“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others,
I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NKJV).
In the New Testament, the Christian life is typified by several figures: soldiers, a battle, an athletic contest, a journey, and a pilgrimage. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul uses the Grecian Games to make several points. There were at least four games held in ancient Greece: the Pythian, Isthmian, Nemean, and Olympian. In most years, there was some kind of game going on somewhere.
The games consisted of horse races, foot races, boxing, jumping, and the like. The games were a great occasion of feasting and celebration in Greece. They were national gatherings. The Isthmian games were held on an isthmus about 9 miles from Corinth, so everyone in Corinth was familiar with them.
The athletes prepared for the games with months of rigorous training as they do today, special diets, etc. They were totally dedicated to training for at least 10 months before the games. With this in mind, Paul, by the Holy Spirit, uses the figure of the games to teach the Corinthians—and us—about self-denial.
Running to win. The athletes were dedicated to winning the race. If he won, he received the crown...usually of leaves. He would be greatly celebrated, and his family was greatly honored. He would ride into his hometown on a victory chariot, and usually, a statue would
be put up in his honor.
Everyone who ran ran to win. And Paul says that is how we need to run in our Christian
life. Not a hobby, or a pass time, or for the fresh air. There is a crown of life to be won.
Self-denial needed. The quote above uses a word we don’t often use; it says everyone
who competes is temperate in all things. Temperance...that is, strict self-control. The
success of the athlete depended on his self-denial in preparation and the greatest possible
effort during the race.
He would submit himself to the rigorous training. He would submit to the rules, to the restrictions. He lived a disciplined life. Hehad to forego any activities that his friends or family might be involved in that were not in line with his goal. No indulgences, no comforts. He had to deny those things to win the race.
Turning to our spiritual lives then, Paul’s point is easy to grasp. In the previous verses in chapter 9, he has been writing about his own self-denial and now calls the Corinthians to a
Some things must be given up; others must be left behind. Not just sinful things but other
things that keep us from training and running our race. Maybe it’s a hobby, maybe it’s some
form of recreation. But if it takes away from our preparation and running the Christian race, then we can’t run to win.
Then other habits of training must be taken up. Bible study is needed to run our race. We
must be students of the Word to know His will. Prayer also should be our continuous
activity. Serving others, spreading the gospel.
We are in the race of life; let’s run to win.