Summary: Paul, like his Lord, used the examples of the world to teach Christians. He is saying that they need to stop and consider what your favorite runner goes through in terms of self-denial in order to win a perishable crown.
You don’t have to be an expert on racing to know that you don’t get a prize just for signing up, but many
feel that is all that is needed to be a winner in the Christian life. They think that you do not have to budge
from the starting line as long as your name is on the list of contestants. Paul, however, made it clear that
the Christian life is a struggle and a challenge, and it calls for suffering, sacrifice and service. Before he
died he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, henceforth there is laid up for me a
crown.” You see there is a cross before the crown. There has always been a tendency to bypass the cross
and gain the crown. The flesh desires comfort and not challenge; ease and not effort. Now I lay me down
to sleep is our favorite theme. We want to receive the reward without running the race.
A sign in the window of a sporting goods shop said, “See us for camping supplies so you can rough it
smoothly.” We want all the blessings and none of the burdens. There is a church in Florida that has put
in rocking chairs in place of the pews. They are perfectly balanced so as to give the maximum amount of
rocking for the least amount of effort. There is nothing wrong with rocking chairs, but there presence in
the sanctuary is a symbol of how we seek to avoid the cross for the sake of comfort. This is nothing new,
for Paul found the same tendency in the Corinthian church. They had the idea that now that they were
Christians they could take life easy. The flesh began to dominate their lives and they became immoderate
in eating, drinking and sexual practices. Paul seeks to correct their foolish thinking by comparing the
Christian life with the life of the contestants at the Isthmian games held every two years just 8 miles from
Corinth. He refers specifically to the runners, and in so doing he teaches that there are 3 qualification
necessary to be successful in the Christian race.
I. COMMITMENT v. 24-25
The men who wanted to enter the contest in the arena had to commit themselves to a rigorous ten
months of training. They gave up all sensual pleasures, and they had to be in bed early. They had to eat
special food and have no alcoholic beverages. This was not just a suggestion, but it was demanded before
they could even enlist in the races.
Paul, like his Lord, used the examples of the world to teach Christians. He is saying that they need to
stop and consider what your favorite runner goes through in terms of self-denial in order to win a
perishable crown. It was a wreath of parsley, ivory or pine. They do it for a bit of self-glory, and will you
offer less to gain the crown of eternal glory? What is eternal life worth to you? If a man will gladly live a
life of committed self-control and constant exercise to get a piece of pine on his head and a crowd cheering
him, how much more ought you to be committed to gain the crown that is incorruptible. Paul is not
criticizing the athletes. He is just using them as examples of commitment.
Even the philosopher Seneca saw the folly of men who devote more energy than sports than they do
for developing a good life. He wrote, “What blows do athletes receive in the face, what blows all over the
body, yet they bare all the torture from thirst of glory. Let us also overcome all things, for our reward is
not a crown or a palm branch or the trumpeter proclaiming silence for the announcement of our name, but
virtue and strength of mind and peace acquired ever after.” Even a thinking pagan wonders at the mixed
up values of men who will commit themselves to the trivial, but who will not lift a finger for the essential.
We have lost the biblical concept of the Christian life as a race. We make conversion represent
crossing the goal, when it really is just stepping up to the starting line. We are in the race between of the
grace of God. He paid our entrance fee on the cross to get us in, but then we have to do the running, and
to run well we need to prepare ourselves. We need to practice self-denial, and we need to exercise our
soul in prayer, and strengthen our minds by wrestling with the Word of God. Failing to do so results in a
The problem is not that we do not have a glorious and thrilling Gospel. The problem is that we do