“SO RUN, THAT YE MAY RECEIVE THE PRIZE”
"SO RUN, THAT YE MAY RECEIVE THE PRIZE"
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain" (1st Corinthians 9:24).
April 21, 1980, Boston, Massachusetts.
At the time the Apostle Paul was preaching the gospel, the Greeks were known for being physical-fitness fanatics. And, just like today's Americans, they heaped great rewards and honors upon sports champions...if they earned their victories honestly. Throughout history, sporting events have had their share of cheaters: few were more notorious than Rosie Ruiz.
At the time, Ruiz had been a 27-year-old distance runner, and had competed (supposedly) in the 1979 New York Marathon, finishing with a time of 2:56:29. This officially qualified her to run in the 1980 Boston Marathon. Ruiz signed all the forms, received an official number, ate the traditional pasta lunch the day before, then went to Hopkinton to take her place at the starting line. So far, so good.
That's where honesty went out the window.
Ruiz jogged a little bit, then ducked into the bushes. She then rode a commuter train about twenty-four miles into Boston! Then, just a mile or two from the finish line, she jumped out of the crowd of spectators, "ran" the rest of the race, and "won." But it didn't take long for everyone to figure out that something was fishy. Among the painfully-obvious clues were:
1. Her time seemed way too fast. Ruiz "finished" the Marathon's Women's Division with a time of 2:31:56. If so, this would have been the fastest time ever in the Women's Division. But cheaters tend to have a lot of self-esteem: they not only don't care how they won, but sometimes they want way more to brag about.
2. She didn't seem all that tired. You'd think that any normal human being who had just run twenty-six miles (including the infamous "Heartbreak Hill," the toughest part of the course) would be in agonizing pain, and gasping for breath. Not lil' Rosie! No, she was sneezing! (This was most likely an allergic reaction from hiding in the bushes.) Furthermore, her legs seemed rather flabby...not the toned, muscular thighs that an experienced Marathon runner should have.
3. No one else in the race remembered seeing her. Jacqueline Gareau (the actual winner) and Patti Lyons (runner-up) had run the whole course, and knew they were well ahead of the pack by the seventeen-mile mark. They never saw Ruiz. To top it off, a local TV reporter, amazed by Ruiz' "record," said, "We missed her at all our checkpoints!"
The ruse of Rosie Ruiz really unraveled rapidly.
The Apostle Paul used this "race" analogy to warn Christians to live the Faith honestly: don't commit sin, and don't take short-cuts! Yet some Christians cheat in the race, in much the same way that Ruiz had done:
1. They build churches way too fast. A number of false teachers have taught "methods" for doing this. Jack Hyles had an assembly-line mentality ("Say this prayer, and you're saved!"). He then dunked the "converts," and brought them into his church. But how many of them really understood the source of sin (Genesis 3:17-19), the definition of sin (Exodus 20:1-17), and the remedy of sin (1st Corinthians 15:1-7)? No, not really. These people are told, "You're a sinner...but duck in the bushes, and take a ride to the cross!" What, nothing in between? Missionaries like Adoniram Judson (Burma) and William Carey (India) had to run a grueling Christian race for years before getting ONE convert!
2. They don't seem all that tired. A Christian "athlete" is just like an actual athlete, in one way: expect to get physically worn. Even the Lord Jesus Christ got tired now and then (John 4:6, Mark 6:31). But He was trying to do the work of God (John 17:4)! On the other hand, today's "churches" are being run by salesmen, social directors and politicians. If a person is a smooth talker, and can persuade people into church membership, it's pretty easy to draw a crowd (Isaiah 30:9-11). There's nothing to it!
3. No one else in the race remembers seeing them. The Christians who run the race are there at the starting line when the church doors are open (Hebrews 10:25). They eat right (Job 23:12), and they get their exercise (1st Timothy 4:7). False converts are a different story: they get wet (not baptized); but they never come to church, never read the Bible, and never even try to live godly lives. Some of them will show up at the end of the Tribulation, but without going through the course that the Hebrew converts will have to endure; and, as the reporter remarked to Rosie Ruiz, Jesus will say, "How did you get in here?" (see Matthew 22:12).
The Apostle Paul added a little coaching tip to the real, honest runners of the Christian race: "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1st Corinthians 9:27). And this is exactly what happened to Rosie Ruiz. When she was exposed as a fraud, her medal was taken away, and she went down as one of the dirtiest cheaters in sports history. Don't let that happen to you in your Christian walk.