1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain.
The thought introduced in ver. 23, that Paul's self denial had a reference to his own salvation as well as the salvation of others, is here carried on and applied generally to all Christians. The imagery is derived from the Isthmian games celebrated in the neighbourhood of Corinth, and therefore well known to his readers. These games occupied a place in the national life of Greece corresponding to that occupied by the great yearly festivals in the life of Israel There is no reference to them in the Gospels, as they were unknown in Palestine, but more than once they are used in the Epistles as a metaphorical representation of the Christian life (comp. Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8; Hebrews 12:1). Consider -
I. THE RACE. The stadium presented an animating spectacle. At this end stand the competing athletes, awaiting the signal to start; at the other end is the judge, holding in his hand the prize; whilst all around, rising tier upon tier, are the seats crowded with spectators. The Christian life is a race for the great prize offered by God to the successful runner. At conversion we take our place in the racecourse and have our names proclaimed by the herald. The leading ideas in the figure are:
1. Progress. "Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on," etc. (Philippians 3:13).
2. Earnestness. The Christian life is one of strenuous effort - every muscle strung, every faculty called into exercise. No place for lukewarmness or indifference here.
3. Concentration. "One thing! do." The runner, with eye on the goal and all else out of view, bends his whole strength to this single effort. Dissipation of energy, the multa rather than the multum, is a source of weakness in spiritual life. "One thing is needful."
4. Endurance. "Let us run with patience" (Hebrews 12:1). To faint or fall is to lose the prize. The cross must be borne to the end. Nothing but "patient continuance in well doing" will conduct us to the goal (comp. James 1:12).
II. CONDITIONSS OF SUCCESS IN THE RACE. To run well we must run as the successful racer. The end in view must be clear: we must know what we are running for ("not uncertainly"). Here specially emphasize the preparatory condition - self restraint. The athlete under training was required to avoid excess in eating and drinking, and every form of fleshly indulgence. The Christian athlete must practise a like temperance if he would run his course with success. In this point of view the body is the antagonist with which we contend, and which must be buffeted and bruised rather than suffered to gain the mastery over us. How many Christians are hindered in their spiritual course by lack of self restraint! The worship of comfort, the love of luxury, not to speak of such indulgences as are clearly sinful, cause many to lag in the race. An intemperate use of, or affection for, things in themselves good, is a most insidious snare in the path of spiritual advancement. Bodily mortification is not spirituality, but it is often helpful towards its attainment. The Christian runner must lay aside every weight as well as every sin (Hebrews 12:1).
II. THE PRIZE. This consisted of a chaplet of leaves - olive, parsley, pine. In addition, the name of the victor was celebrated in a triumphal ode and a statue was erected to his memory. It was a great honour - one of the greatest in a land where the gymnastic art was so highly appreciated; and even Roman emperors (Nero, e.g.) did not hesitate to enter the lists. But at best it was, like all earthly honours, corruptible. These crowns would quickly fade, that applause would soon cease. The prize for which the Christian contends is an incorruptible crown. It is the "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8), the "crown of life" (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), the "crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). To have righteousness and life in perfection is our true glory, and this is the very crown of cur being. A crown composed of such materials cannot fade away. All the trees in that country are evergreen. What an object to fill the eye and fire the soul! A proud moment when the successful runner had the chaplet of leaves put on his brow! A grandee moment for the Christian athlete when the pierced hand of Jesus places on his head the crown of glory! And if men endure so much and strive so earnestly for the corruptible, how much more should we endure and strive in order to obtain the incorruptible!
1. The human side of the Christian life is strongly emphasized in the figure of the race; but along with this we must take the other side of the truth. Without the grace of God we cannot run. Mark the striking combination in Philippians 2:12, 13.
2. Notice the apostle's self distrust. He is not ashamed to confess that he brings his body into subjection, "lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected." Compare such outbursts of confident assurance as Romans 8:38, 39, and 2 Timothy 1:12, and regard the one as the complement of the other. Self diffidence goes hand in hand with genuine assurance. A lesson for all Christians, and especially for all preachers. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.