Paul exhorts the Church in Corinth to persevere in faith as if running a race with the intent of winning. In Paul’s day, sporting events were very well known in Corinth, which held what was called the Isthmian Games. People were familiar with the training, discipline, and perseverance it took to become a successful athlete. Paul uses the Corinthians’ understanding of sports to explain how they are to live in faith and share the Gospel.
First, Paul demonstrates to the Corinthians how to run the race strategically. He teaches them how to share their faith with others. When sharing the Gospel with people from different backgrounds, Paul makes himself relatable. He is very intentional in how he behaves with fellow Jews (making sure that he abides by Jewish customs) as opposed to Gentile acquaintances (in whose presence he disregards these same types of practices). Paul identifies and responds to what will be sensitive to the perspective of his audience. Every move he makes propels him down a trajectory of success in the race of faith he is running.
Paul also shows the Corinthians how he runs with purpose. Some might have followed Paul and thought he was very inconsistent with his behavior towards different people. But all of his behavior was always aligned toward one purpose: to make the Gospel known. It is important to specify that Paul altered his behavior and approach to different people in order to accommodate their ability to understand and receive the Gospel Message. The Message itself that Paul preached, however, was always the same Message. It was always the Good News about Jesus the Christ Who lived, died, and rose again to save from sin all who believe. The one purpose of sharing that Message was what fueled Paul to run the race of faith. Sharing the Gospel was always the end goal.
Paul’s approach gives us insight for running our race of faith. While perseverance is important, strategy and purpose are what gear us toward running the race successfully. We exhibit God’s love and compassion for His people when we are thoughtful about how to approach others with the Gospel Message. Still, we must never compromise the Truth of the Gospel. Sharing the whole Gospel Truth with others must be our one purpose of running in the first place.
We as believers must share the Gospel as Christ has called us. Keeping Paul’s experiences in mind shows us how we too can run the race of faith, and run to win.