The Standard November 20, 2019
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27)
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian Christians at some time between A.D. 54 and 57, using a very familiar illustration for his readers. The Isthmian Games were held every two years in Corinth, a city strategically located at the isthmus connecting mainland Greece and the Peloponnesus. Thousands of visitors and athletes came to the city to watch or face each other in running, wrestling, boxing, javelin throwing, discus throwing, the long jump, chariot races and musical competitions.
These athletes underwent strict physical training, practicing their sport, building endurance, improving strength, eating carefully and often denying themselves pleasures, all to earn a title and a pine wreath or garland which eventually would fade. Paul drew the analogy that as a Christian he also took extreme measures to prepare himself to do the challenging work of God. After a lifetime of preaching and service his prize would be an eternal one and so ours can be. If we or our children or grandchildren are or have been willing to sacrifice for a sport or for physical training how much more should we be willing to train ourselves spiritually? How seriously do we take the lifelong tasks of reading Scripture, praying, worshiping with fellow believers and sharing the good news of forgiveness through the grace of Jesus Christ?
In 1992 on the last day of the Barcelona Olympics John Piper preached his second sermon in a two-part series on Olympic Spirituality. In “How Then Shall We Run?” Piper said, “Life is not a game with no lasting consequences. The way we live our lives has eternal consequences. Life is a proving ground where we prove who we are, whom we trust, and what we cherish. Eternal life, the upward call, the crown of righteousness – all these hang on what our life says about who we are, whom we trust, and what we love. Make no mistake here! Life is not a place for proving to God or anybody your strength. Life is a place for proving whose strength you trust – man’s or God’s. Life is not a place for proving the power of your intelligence to know truth. It’s a place for proving the power of God’s grace to show truth (Matthew 16:17). Life is not a field for demonstrating the force of our will to make good choices. It’s a field for showing how the beauty of Christ takes us captive and constrains us to choose and run for his glory. The race of life has eternal consequences not because we are saved by works, but because Christ has saved us from dead works to serve the living and true God with Olympic passion.”