A little context. Every other year the Isthmian Games were held outside of Corinth – the year before and the year after the ancient Olympian Games. They took place in the year 51 A.D. which coincided with Paul’s visit to Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey. Athletes from throughout Greece would converge and compete in footraces, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus and javelin, the long jump, chariot racing, poetry reading and singing. (You did not know singing was considered an athletic event, did you?).
Unlike the modern Olympic Games where gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the first three places respectively, in the ancient games, only the winner received the crown. There was no second place award – winning was everything! Paul admonishes the Corinthians to run in such a way that they might obtain the prize. He likens the Christian life to a race and says to give it all you’ve got. If you are going to call yourself a Christian go ALL IN! Don’t live a half-baked kind of Christian life.
Why is this so important to him? What is the why behind his what? Check out verse 23. It is for the sake of the gospel. Anything less than an ALL IN effort is an affront to the gospel and diminishes its influence. And Paul is thoroughly convinced that people need the gospel more than they need anything else. The question I must ask myself is “do I believe this in the same way that Paul believes this?”
Admittedly, he goes on to say, this takes self-control and discipline (vs. 25-27). And this only happens (per Galatians 5:23) when we are under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This kind of Spirit-led self-control looks much different than when we try to live a self-controlled life in the power of the flesh. But, Paul says, it is worth it because we are running to receive an imperishable reward.
If we can keep in mind that we are living for eternal purposes and not mundane purposes then we would no doubt run our race much differently than we do. So how do we do this? I have at least one idea that I’d love to share with you if you will email me at sreyner@Ridgecrest.cc and ask “what’s your idea?” If you have thoughts about this please feel free to email me or comment here.