The Message translates 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 like this:
You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.
I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.
In his Study Bible Eugene Peterson then offers some comment on this passage. It’s a good read, one that’s full of the expected thought provoking and stimulating, even exciting, comments that are so attractive in Peterson’s writing. I encourage you to take time to read it slowly and thoughtfully. Then go back and read the passage above again, maybe it will seem different a second time.
You would think that by immersing ourselves in the Scriptures, discovering God in Christ, realising that we are saved by grace, and living under God’s mercy, we would be considerate, courteous, understanding, energetic, friendly, grateful and motivated. But it isn’t so. It wasn’t so in the early church, it wasn’t so in Corinth, and it isn’t so in your church or mine. The church will always have critics in the pews. And even though they may need to be answered, they don’t need to be endlessly answered.
We really don’t have any more time to spend talking about these criticisms, Paul is essentially saying. there’s something more important at hand. There’s a race to be run, and we all need to be in it. We’re going somewhere together, and this act of going requires all our attention, all our discipline, and all our energy. We’re not spectators watching what other people do and commenting on it; we’re runners. And if we’re running we don’t have enough breath left over to talk about the other runners.
Running is a good metaphor for living the Christian life. It requires training and concentration, it implies a goal, it excludes spectators, it gathers the participants into a camaraderie that overcomes differences. You don’t have to understand or like or affirm the other runners to run with them. It’s the goal that defines the race, and your act of running defines you as a runner. That’s what we’re doing Paul tells us. We’re runners. The church isn’t a club in which we try to understand one another, or even get along with each other. The church isn’t a club at all; it’s a race. And if we’re in a race, there’s precious little energy left over for all the kinds of discussions you seem to be engaging in.
Quit complaining and start running.