Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

Index by Subject

Competing for the Prize

On several occasions the apostle Paul used the Greek athletic games to illustrate the need for zeal in the Christian life. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The word temperate here comes from the Greek word egkrateuomai and is used in the New Testament only here and in 1 Corinthians 7:9. In that passage it has reference to sexual chastity, and here refers to the training and self-denial that was a part of the 10-month training process of the Greek athlete. It literally means, to exercise self-restraint (in diet and chastity), (Strongs).

Thayer says the word means, to be self-controlled, continent… in a figure drawn from athletes, who in preparing themselves for the games abstained from unwholesome food, wine, and sexual indulgence.

Notice the following quotes concerning the athlete’s training, from ancient sources, taken from Wuest’s Bypaths in the Greek New Testament, pages 53-54.

Thou must be orderly, living on spare food; abstain from confections; make a point of exercising at the appointed time, in heat and in cold; nor drink cold water or wine at hazard. (Epictetus)

The youth who would win the race hath borne and done much, he hath sweat and hath been cold: he hath abstained from love and wine. (Horace)

They are constrained, harassed, wearied. (Tertullian, commending the example of the Greek athlete to Christians).

As Wuest states, “If we Christians would exercise as much care and self-denial, and rigidly hold to a life of separation as did the Greek athlete, what powerful, successful, God-glorifying lives we would live. Illustrations such as these were not lost upon Paul’s Greek readers” (pg. 54, ibid).

Paul here points out a contrast between the motivation of the athlete and that of the Christian. He writes, “Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” The perishable crown referred to here was called a chaplet. It was a woven crown of oak leaves, and was the sole prize given to the athlete. Consider how much time and effort, how much discipline and self-denial the athlete invested in order to attain such a small reward. Next, consider the value of the crown supplied to the victorious child of God!

At the end of his life, Paul talked about the crown that had been reserved for him. He wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). No doubt during the difficulties of his life, the hope of the crown sustained Paul. He suffered greatly for the cause of His Lord. He endured imprisonment, torture, shipwreck and treachery. He gave up everything he had held dear prior to his conversion. He did it for the Lord, with his eternal destiny in view.

Here he points out that the crown, the object of his life for Christ, was available not only to him, but to all who seek the Lord. But, it takes dedication and zeal. Going back to his message to the Corinthians, Paul wrote in verse 24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” This does not indicate that only one Christian will actually get the crown of life; rather it indicates the type of zeal we must have to be acceptable to God.

The Christian race is not a “fun run.” We should not approach it as a hobby, something to do on a sunny day. Rather, it should be to us as competition is to the Olympic athlete. We must give ourselves to it totally, and deny all else that we may obtain the victory in Christ.

The Hebrew writer likewise refers to the Christian life as a race, and establishes the focus we must have in our efforts. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). We must set aside any encumbrance, and run the race with a narrow focus. In our lives, we must constantly look to Jesus. We must always consider the eternal reward of His presence, and never grow weary in the progress we make toward that goal.

I may not have the skill of the Olympic athlete, but I can have the zeal and focus to obtain the imperishable crown which God has reserved for those “who have loved His appearing.”