Summary: In our lesson today we learn that just as athletes exercise rigorous self-control in order to win a perishable prize, so we as Christians must exercise rigorous self-control in order to win an imperishable prize.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of Christian liberty. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Paul’s Pattern in Striving for a Crown.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
In preparation for today’s message I wanted to find out how an athlete trained for the Olympic Games. So I typed “Training regimen for Olympic athletes” into my Google spacebar, and picked the first athlete whose name appeared.
Shawn Johnson (born January 19, 1992) is an American gymnast who competed as a rising eleventh-grader at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
Shawn Johnson started taking gymnastics lessons when she was 3-years old.
“When I was little, I just did it because I loved it,” she said. “When I started getting to the higher levels, I started thinking about making the elite. I put in more hours and learned more skills.”
In the years leading up to the 2008 Olympics Johnson attended a full day of school before heading to the gym for four-hour workouts. She spent five hours in the gym on Saturdays and took Sundays off.
Practice consisted of at least 30 minutes of conditioning, stretching and endurance training, and then about 50 minutes on each event. Johnson usually completed extra tricks at the end of a routine during practice, and she also ran to build endurance.
Her strength training relied on her own body weight and exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, squat jumps, and pull-ups. For exercises like sit-ups, she usually did as many reps as she could of each exercise in one minute. Usually she did about 30 pull-ups, although she revealed that she’s done up to 100 at one time.
All of this intense work eventually produced three silver medals (for the floor exercise, team, and all-around gymnast), and one gold medal (for the balance beam) at the 2008 Olympics.
The modern Olympic Games began in 1896. They were a revival of the ancient Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Actually, the ancient Olympic Games were part of a cycle known as the Pan-Hellenic Games, which also included the Pythian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games.
The Isthmian Games were held on the Isthmus of Corinth, which was about 10 miles away from Corinth. The Corinthians were therefore very familiar with the Isthmian Games. In fact, they sponsored the biannual Isthmian Games, which were second in importance only to the Olympic Games.
Since Paul was in Corinth in 48/49-51 AD, he was likely present for the Isthmian Games held in the spring of 51 AD.
The games included six events: wrestling, jumping, javelin, discus throwing, running, and boxing. Competitors in the Olympic Games were required to train for at least ten months before the games in order to qualify for participation. It is possible that a similar requirement existed for the Isthmian Games, which may explain Paul’s references to strict training and disqualification. Winners received crowns either of pine or of celery, both perishable materials.
Now, let’s briefly review how this fits into Paul’s argument in his first letter to the Corinthians.
You may recall that The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians was in fact Paul’s response to a letter he had received from them. Six times in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul said, “Now concerning. . . ” (7:1; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; and 16:12). And six times Paul responded to a question or issue raised in the letter that he had received from the Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul said, “Now concerning food offered to idols. . . .” This was the third of six issues. All of chapter 8 deals with the issue of food offered to idols. The Corinthian Christians were engaged in a debate about whether it was okay to eat meat offered to idols.
This was an issue on which God had not clearly revealed his will. It was therefore a debatable matter, and the Christians in Corinth were divided over the issue. Some said it was okay to eat meat offered to idols; others said it was not okay.