Summary: Running the Race in Corinthians 9: 23-27 and the spirit of the athlete and the spirit of the Christian.
Title: Spirit of a Hero
Text: 1 Corinthians 9: 23-27
The Corinthian culture to which Paul was speaking was worse than any Liberty Avenue or port town that we can think of today. It was a hub of international trade. People of from all over the word passed through this sea port town. The city was known for its great wealth as well as its vices. The Greeks even always portrayed Corinthians as drunks in their plays. There were thousands of prostitutes who were also priestesses in the local Greek religion. Added to the mix of this culture were the many international sailors who passed through the city making it not only known as a center of great wealth and luxury, drunkenness and debauchery, but also for disease. It was called by one historian as a “colony without aristocracy, without traditions, and without well-established citizens.” They were like a city who was just passing through and were out to get what they could while they were there.
There was one thing that the city was proud of and that was of its sports. More specifically the Isthmian games that were held in their beautiful arena. They were one of the three major athletic contests that were held in the world. The Olympic games that were held in Athens and the third one being held at Delphi. These were the forerunners of today’s Olympic games. If there was one thing that ran counter to their culture, it was seeing these disciplined hard-working athletes preparing for the games. Only the best may compete in the games. In our sports minded town that remembers the super bowls of the 70’s, it is not hard to see that their heros were probably sports heros. It was to this hero that Paul points to as the example of the spiritual life. More exactly it is to his spirit that Paul points, the spirit of a hero.
The Hero has a desire to win.
Paul says in the text:
“Do you not know that in a race all run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to win the prize” 1 Cor.9: 24
One thing that all good athletes have in common is the desire to win. Between two athletes who are of the same ability, the one with the greatest desire will win. It can make people run faster, jump higher, and fight harder. How many times have you heard football players say that the team that wants the victory the most will win? Paul is telling us as spiritual runners that we need to have the desire to win, to finish the race.
In the Corinthian cultural environment of anything goes, Paul is calling the church to a higher way of life just like the Olympic athlete. Just like the athlete is running the race, or competing to win, we as Christians are called to victory. Somewhere in the athlete’s life he has made a decision to do what it takes to win, no matter what the cost. No matter what is going on around him, his sights are set.
The Hero separates himself.
These athletes were people who would not allow themselves to be immersed in the surrounding culture of excess and indulgence. They knew that it ran counted to their objective, their goal was a pine wreath that was placed on the victor’s head at the end of the contest. To win was to subject yourself to pain in the training. Like the advertisement says, “No Pain, No Gain.” The path of victory is always the path of those who exercised self control. Here was a lesson that the Corinthians seen every day being lived out in their mist.
The Hero is not a Spectator.
We need to make that decision to run the race, but many have not made it yet. The physical trainer will tell you the hardest thing to do is start. The activity that happens with the body begins with the will. We must have the desire to launch on a task of pain and self-denial. Why should we? It is so easy to just sit here and do nothing. How many of us are just watching the race? God has made us high performance race cars, and we don’t want to get out of the garage. If it is a nice day we might take out to church once a week, but we do not want to get out into the race and mix it up with the others. What is the problem here? Where is the motivation?
The athlete knows that when he runs that there is the crown of victory that he is striving for. He drives himself for that one moment when the crowds are cheering him and he stands where many want to be, but are unwilling to sacrifice for. Paul says here is this man who takes on this discipline to have a fleeting perishable moment of glory. He is pushed by the goal, but what of us who are called to a far greater goal. We seek a greater “crown” than one of pine or laurel. But we do not run. Is the reason that we don’t run because we forget what the crown is? Jesus told of the value of the Kingdom in Matthew: