Summary: Four demands are placed on belivers who desire to win the race of the Christian life.
Shiloh Bible Church
America is a sports-crazed society. And various cities in the US vie for the honor of being known as the sports city.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport writes: “The thing I like most about writing sports in Chicago is that there is no off season. Wake up in the morning and stick your head out the window, and you almost can hear the wailing: Cubs! Sox! Bears! Bulls! Irish! And all the rest. Let me just put it this way: Writer’s block is the least of our problems. But I’ve been in and out of Boston a few times lately and have come away feeling almost lazy. We work hard in this town keeping up with all the craziness, don’t get me wrong. But to be a sports fan—or a member of the media—in Boston these days is to be something close to insane. The last time I was there, I watched the Red Sox lose three consecutive playoff games to the Yankees, and you never heard such wailing. The shame. The embarrassment. The curse. Then the whole thing turned on a dime. It was the greatest case of civic whiplash I ever saw.”
Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh—there are many sports-crazed cities in the U.S. But that’s nothing new. Even back in ancient times there were sports-crazed cities in sports-crazed societies.
When you think of athletics in ancient times, what nation immediately comes to mind? What nation do you associate with ancient athletic competition? Greece, right?—With the Olympic games?
The ancient Olympic games date as far back as 776 BC. And they were held every four years in the city of Olympia. But Olympia wasn’t the only sports-crazed city in Greece. Second only to the Olympic games were the Isthmian games that were held every two years in the city of Corinth.
The Isthmian games drew thousands of spectators and participants from all over the empire. It was one of the great festivals of the ancient world. One historian comments, “Corinth played host to the athletes and visitors at the Isthmian Games celebrated every other year. Next to the Olympic Games, which were held every four years, the celebrations at the Isthmia were the most splendid and best attended of all the national festivals of Greece. Preparation for these events occupied the attention of the citizens several months in advance, and when the throngs arrived to view the contests in the Isthmian stadium, the vendors and entertainers from Corinth were on hand to reap profit from the occasion.”
Corinth was a sports-crazed city. And Paul knew that, because he ministered there for a year and a half. So in writing to the Corinthians, Paul uses athletic metaphors to drive home his message to them. One passage where this is evident is the last 4 verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 9.
You’ll remember that in 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul is dealing with the topic of Christian liberty. And particularly in chapter 9, Paul mentions how he didn’t exercise his right of financial support from the Corinthians. Nor did he flaunt his personal liberty so as to offend those he sought to win for Christ. Rather, Paul conducted his Christian life in the same way that a Greek athlete conducted himself in competition. And he encourages the Corinthians—as well as you and me—to do the same. Paul tells us this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
Paul begins with a question in verse 24 … “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?”
And the Corinthians would have answered that question with a “yes.” The Corinthians did know that. They knew all about the foot races at the Isthmian games. The races took place in an enclosure of about 600 feet in length. The place was called a “stadion” from which we get our English word stadium. Now, three kinds of races were held in the stadium: the first was called the stade-race. Competitors raced a single length of the stadium—a 200-yard dash. The second race was a middle distance race in which they ran twice the length of the stadium—once in each direction—which was a 400-yard dash. The last foot race required the athletes to run 24 lengths of the stadium—a distance of about 3 miles.
But unlike our modern Olympics, which award a second and third place prize, the ancient games only recognized one winner—the person who came in first place. That’s why Paul says in verse 24, “but only one gets the prize.” But unlike the ancient games where there was only one winner, Paul says in the race of the Christian life every believer can be a winner and receive the prize. That’s why Paul encourages us in verse 24 to “Run in such a way as to get the prize.”