Sunday, 21 September 2014
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. 1 Corinthians 9:24
In this verse, Paul moves from his thoughts concerning serving men in order to impress upon them the gospel of Christ (verses 19-23), to his desire to run the race and receive the prize set before him (verses 24-27). In this, he begins with “Do you not know…?” This is way of saying, “You certainly know.” The reference he will now make will be to the Isthmian Games which took place on the Isthmus of Corinth. They were comparable to our modern Olympics and were something every person would be aware of. In Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, he describes these games:
“These, like the other games of Greece—the Olympian, Pythian, and Nemean—included every form of athletic exercise, and stood on an entirely different footing from anything of the kind in modern times. For the Greek, these contests were great national and religious festivals. None but freemen could enter the lists, and they only after they had satisfied the appointed officers that they had for ten months undergone the necessary preliminary training. For thirty days previous to the contest the candidates had to attend the exercises at the gymnasium, and only after the fulfilment of these conditions were they allowed, when the time arrived, to contend in the sight of assembled Greece. Proclamation was made of the name and country of each competitor by a herald. The victor was crowned with a garland of pine leaves or ivy. The family of the conqueror was honoured by his victory, and when he returned to his native town he would enter it through a breach in the walls, the object of this being to symbolise that for a town which was honoured with such a citizen no walls of defence were needful.”
This is the reference Paul is making. The athletes of his time, and those of ours as well, have the same end goal in common. They “all run, but one receives the prize.” There was only one victor’s wreath then and there is only one gold medal now. Those who are capable, well-trained, and endure the rigors of the race are the ones who win and receive their reward. Paul tells those in Corinth to act this way in their race to the finish. Writing to all, but with each individual in mind, he hints that each should “run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
He will continue with his thoughts on this for three more verses, showing the necessity for each of us to train with rigor and to persevere in our steps all of our days as we look forward to the Prize which awaits us.
Life application: Paul’s use of an athlete who strives to be the champion in the Isthmian games is an excellent example for us. We can look at those who work towards the gold medal in the modern Olympic games and understand what he was referring to. These people put out maximum effort for the thing they desired. If our desire is truly Christ, then we should be even more willing to put out all we can in order to please Him. We have one short life in which to earn our heavenly rewards. Let us not squander it, but strive forward with our eyes firmly fixed on Him!
Lord God, there is a race set before me with the greatest Prize at the end. I know that in order to be the champion You would have me to be, I need to be fully trained, and so I will read Your word in order to comply with the standards of the race. I know that I will need to be ready for a long race because I don’t know my life’s end. And so I will stay close to the fellowship of others who can build me up as I persevere. And I know that the victor’s crown won’t be mine unless I act in accordance with the rules. And so I will apply my training, not cheat in my perseverance, and will fix my eyes and my thoughts on Jesus each step of the way. Be with me as I strive to complete the race with honor and with purity of my heart. Amen.