Summary: We run the race to obtain three incorruptible crowns, the crowns of righteousness, glory and life. The world runs the race to obtain a laurel leaf, corruptible crown.
THREE CROWNS AND A LAUREL LEAF
1 Corinthians 9:24-25, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible."
Everyone is running a race right now. From the moment you drew your first breath, you started on a course called the cycle of life. Generations upon generations of people have run this course before you. Every ancestor, in your family tree, has run this race and now the torch has been passed to you as they have finished their course and crossed their Finish Line into eternity. For them the race is over.
For some of us, we are closer to the Finish Line than we are to the starting point. Others may be just beginning the race, but somewhere on that course, every one of us is running. Not one of us can escape the course that is laid before us for God has appointed every man to be born and then to face death at some time that is known only by God who designs your course and orders your every step.
In this part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he is using the analogy of a foot race to describe the “running” of the race of life that is laid before us. We often refer to our everyday lives as a “rat race”. Just as every race has a set starting point and a set finish line, so does the life of man. James 4:14 says, "...For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. "
Just as every race that is run comes to an end, and every event of that race is soon passed into history and the memory of it fades with time, so shall those who run the race of life. No matter how important we make think that we are; no matter how wealthy or poor; no matter how famous or infamous; no matter how educated; none of these things will matter within a few years of crossing that finish line. Your life, and mine, will pass into history and we will be remembered no more for the things we have accomplished in this life.
True there are a few whose lives make such an impact upon this world that their memory lingers far longer than for most people, but eventually, all is forgotten as the new race carries with it enough for the day and men focus on what is happening here and now.
How many of you can remember who Samuel Clemens, or Clara Barton, or William Seward were? Not many, I suppose, unless you are a real history buff. Even these great people, who left their mark upon the world and whose works have earned them a place of high esteem, have faded quickly into the past. Their race is over now and their reward has been given, whether it was good or evil. God is their judge and only he knows the heart of men to bring righteous judgment.
Samuel Clemens (otherwise known as Mark Twain) was one of the greatest American authors who ever lived, writing a number of very popular novels.
Clara Barton was a schoolteacher who resigned after being passed over for a good position because she was a woman. She became the superintendent of the Union Army Nursing Corp during the Civil War. She worked for the right of women to vote. And most of all, she was responsible for the formation of the American Red Cross.
William Seward was the Secretary of State under both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He was the central figure in making one of the greatest territorial gains in U. S. history when he negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million.
These were all people who race the course of their race of life with distinction, and yet we can see that their “crown of glory” is a corruptible crown that fades away with time.
Just outside of the city of Corinth there was a Roman amphitheater and the plains of the Isthmus of Corinth where, every two years, the Isthmian games, part of the Greek Olympiad were held in honor of the Greek God of the Sea, Poseidon. The victor’s prize, under the Greeks was a crown made of woven laurel leaves. Later it was a crown of wild celery, but after Corinth was conquered by the Romans under Julius Caesar, the games were reestablished for a time with a crown of fir as the victor’s prize.
All of these crowns of victory for winning the games were very fragile and quickly began to fade and wilt away and they were constructed of these materials and awarded to the victors for a reason.