Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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. 1 Cor. 9:24-25

I remember hearing an interview with a successful basketball coach several years ago where the coach was asked if he ever had time to sit back and enjoy a championship after winning it. His response was along the lines of, "For about a day, then it's back to work getting ready for next season." Pursuing championships is hard work - it's a hard pursuit.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul details the lengths to which he is willing to go for the sake of proclaiming the gospel. Paul and Barnabas support themselves financially so as not to burden anyone else with their needs (v. 4-18); they abstain from bringing a wife on their travels (v. 5); they adapt their own lives to their audience so as not to place any roadblocks between their audience and the gospel (v. 19-23). Throughout chapter 9, Paul defends his ministry by showing how much he is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. However, toward the end of his defense, Paul makes one slight but significant shift.

For just a moment, Paul steps away from the defense of his ministry and exhorts the Corinthians, "run that you may obtain [the prize]." It's a subtle transition from "look at how I run to get the prize" to "this is also how you should run to get the prize." Apostles aren't the only ones called to hard pursuits. It's a way of life that should be common to every Christian - sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, living for the hope that some might be saved.

The attitude Paul is teaching was first taught by Jesus:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? Mk. 8:34-36

"Let him deny himself and take up his cross" - that's hard - "and follow me" - that's pursuit.

Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1503-1519)

If we think about what's involved in pursuing Jesus, there's not too much that can be thought of as easy. Bible study, prayer, fellowship with other believers, evangelism, forsaking sin - it's all hard. Like athletic pursuits, there are experiences of joy along the way - smaller victories leading us to a championship at the end - but we're always moving toward the final prize of hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant." (Mt. 25:21)

Hard Pursuits (the blog) is about that journey for the prize. Some posts will interpret some passage of Scripture, typically with the goal of encouraging more thoughtful handling of God's Word. Other posts will try to encourage other hard pursuits for the sake of the gospel.

Your comments are always welcome as long as they follow the admonition of Colossians 4:6: "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."