Run the race! Fight like a great boxer! What am I referring to? Of course: Paul in 1. Corinthians 9, 24-27:
24 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. 25 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. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 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.
To understand the riches of this message, we have to look at the context of the Christian community in Corinth at that time. Near of this city was the town “Isthmia”. A huge sports game took place there every two years. It’s comparable to the Olympic Games in Olympia but not quite as big. Corinth had the honor of organizing these events.
For the people in the city it must have been a huge feast. I imagine the people back then talking to each other about this important event and children running around behaving like competitors.
The athletes in the Ancient World were held to the strictest standards. Their training and nutrition was exactly mapped out. When to eat and what to eat, when to rest and how to rest, when to train and how to train was all written down.
Furthermore, it was brutal! The training and championships took place under the burning sun. Many died because they couldn’t stand the hard training and weather conditions. Boxing was the toughest discipline of them all. At the end of their career, the families of the boxers didn’t recognize them because their faces and bodies were completely damaged and defaced.
But the athletes took all those troubles and the pain on themselves because of the price. The winner received riches and honor. He was the hero of his hometown and got more money than most people had ever seen before.
The Corinthians were well informed about what the life of an athlete looked like. EVERYTHING was focused on the contest. Every minute, every meal, every conversation, all of it! Nothing was more important. And the athletes were willing to do what ever it took to win.
Paul uses this metaphor to show the Christian Community in Corinth what it takes to follow Christ and declare the Gospel. He invites the Christians to declare the Gospel and work at God’s kingdom with the same effort, focus, dedication, passion and willingness to take pain as an athlete does.
Keep in mind what the apostle tells in verse 25. We get an everlasting price. How much more should we train and combat because we do it for something that it is eternal. We fight for God’s everlasting kingdom! Nothing counts more than that!!
I know this is hard stuff! Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t at that point in your life where you can say you follow Jesus with the same effort as an ancient athlete training for a competition.
But look at where God has placed you right now. Where can you focus and work more on spreading the Gospel and advance his kingdom? Just work on one area in your life at a time and see the difference it makes.