Monday, 22 September 2014
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. 1 Corinthians 9:25
In his previous verse, Paul wrote that there are many runners in a race, but only one would receive the crown. He then implored those in Corinth to run their course in Christ in the same manner, setting aside all encumbrances and looking towards the Prize. Now, still using the Isthmian games as his metaphor, he tells them that “everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.”
Ancient writers note that those who were involved in the preparation for these games required ten full months of training, right up to the moment before the games began. Much of their training involved not only physical conditioning, but dietary restrictions as well. The thoughts of two commentators from those times read:
Epictetus – “Thou must be orderly, living on spare food; abstain from confections; make a point of exercising at the appointed time, in heat and in cold; nor drink cold water nor wine at hazard.”
Horace – “The youth who would win in the race hath borne and done much; he hath sweat and been cold; he hath abstained from love and wine”
Such extreme conditioning would have been known to the people at Corinth and so Paul, without extra comment, states this in the plain form that the athlete was “temperate in all things.” In this simple expression, he was intimating to those at Corinth (and thus to us) that we have an obligation to be temperate as well. We cannot expect to live an antinomian existence and feel that we are properly conditioning ourselves as we strive towards the Prize. Freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin. Rather it is freedom from sin.
Paul continues with his thought, noting that those who participated in these games conditioned themselves in this manner in order “to obtain a perishable crown, be we for an imperishable crown.” Think of the difference! The athlete in these ancient games was striving for temporary notoriety and a crown that would literally fall apart in a very short amount of time. The leaves would fall off, the twigs would become brittle and eventually break, insects could destroy it in a few hours, or any thief could carry it off and it would be gone. It was a temporary reminder of a temporary honor. All of that intense conditioning for something so ephemeral in nature.
On the other hand, the crown that we are striving for is an eternal one. It will never fade, never be taken away, and never lose its luster. Paul asks us to consider this and to determine that we will strive even more rigorously for our crown than those of the Isthmian games strived, simply because our reward is so much greater; infinitely greater because it is eternal.
Life application: In this verse and the preceding verse he has made some notable contrasts that we should remember. The first is that of the earthly race which was in hopes of earthly results in contrast to the spiritual race which is in hopes of spiritual results. The second is that there was only one crown given in the earthly competition in contrast to the idea that all can obtain the crown in the spiritual race. And the third is that the crown in the earthly race is temporary and corruptible in contrast to the heavenly crown which is incorruptible and eternal. In all ways, the end result of the spiritual race is superior. Because of this, our conditioning in this race should also be superior in all ways.
Lord, the race is set before me and the reward is an eternal crown that will never fade, never perish, and which will never be taken away. If I strive for prizes in this earthly walk which will fade away in time, how much more should I strive with all of my existence and every fiber of my being for that wondrous crown which You have promised? Help me to remember this and to determine each day to do my very best for the high honor of receiving Your everlasting crown of life! Amen.