"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."
1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)
When I look at this verse, I feel like so many people miss half of it. We understand, of course, that in a race there can be only one winner. We recognize that we are being told to run in this race. But so often, translations and interpretations change the second half to, simply, "Run to win" (as in the New Living Translation, for example). That isn't what it says. Going all the way back to the King James Version (not the NEW KJV, the OLD one that sounds like Shakespeare), we find it says, "...So run, that ye may obtain."
Did you catch that?
Perhaps you aren't fully comprehensive of old old old English, but the phrase "ye," now out of use, means "you (plural)." This is similar to the "vous" instead of "tu" in French or the "vosotros" in place of "tu" in Spanish. It is (or was, rather) used when talking to more than one person, ie: a crowd ("Hear ye, hear ye!") or a group ("O, ye of little faith"). The singular was "thou". So, I guess, we just chopped them both in half, stuck 'em together, and made "you" to cover all the bases...
ONLY ONE CAN WIN THE PRIZE!
But the "you" is plural! How did we miss that? Paul wrote to the entire Corinthian church saying, "So, you know how in a race everybody runs and only one person wins? I want you to run so that all of you will win."
This isn't a regular race. We aren't running to win, we are running to help each other win!
Onward, then. Let us go deeper! "Run in such a way as to get the prize." To me, this is recognizing that it is entirely impossible for all of us to get the prize at the same time. It doesn't say "Run and win" or "Run in order to win" but it's closer to "Run as if you could win." It's just not possible for all of us....without Christ! "I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me!" (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)
Paul is saying that even though it seems like we can't, we've got to run as if we can. As if all things are possible - because they are! This is faith. We cannot win on our own strength, and we cannot all win by our own means. But we can all win if we all run in such a way as to get the prize or as if we could all win! This race isn't ranked by speed, time, or "righteousness"; it's ranked by faith, endurance, aid, and effort! If we do our best, give our all, then we are winning. We can't be perfect, God knows that, but be being as near perfection as we can possibly reach, by running as fast as we can possibly push, by helping eachother as much as we can possibly offer, we all win!
Is this an excuse to not reach perfection? BY NO MEANS! Giving your all and trying your hardest isn't any less difficult than being perfect. We are called to reach for the stars as if they could be reached, and when we fail it is our shot at perfection that causes us to win. If we do not try, we fail in both ways: we do not achieve our best and we do not get the prize for an attempt. Ultimately, not trying sucks. Don't do it. Run as if you could win. Run as if we all could win. Just run!