Hope you don’t mind the “highlander” reference in the title (if you don’t know what I mean, click: this), but here is a short excerpt from Lucian again. It’s such a perfect parallel to 1 Cor 9:24 that I want to make just a few comments on it. From Lucian, Anacharsis 13 (LCL; Eng. trans. modified from Harmon), Solon explains to Anacharsis that there is no 2nd place in the pan-hellenic games:
- Anacharsis: Always I would very gladly mention that they are such (fine) prizes (note: he is being very sarcastastic about the wreath of olive branches or apples)! But tell me, do all the competitors receive them (πάντες αὐτὰ λαμβάνουσιν οἱ ἀγωνισταί)?
- Solon: Not by any means! Only one among them all (εἷς ἐξ ἁπάντων) is their winner (ὁ κρατήσας αὐτῶν). (13)
|Footrace from the Panathenaic Games (= setting for Lucian’s Anacharsis)
Photo of 5th cent. BC amphora from Wikipedia Commons
Now compare the exchange between Solon and Anacharsis with what Paul says in 1 Cor 9:24:
- Do you not know that in the stadium, all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. Run in this way, in order to receive it! (Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἐν σταδίῳ τρέχοντες πάντες μὲν τρέχουσιν, εἷς δὲ λαμβάνει τὸ βραβεῖον; οὕτως τρέχετε ἵνα καταλάβητε.)
Paul’s point here is not that the Christian life is about believers trying to out compete one another for blessing and acknowledgement from God. God acknowledges and uses all who are faithful to Him. God does not reward us based on how we outdo other Christians in the way we serve and sacrifice.
Rather, Paul expects that all Christians will fight for godliness and endure challenges in their ministry as if, or in the same way (οὕτως), that an ancient athlete runs, sweats, and sheds blood when there is only one person who walks away with the wreath. Run in this way! as if there is only one person who receives an eternal crown, though we know that God will say to every Christian athlete who has fought off sin, injustice, and the powers which threaten to derail faith: “Good and faithful servant!” (cf. Matt 25:21, 23).
Christian life and ministry is not for wimps. It is not easy. Expect suffering. Expect hardship. But the Lord will do great things through the ones who run with everything they have for his glory, and not their own.