Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize?
The Australia Day Ultra marathon just south of here in Perth made the national newspaper headlines this week, but for all the wrong reasons.
Running never makes national headlines outside of the Olympics, but local hero “Big Kev” Kevin Matthews should have done so for this stonking effort at the age of 51:
100km at 4:40 per km. Take a bow BK, you earned the kudos.
Someone else didn’t earn the kudos. So, unfortunately, the national headlines were about another runner. A runner who didn’t earn it. A runner who thought that under the cover of darkness (when most of the race was run to escape the Perth heat), he could skip the odd 30-40km and cross the line with a yell of triumph in fifth place and claim his place in the annals of history.
Take a bow Mark Robson, for you certainly took your place in the annals of history, but for all the wrong reasons:
The Australian newspaper reported:
When ultra-marathon runner Mark Robson crossed the finish line of the gruelling Australia Day Ultra race last weekend, he raised his arms in triumph, shouted “Booyah” and asked the organisers for a medal. “I think I’ve earned one of them,” said a smiling Mr Robson after finishing fifth in the 100km event in the southwest of Western Australia. Instead of presenting him with a medal, organisers wanted to ask Mr Robson about their suspicions he had cheated his way to the line — by hiding in bushes and taking shortcuts — in a race that featured elite runners from as far away as Finland, Germany and Britain.
More like “Boooooo!”
Turns out the officials had been suspicious from the first lap when his ankle transponder failed to record times on seven of the eight timer mats. But hey, if you want to run 60-70km and still cheat, then more fool you. They let him finish, then disqualified him – forever.
Robson is a finance broker in Perth. He’s also an ultra swimmer, and now his international legend swim coach, Shelley Taylor-Smith, says she is reconsidering him as a client. He’s got a lot to lose for cheating, and not just his reputation.
When Paul reminds the Corinthian church to run in such a way as to gain the prize, he is telling the crazy Corinthians Christians to discipline their lives in order to reach the finish line and enter God’s glory. Because the alternative is too painful to consider – disqualification.
And while Mark Robson might wear the opprobrium of the running community for the rest of his life, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that, just like Israel in the desert, their refusal to put sin aside and their desire to serve idols, could see them cross the finish line of life and be disqualified. Israel made the international headlines – as a warning!
The Corinthians wanted to cut corners. They thought they could cheat God under the cloak of darkness. Under the cover of “freedom”. Sin’s deceptive like that. When we sin we often think that we there is an audience of one watching. But like Robson’s tracker, and like the officials, we never sin without God being aware of it.
And sin is deceptive. Turns out it wasn’t the first time Robson has been caught cheating, having done so in Ironman triathlon races. Getting away with it is always uppermost in our minds when we fall into deliberate sin, yet experience, and the warning of Scripture, says that this is not the case.
The biggest deception of sin, of course, is that dabbling in it will not lead to disqualification, merely the loss of our joy, or our heavenly reward or some such. We soothe ourselves with such thoughts. But Scripture does not. Cutting spiritual corners, or indeed entire whole laps of character, saw the Israelites overthrown in the desert (1Corinthians 10:5).
Paul even includes himself (9:25-27) in this sobering warning:
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Just a reminder too, to those of us in ministry, that if the great apostle saw the possibility of being disqualified, then none of us should think that we’re beyond it if we fail to keep the warning.
On an encouraging note, my mate Tony Smith came third in the Australia Day Ultra Marathon in a tidy 8 and a half hours. Here’s a picture of him crossing the line:
Smithy had a lot to smile about. A Pommie, he used a good Aussie word to describe his result: “Stoked!”
Imagine how “stoked” we will be; imagine the smile on our faces when we cross the line and gain the prize that our forerunner, the Lord Jesus, has in store for us after his ultra marathon effort that defeated death and sin and Satan for us.
So let’s run with endurance and leave that sin behind.