Paul exclaims in 1 Corinthians 9:24 that we are to run the race as if to win.
1 Corinthians 9:24 (NASB)
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
But what exactly are we supposed to win and who are we competing against? Considering the lateness of the prophetic hour in which we live I think its important what we regularly remind ourselves who we are competing against and what need to do to win. Let me use the sport of Cycling as an analogy.
To me, Cycling is both an interesting example and an interesting contradiction of running the race as if to win. This is particularly true for an event like the 21-day Tour de France race that occurs every July. In order to win the race, individual riders must work together with competitors at certain times in the race. You can't win without working together with your competitors and you can't win without separating yourself from your competitors. The key to winning of to maintain the right relationship with the peloton.
What is the peloton?
The peloton is the main collection of riders in any cycling event that ride together in a large group. When runners race a marathon the field of contestants stretches out as the race goes on. The faster runners advance while the slower runners lag behind. However in cycling the majority of the contestants stay together in a group, the peloton, for most of the race.
The faster speeds of cycling compared to running mean aerodynamics are a factor in the race. That's where the peloton comes in to play and aerodynamics are the reason why the riders must work together. In the peloton the riders who are at the front of the pack break the wind for the riders who are behind them. If the pack stays close enough together, the riders behind the pack leaders use less energy because they experience less aerodynamic drag. During the race riders in the peloton take turns leading at the front of the pack and resting at the back of the pack. By doing so the peloton can effectively ride faster together than the riders can separately. Regardless of their athletic ability, riders who want to win the race must first work together with other riders in the peloton.
The peloton is also like a rolling social community with both written and unwritten rules for competitors. An unofficial pecking order exists with the most accomplished riders and current race leaders receiving preferential treatment. There's also politicking, alliance making, backstabbing, retribution and even a bit good sportsmanship. The social framework in the peloton is not about fairness or justice. It is about power and position. For example, if one of the race leaders crashes the peloton will slow down and wait for the cyclist to catch up before resuming their normal pace. However if one of the less accomplished, back of the pack riders crashes the peloton definitely won't wait for them. In other words it's little like society both good and bad.
At some point in each stage of the Tour de France the race the riders who are racing to win, not just finish, will make a move to separate themselves from the peloton. To win the riders must separate themselves, but here's the challenge. The peloton is so physically efficient that a single rider cannot hope to breakaway and maintain that lead for a long period of time. A single breakaway rider may create distance between themselves and the peloton for a period of time, but ultimately they will tire out and fall back to the pack. They cannot expect to run the race as if to win by themselves.
Just like secular society is to Christians, the peloton works like a magnet or a spiderweb to a breakaway rider. The peloton (and secular society) constantly attempt to both restrain the riders from separating and draw them back in should the temporarily succeed.
Secular society does not want Christians to separate ourselves. Secular society constantly pulls on Christians who have managed to separate themselves. Typically the pull is subtle trying to seduce us to take a few small steps back toward the spiderweb by telling us we should just accept some ideas that Christians know are biblically wrong. "Wouldn't it be easier to just accept rather than fight? You are not going to win anyway." says the serpent.
So how are Christians supposed to run the race as if to win? Let's get back to the peloton analogy. The rider in the race can either give up (it's too hard to get away from the peloton) or they can look for an alternative. The alternative for racers is the same as it is for Christians, community.
One or two riders do not have enough strength and endurance to successfully escape the peloton. However, a handful of committed riders can successfully escape the peloton. By working together and encouraging each other they can escape the spiderweb of the peloton and successfully run the race as if to win.
The same is true for Christians. Only by working together with others in Christian Community can we hope to separate ourselves from the dangerous spiderweb that is secular society. I'm not just saying we should all go to a worship service on Sundays mornings, althought that's a good start. I'm also reminding you that each of us needs to be actively involved with a Bible study group, an accountability group or some other small Chistian group to maintain our distance from the spiderweb. Without actively participating in a Christian Community (yes I said actively, not passively), we are easily captured again by the spiderweb of secular society and we become like salt that is no longer salty. Matthew 5:13
Now the irony is that like the peloton in the early stages of a cycling race, we as Christians cannot simply ignore secular society and go run by ourselves. Christians must live and breath and work with non-Christians in society both for their benefit and ours. Even if we wanted to run away (and it is tempting) it is not possible for Christians to completely disengage from secular society. First, the economies and societies of the world today are so interconnected that it is not within the realm of possibility that Christians could pick up their things and go to another country like the Pilgrims did with the Mayflower. Not even the Amish are completely disconnected.
Second and more important, Christians are called to be a light to speak the message of Salvation to all who are created in the Image of God (Imago Dei). Since all humans are created in the Image of God we cannot fulfill our calling by hiding in some remote corner of the world. Plus it would be selfish (and therefore sinful) to intentional withhold the message of Salvation from those who have not yet received it. Salvation is not a prize to win and horde. Salvation is a gift to receive and share.
Christians are sent into the world to be a light to the world.
14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
We are sent to be in the world, but not of the world.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Finally, words from Jesus on the subject.
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
The hour is late, but we cannot give up. Let's remember to maintain the right relationship with securlar society. We have no choice but to live in secular society, but if we let ourselves get stuck in the spiderweb we both risk falling to temptation and we miss the joy of doing the work that He has prepared for us in advance.
For me personally writing blog posts like this helps keep me connected to Christian Community as I consider the things I have studied discussed with others in small groups and one-on-one conversations with friends. I'm easily distracted by the ongoing fighting and arguing in Washington D.C. between the President, Congress, the news media, etc. I find it easy to get emotionally wrapped up in the news of the day, who wins and who loses, and get stuck in thinking that any of it really matters. Yes, it does matter to the here and now. However, in relationship to Salvation and the things God has planned for you, me and the rest of the world it is irrelevant. In the end, God Wins! End of story.
So, let me encourage you to use church, a bible study or a small group to let the Holy Spirit spiritual refuel and prepare you to go into the world each week. Christian Community is there to provide the spiritual nourishment (through the power of the Holy Spirit) that believers need to keep us from the evil one and to run the race as if to win. Without the support of our Christian brothers and sisters we will not be the people Jesus has called us to be.
May each of us use what we have been given to be a reflection of the one who is the only true light in the world!