What about this RACE Paul spoke of? Are we to view this as the general principle it has come to represent in the Christian marketplace? Or did Paul bring it up with something more specific in mind?
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 1 Corinthians 9:24
Let's not miss its connection to what was written immediately before ... as it ties in beautifully with Paul's overall message as stated from the beginning of the letter:
So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 1 Corinthians 9:15-23
Paul made his intentions known with these people from his first introductions to them, and then in writing this letter he reaffirmed his determination to view them according to Christ alone. Follow the letter known as 2 Corinthians and you see that he continued on with his well-known statements about knowing no man after the flesh but only after Christ. Here, he breaks down how that applied to HIM in his dealings with so many different kinds of people with their different mindsets. To him, nothing was going to get in his way in fulfilling his boast:
What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
He details this so well that he makes it fully clear that he knows he does not adopt the fleshly perspectives of those to whom he would declare the good news of Christ. Instead, through it all he came to understand more of himself regarding his freedom so that he could give up many of his own personal benefits of freedom while laying down his life for others.
By the way, the phrase, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ is not some sneaky way of saying that he was still under the law, for he had already clearly stated, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law. I've read a rephrasing of this that keeps in line with the language, as well as with the context, that puts it, though not being outlawed to God but in-lawed to Christ. However you read it just keep in mind that Paul was being very meticulous in how he communicated the ever-present reality of Christ of being free from sin and law and alive to God through Christ. Those who get nit-picky here in an attempt to suggest we are still under law in some way are straining their camels way too finely!
I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then 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; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:23-27
I purposely include verse 23 instead of starting with verse 24 (as most seem to do) because it really emphasizes Paul's purpose for bringing it up at this point. The way we usually hear it makes it seem as if it happened to be the next subject to discuss. Well, it's not. It's totally connected with Paul's determination to know the Corinthians according to Christ and him crucified. There is a real direction behind this man's points and if we were to sit around and talk with him I'm sure we would not be able to get him to divide and subdivide his connected thoughts into the separate doctrines they've become. Instead we would recognize a stubbornness - maybe even irritatingly so - that would not allow us to play the games made so popular by modern religious Christianity.
To Paul, the race was his own continuance in his sharing in the good news of Christ to others. It was not his mission, as we think of missions, but instead was pure joy to be able to share in the faith of others. And his determination was to make the good news free to all he spoke to. It was such that he wouldn't take any money from those he ministered to, even though he openly admitted that it was something he would have been entitled to do, which apparently the other apostles allowed others to support them. It seems there were a few exceptions where Paul had been provided support, but I get the idea that certain groups pretty much decided they were going to send somebody with some financial aid whether he wanted it or not (I believe the Philippians did this). Anyhow, Paul's determination to make Christ known to any and all was his race. Of course, if we just take a quick look at what he mentioned about the race it becomes all so simple.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
If this declares anything other than the general sense of determination one must have to run a race then we would have to conclude that Paul wanted the Corinthians competing against one another to win. After all, only one of them would end up as the winner. Maybe that's why there's so much competition - humble competition, that is - in the Christian marketplace where so many compare themselves to one another regarding the race.
So, right at the very offset we have to keep it fully in mind that this is an individual thing. Now, make no mistake, for Paul did tell the Corinthians that he wanted them to imitate him as children imitate a father. He very much wanted them to follow his desire in having the same determination to know each other according to Christ and not according to the flesh. As a shared but individual desire he wanted each to consider the determination of those who ran their well-known races. It is the focus of the runners to which Paul likened his own determination. In such a race nothing else matters but keeping one's attention on the goal.
That's what it means to run in such a way that you may win. To look around you in order to judge how you're doing in comparison to another is a surefire way to become disqualified for you can only trip and fall. And guess what? This is exactly what their temptation was all about, for there were false teachers (those pretending to speak of Christ and his freedom) who were pulling their attention to look at one another in competition and in putting one another down and judging one another according to fleshly standards and vain imaginations. In doing so they were reverting to their former ways of considering one another so that they came to despise another or hold another in high regard according to what he was in the flesh. Whew! What a mess it was. Almost like it is in today's Christian marketplace.
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.
This is far more simple than the mess it's been turned into. While we've been taught that running the Christian race means we're supposed to perform this duty whereby we must control ourselves we missed the simplicity that the determination to recognize no man after the flesh but only according to Christ does in fact affect everything to do with how we see things and how we view others. To stand firm in the freedom of Christ, and then to join in with another in the insistence that his or her life is found in Christ is all part of this self-control.
Look at that verse again, Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. It is a statement of fact. You see, as our hearts become settled upon the amazing grace of Christ that declares who our true life is we at the same time begin to hear the crazy, upside-down rationale of viewing those around us according this one and only true life. We hear the encouragements of those who tell us to consider our brothers and sisters according to this same life. It is this determination that begins to build by which we find ourselves willingly doing whatever it takes to minister this same life to our brother.
Paul was the voice of this insane reason that demands that true life is not what it appears. His reason for sharing his mind in why he did what he did - which was the reflection of the life of Christ to them - was leading to the need for them to reject the fleshly dealings of those who desired to pull them away from Christ and to consider each other according to Christ.
There were some very real and specific situations going on among the Corinthians that Paul tied this whole thing to because what had been happening was a despising and favoritism based on their increased viewing one another according to fleshly perception. It's the whole thing about eating meat that had been offered to idols. This is where the famous all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable quote comes from. Then again, don't you find it curious that Paul said all things are LAWFUL? The mind of the flesh is behind such a mentality that looks at things as being lawful or not.