1 Cor.9:24-27 – Isn’t it obvious that all runners on the racetrack keep on running to win, but only one receives the victor’s prize? Yet each one of you must run the race to be victorious. A true athlete will be disciplined in every respect, practicing constant self-control in order to win a laurel wreath that quickly withers. But we run our race to win a victor’s crown that will last forever. For that reason, I don’t run just for exercise or box like one throwing aimless punches, but I train like a champion athlete. I subdue my body and get it under my control, so that after preaching the good news to others I myself won’t be disqualified.
This is one of those famous Paul passages in the New Testament. He pictures his calling as an apostle as if it was a calling to be an Olympic athlete. He sees the discipline and perseverance for an earthly crown that will pass away and recognizes that the crown we are working for is far more valuable. The city of Corinth was very familiar with the Olympic style games held nearby. They were the Isthmian Games held in the Pan- Hellenic stadium near Corinth. Everyone in Corinth was familiar with these games and probably knew some of the participants. Paul recognized several things about these athletes. First, they had their eyes on the prize. The athlete’s prize was temporary, our prize is literally an eternal reward. Paul’s thinking was that if these Olympians could be so focused on their earthly reward, how much more should I be focused on the eternal. Secondly, Paul saw the importance of discipline in reaching his goal. In the Passion Translation it says that Paul beat his body black and blue. In the ESV it says, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control”. Paul saw the importance of exerting all his energy toward the prize and not allowing his natural inclinations to hinder his calling.
In other words, our calling and prize is more valuable than any reward or medal. Eternal souls are at stake. If athletes can discipline themselves for an earthly reward, how much more can I for the spiritual crown. Finally, Paul refused to be a castaway or disqualified. In other words he had to play according to the rules. The Judge had His eye on everything. Paul was determined to finish the race well.