Paul mentions victory, but that isn't the point. What Paul is emphasizing is the journey we have to take to reach that final victory or, as Paul puts it, the "strict training" we must endure. This is our process of faithfully fine-tuning our lives to live out the path that Jesus intended for us, which means enduring and persevering in an effort to live with self-control and discipline. Without those two ideals, it would be difficult to do what God calls us to do. When a runner trains for race, they have to stick to a specific schedule and diet, as well as maintaining and improving their skill. Paul notes that we must live out our lives as Christians in the same detailed manner. Paul also points out that the victory is not some medal or crown that will perish, but rather "a crown that will last forever." This everlasting victory is the true motivator of the discipline and endurance it takes to follow the call of God.
What Paul is saying is a great reminder that even when the journey is hard, the victory waiting at the end is so much greater. The perseverance it requires to stay true to God can be difficult to find sometimes, but it is exactly what is necessary to live a full and faithful life. We rely on God to give us a good life, but we have to hold up on our end of the deal too, which is what Paul is getting at: we train well so that we can run God's race well. Also, the victory Paul is talking about isn't necessarily salvation, since that comes with the choice to believe in Jesus. In this case, the victory is looking back on life, knowing that you lived it fully and faithfully, which is why it matters that we endure and persevere, even when the road gets rough.
What this looks like is a range of things. Mostly, it means that we should shift our focus from those obstacles in life that push us further from God and instead look to God himself and what He wants for us. We can put Paul's message into action by asking God for help when we feel like we cannot continue to endure or when the obstacles seem to get too big. We can prayerfully consider our actions and decisions and faithfully serve God through everything we do. When we learn to endure, we can learn what a beautiful thing it is to rely on the Lord to guide us through our days and weeks and months without regret and in complete joy.
Author | Caitlin Cooper