Excitement was in the air as thousands of people from across Greece and beyond eagerly made their way to the grand Isthmian Games, held every two years not far from the ancient city of Corinth.
In the spring of A.D. 51 the apostle Paul had been in Corinth for some months, preaching and meeting people, including fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila. Tentmaking was an excellent business, especially during the time of the huge sports festivals, as “the spring air [was] chilly enough to require shelter; and frequent showers and violent gusts of wind that buffet the Isthmian region make such shelter imperative”1 for the many guests who flocked to the area for this important sports festival. Paul and his friends no doubt had many customers, and through their business not only provided shelter but were also given opportunities to share the gospel.
The games themselves were a huge attraction, and no doubt the apostle heard much about them, and could very well have witnessed them himself. He would have seen the incredible dedication of the athletes who devoted everything to the one goal of “winning the race.”
Later he used this illustration when writing to the church in Corinth: “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” (1 Cor. 9:24). Here the apostle is referring to the Christian race. He continues: “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things” (verse 25).
Serious athletes take time to practice and prepare. They are careful. They organize and train with one objective in mind—to win. It requires focus, determination, and discipline.
If you have run in a race, you know not to even glance behind you. If you turn to see how close the competitor is, you will lose precious seconds and may lose the race. The one focus is the finish line. You cannot be distracted by anything.
Paul points out that in the Isthmian Games, there was only one winner in each event—no second or third place. Only the winner received the prize. He adds, “Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (verse 25).
Winners at the Isthmian Games received a crown of special leaves encircling their heads. They were taken to their home cities, where a new gate was cut into the city wall and named after them. They received great honors, but it was temporary. How long does a crown of leaves last? Just a few days. A few years later, people looked at the city gate and wondered who the person was that deserved such an honor.
In this world achievements are very temporary. But you and I are in a race. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:14, we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
God is calling each one to be a part of His mission to reach the world for Him. He does not want us to get distracted in any way. And the beautiful thing about the Christian race and bringing people to the foot of the cross is that everyone can be a winner in Jesus Christ. As we focus on this race, we are headed toward an imperishable crown.
Won’t it be wonderful when we get to heaven? There will be an innumerable number of people there, and by God’s grace you and I will be there too. Christ will take time to place a crown on your head, and it will be an imperishable crown. It will not fade. But we’re going to take those crowns and put them at the feet of Jesus, saying, “Heaven is cheap enough.” In other words, whatever I gave up for being a follower of Jesus was insignificant, because Jesus has given me salvation and eternal life through His grace and His blood. What a wonderful opportunity for us to share with Jesus our amazing gratitude for running the Christian race and not being distracted.
Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 9:26: “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.” That is, we don’t just run aimlessly without a goal, “not as one who beats the air,” he says, alluding to participants in the Isthmian boxing matches. They didn’t just box into the air; they made everything count. Concluding the passage in verse 27, Paul writes, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Brothers and sisters, do not let the devil distract you in any way from the race you are running to have eternal life through the grace and blood of Jesus, and to share it with someone else.
The apostle John explains well the purpose of sharing the hope we have when he wrote, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
Total Member Involvement is saying, “Yes, Lord, I will go.” I will be part of revival and reformation. I will be part of mission to the cities. I will be part of comprehensive health ministry. I will be part of community services. I will be part of sharing Adventist literature and the book The Great Controversy with people. Don’t let anything distract you from this amazing opportunity to allow God to work through you.
Unity in Mission
Inspired counsel tells us, “Strive earnestly for unity. Pray for it, work for it. . . . Crucify self; esteem others better than yourselves.”2 Don’t allow the devil to bring disunity into your local church, family, workplace, community, or your association with His precious, wonderful church. Let self be lost in Jesus. Let your focus be on Him and on the goal He has. God is calling each of us to be united in Him as we press forward toward the mark, the goal of your high calling in Jesus Christ.
As you share this message, God is wanting to use you in a most remarkable and powerful way. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and never take your eyes off the precious Word of God. Never take your eyes off the instruction given in the Spirit of Prophecy. Never be distracted from personal prayer. Be a student of the Word and be part of God’s people, who are people of the Book. And never get distracted from sharing with others the wonderful Word of God—the truth that has set you free, the truth that has made you who you are as a Seventh-day Adventist at the end of time, waiting for Jesus’ soon return. Keep your eyes on Jesus, for He is coming soon!
1 Oscar Broneer, “The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games,” The Biblical Archaeologist 25, no. 1 (February 1962): 20.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 9, p. 188.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. Additional articles and commentaries are available from the president’s office on Twitter: @pastortedwilson and Facebook: @Pastor Ted Wilson.
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