All training takes time, effort, and diligence if it is going to yield a good result. We know this from physical exercise and athletics which is why Paul uses these points of imagery to explain that training spiritually requires time, effort, and diligence as well. Before we jump into these metaphors, consider the spiritual training rule found in 2 Timothy 2:5. Paul says that if we are going to compete and train for this spiritual “competition,” we must do so within the law to win the crown.
Training with no goal in mind is pointless and a waste of time. When we set out in this spiritual training, we must be seeking to win the prize of the crown so that we will be able to display it in our trophy case in Heaven, right? Of course not!
The goal of this training is to receive the crown so we can cast it back at His feet giving praise, honor, and glory to Him who helped us to train and to ultimately win the prize when we stand before Him.
1. Training For the Race
Paul speaks of the Christian life often as a race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26a, Paul describes this metaphor of the race. Everyone is running this race, but the truth is this isn’t a modern little league where everyone gets a prize! A race has one winner. It is the one who crosses that line first. On the biggest stage of athletic competition, Olympians will race with all their might and then rush to look at the screens to see who inched ahead and broke the plane of that finish line first. Big money is spent on instant replays and slow-motion videos at the end of a close race. Why? Because there are many competitors in the race, but only one winner. All the athletes who line up at the start know that. They have spent countless hours sweating and training to give themselves the best chance to cross the line first! Amid that training, there are many times that the athlete must deny himself what he wants in order to prepare for the race and to give him the best chance at reaching his goal. It is a privilege to run, but as Paul says, the goal is to train and then to run so that he might be the one to win – to obtain the prize! That’s the goal!
What is it in your 2021 that is weighing you down spiritually and keeping you from running the race that is set before you? Hebrews 12:1 says that we must lay aside those weights AND the sin that would trip us up so that we can run the race with patience. But that will only happen as we look unto Jesus who is our all-sufficient Savior (Hebrews 12:2). Friend, whatever it is that is weighing you down, set it aside. Whatever sin is keeping you from running the race, confess it and allow God to free you to run the race as God intended you to do.
2. Training in Exercise
Paul now gives us the metaphor of physical exercise compared to our Christian life in 1 Timothy 4:7-8. Exercise, in general, is meant to strengthen the body. That only happens when those exercises are repeated at regular intervals. The muscles are torn down. Then with rest, they are repaired making them stronger each time. It would be great if exercise were a “one and done” thing, but if exercise is going to have the desired effect, it must be done repeatedly and regularly.
Paul tells us here to exercise ourselves unto godliness. How do we do that? We must spend time in the disciplines of godliness – prayer, Bible reading, and witnessing – purposefully learning and seeking God while we do these things. This is not a “check the box” kind of exercise. It must be done regularly with diligence and in accordance with God’s will. Weak Christians will struggle in their walk with the Lord. That weakness can only be remedied by time spent exercising godly habits. What do you need to change in your spiritual exercise routine to help you be more godly this year?
3. Training For the Fight
In 1 Corinthians 9:26b-17, Paul uses boxing terminology to describe yet another metaphor of the Christian life. We are in a fight. Paul says that the training of his body was necessary to stay in the fight. He points to the need for his body to be brought under his control. Literally, Paul is referring to beating up his body in training so that when the fight comes, he is in control of his body to help win that fight.
At the end of Paul’s life in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, he comes back to this metaphor. He gives a personal testimony about the fight of his life – “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day…” Paul learned early on in his life that he had to train for this fight and train he did. He learned to stay in the fight even when he was “weary in well doing” (Galatians 6:9).
All this training for the Apostle Paul brought him to a wonderful testimony at the end of his life. He trained and fought and at the end of his life there was a crown awaiting him. But Paul never would have received the crown if he had quit when the training got tough. He continued on in the fight and so must we.
I don’t know what you faced in 2021 that might be holding you back, and I don’t know what any of us will face in 2022. But may I encourage you that we are in this race, needing to exercise, and fight because there is a crown awaiting us just as Paul said at the end of 2 Timothy 4:8. Finishing well in this race is the goal that will bring glory to God.
If you haven’t started your training this year, make today your Day 1 and stay with it. Find a friend to help you stay on target especially spiritually. Because training is hard work, it is common practice for people to already be thinking of quitting even this early in the year. May I encourage you to keep going, both physically and spiritually, in your training. Refocus on your goal and stay faithful so that at the end of this year and at the end of your life, you, like Paul, can say that you have fought a good fight, finished your course, found the prize waiting for you at the finish!
At the start of this new year, what kind of spiritual goals have you made?
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