things like the works of the flesh as stated in Galatians 5:19-21, such as sexual immorality, strife, jealousy and fits of anger; but instead the fruits of the spirit; love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness.

How is your run going today? How much are you in control of your body and mind? If you feel that you are not in as much control as you should be, or would like to be… Practice. Practice. Practice! Practice such things as the fruits of the spirit until it comes naturally. In this spiritual run, we are truly running against ourselves and should be working diligently as if we were running against someone else and doing our very best to cross the finish line first! As the Apostle Peter wrote, be sober minded. Be watchful. Satan is roaming around seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8)!

May God bless you in all you do!

Max Gaskins – Oxford, AL


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