Running with the One who won
The point of running the race is to win the prize. Jesus ran the perfect race and won, and we get the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:19-27
19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Building on the idea of giving up our rights because we have found something better in Christ, the Apostle Paul reveals his motivation for becoming “all things to all people” that he might win some to faith in the gospel. He desires to share in the power of the gospel with others, to add more voices to the chorus worshipping Jesus.
Every child of God has benefitted from someone else’s willingness to enter into his or her life. In this passage, Paul invites us to live for the same thing.
Although he is free from all subjection to others, Paul willingly lowers himself and becomes a servant of all types of people to win them to the faith.
Paul models a life of engagement by entering into the reality and life experience of those he is sharing the gospel with. Even under the new law of Christ, which is grace, Paul intentionally places himself in the environment and mentality of those he is with. “All things to all people,” he says, that some will be saved.
This is Paul’s mantra and reveals the center of his life, to live for others for the sake of the gospel. This life is not only for Paul, as he invites the Corinthians—and us—to run the race with him. He wants us to enter into the lives of others that some would be saved and we would share in the power of the gospel.
Being all things to all people is a lifestyle of discipline. As every serious athlete knows, there is striving and sweat—not to earn God’s approval, but to bring other people into relationship with Jesus so they, too, can be approved.
The point of running the race is to win the prize. For Paul, this victory wreath or crown is the people he wins to Christ1, and he disciplines himself to avoid being disqualified from this prize.
Paul has modeled for us the intentional pursuit of people, including the discipline it takes to succeed. The gospel reorients us toward others and enables us to enter into their lives, see with their eyes and hear with their ears.
Paul was masterful at ministering to his people in their own context, but he wasn’t the first to become “all things to all people.” This is exactly what Jesus did for us. He entered into our context, taking on our flesh, trials and temptations, being a servant to all in order to save us. His supernatural discipline is seen in his obedient life, death and resurrection for us, so that now we can experience the power of the gospel with him.
We are his prize. Jesus won. And he invites all believers to participate in his victory and share in the blessings of the gospel with others.
1 Philippians 4:1