THE HEAVENLY MARATHON
I Corinthians 9:24-27
In this passage of scripture, Paul compares the Christian life to a foot race. Paul had witnessed some of the track field events of ancient Greece. The Olympian games started in Greece over 500 years before Christ. There were many different racing events, and we are not sure which one Paul had in mind. However, there is one racing event which is more representative of the Christian race than any other in the Olympian Games. I refer to the marathon, the longest and most difficult of all races.
The word marathon is the name of an ancient village or a famous battlefield near the village some 25 miles from Athens, where a great battle was fought by the Greeks and Persians in 490 B.C. The Greeks defeated the Persians and drove them to the sea, and they sailled away in their ships. But the city of Athens did not know of the victory, and the Greek general Miltiades was afraid the Persians would attack Athens from the sea and might surrender without knowing of the victory at Marathon. So he chose his fastest runner and sent him to carry the news of the victory to Athens 25 miles away. The name of the runner was Pheidippides, and he made the long distance run but fell dead of exhaustion on arrival. In honor of this man, the word Marathon is often used to refer to a long distance race of slightly more than 26 miles. We might speak of the Christian race as a kind of heavenly marathon. This is a metaphor, and Paul saw some similarities between the Christian life and the foot races He saw in Greece.
Perhaps the first comparison Paul saw had to do with the rules which governed the race. The apostle said if you want to win the heavenly race for eternal life, be careful to observe rules. In 2 Time. 2:5 he said, “If anyone contends in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully.” In the ancient Olympian games, no one could win the race unless he had complied with the rules of the game. This was necessary to give all who contended with him a fair opportunity to win. Those who transgressed the rules in the least matter, not only failed to win, but were sometimes punished and disgraced.
The Olympic rules are just as strict today, and many have been refused the gold medal for using drugs or cheating in other ways. One runner in the marathon several years ago rode in a car for a time, then got out and finished first. He was disqualified, for someone saw him get in the car. Another marathon runner was so exhausted that he was unable to cross
the finish line when he was just a few yards away from it. Someone went to his aid, and helped him cross the finish line, but he was denied the gold mdal. The Olympic Games must be played according to set of rules which are laid down in a book, and the Christian race must be run in exactly the same way. The New Testament is the Christian's rule book. Let's make a few applications of this metaphor.
First, I would say that all who hope to win the prize of eternal life must enter the race. The race for heaven is the Christian life. Many people have not even applied to become a runner and have not entered the contest.
The Christian race is a religious life, and one signs up as a contestant when one becomes a Christian. The only ones in this race are members of the Lord's Church, those who have made a profession of Christ and have made their commitment to serve God in the Christian religion. All who have not obeyed the gospel and made an entrance into the Christian religion are not even on the race course. There is no way they can win heaven. It is a race, and you must qualify to run the course.
Second, in the Christian marathon the runner for heaven must begin at the correct starting place. In a race none can start running until the firing shot goes off. Everyone starts at the same time in this Christian marathon. The starting time is the new birth. We all begin when we have obeyed the gospel and are born of the water and the Spirit. Many want to start at the time of faith only and laugh at the idea of baptism. Others want to start at the time of repentance and run in the church of their own choice. Still others think they started the Christian race when they were babies, without faith or repentance. These people need to read the rule book and comply with it. Most religious people who profess to follow Christ. have no idea where the starting line is Strictly speaking the starting line is baptism when preceded by sincere faith and a turning away from a past sinful life.
Thirdly, those who will win heaven must run for it. It is not enough to know the rules, and it is not enough to make the right start. Paul said,
“Don't you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” That's Paul's way of saying, “Run to win.” He went on to say, “ This is the way I run, not with uncertainty.” In Philippians 3:13, 14 Paul said, “One thing i do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul was running to win. In 2 Tim. 4:7 Paul said, “I have fought a good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith.”
We must stay on the course and finish the coursxe. It is a well known fact that runners put on their greatest burst of speed in the last 50 or 60 yards of the race. They press to the full extent of their endurance. We must not lose steam and become short of breath. We must not let our legs get tired and weak in this reace. The closer we come to the end of life the faster we should be running the Christian race.
Finally, it is possible to lose the race. and not win the prize. He reminds us that in the Grecian games all run but only one receives the prize. Run, said Paul, in such a way that you may obtain it. In verse 25 Paul said, “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things..” That means he exercises self-control in all things. He keeps fit that he might not become exhausted and fall out of the race. In this same connection he says in v. 27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” He didn't have it made just because he was an apostle and knew the rule book. He was required to live a Christian life just like the rest of us.
Preachers and Bible scholars don't have it made; they have bodies that must be controlled and kept in subjection to God's word. To run this race, these bodies must be disciplined. Self- control, courage, patience, and knowledge are all necessary to discipline the body. All of these sentiments by this great apostle suggest to our minds that we can lose the race for eternal life. . The Christian race differs from the Olympian games in one respect. In the Christian race, there are many victors, many prize-winners and all Christians can win the prize of eternal life. But the point of the exhortation os that all should run as the one victor ran in the Grecian games. Run as that one does who wins the race. We all are to run like winners run. .