“Do you not 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. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Every year, the “Scripps National Spelling Bee”, a nationwide competition involving millions of middle school age students, crowns the best speller as its champion. In a little over 2 weeks (early June 2017), 281 local spelling champions from across the U.S. will meet in Washington D.C. to battle it out. While most of us rely on the spellchecker in our e-mail and word processing apps, many of these kids – especially the more serious competitors – spend hour upon hour practicing spelling thousands of words. The rigor and routine of each day is done with a singular goal in mind: winning first place which, in addition to some notoriety and “bragging rights”, includes a $40,000 cash prize.
This is probably more than you ever cared to know about spelling competitions but there are parallels to what the Holy Spirit, through Paul the Apostle, tells us in these verses. First, each of us, as followers of Christ, are engaged in a race. Jesus has already finished His course; we are called to follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21). Paul had this perspective throughout his Christian life, referencing his “race” (Acts 20:24), as well as his completion of it near the end of his time here on earth (2 Timothy 4:7). The spelling competitors didn’t just flip open the dictionary and pick a few random words to study; they carefully prepared themselves. Likewise, the Christian life is not aimless stroll; it is a divine and directed course that we are to be fully engaged on.
Second, races are often long and tiring; the most successful competitors are those who have prepared themselves best. As Paul puts in, they are “temperate in all things”. The students competing in the spelling competition had to sacrifice time with friends and other activities to be ready to compete. This is a good reminder for our daily walk as believers. We need a surrendered heart and the empowering of the Holy Spirit to have the discipline and determination to “walk circumspectly (carefully)” each day (Ephesians 5:15). Without His help, we will stray from the path He has for us and fail to make the progress that we could.
Finally, a race has a distinct goal in mind. For the spelling hopefuls I mentioned earlier, it was national fame and monetary rewards. For us, as Christians, we have something much greater in view: an imperishable crown. Eternal life (1 Peter 5:4), in the presence of Christ, will cause all earthly rewards to pale in comparison. In fact, Paul asserts that the sufferings of this present time (our race here on earth) aren’t even worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). Contemplating such an amazing prize will help us to refocus our attention on the race before us, knowing that our Champion – Jesus Christ – is both helping us day-by-day and awaiting our arrival at the finish line of Heaven. What a glorious day that will bee (misspelling intended)!