1 Corinthians 9:24
Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(24) Know ye not . . .—The illustration which follows refers to these Isthmian games (so called from their taking place in the isthmus where Corinth stood) with which his readers would be familiar. These, like the other games of Greece—the Olympian, Pythian, and Nemean—included every form of athletic exercise, and stood on an entirely different footing from anything of the kind in modern times. For the Greek, these contests were great national and religious festivals. None but freemen could enter the lists, and they only after they had satisfied the appointed officers that they had for ten months undergone the necessary preliminary training. For thirty days previous to the contest the candidates had to attend the exercises at the gymnasium, and only after the fulfilment of these conditions were they allowed, when the time arrived, to contend in the sight of assembled Greece. Proclamation was made of the name and country of each competitor by a herald. The victor was crowned with a garland of pine leaves or ivy. The family of the conqueror was honoured by his victory, and when he returned to his native town he would enter it through a breach in the walls, the object of this being to symbolise that for a town which was honoured with such a citizen no walls of defence were needful (Plutarch). Pindar, or some other great poet, would immortalise the victorious hero’s name in his verse, and in all future festivals the foremost seats would be occupied by the heroes of former contests.

So runi.e., run in the way referred to, so that you may gain a prize.

1 Corinthians

HOW THE VICTOR RUNS

1 Corinthians 9:24
.

So run.’ Does that mean ‘Run so that ye obtain?’ Most people, I suppose, superficially reading the words, attach that significance to them, but the ‘so’ here carries a much greater weight of meaning than that. It is a word of comparison. The Apostle would have the Corinthians recall the picture which he has been putting before them-a picture of a scene that was very familiar to them; for, as most of us know, one of the most important of the Grecian games was celebrated at intervals in the immediate neighbourhood of Corinth. Many of the Corinthian converts had, no doubt, seen, or even taken part in them. The previous portion of the verse in which our text occurs appeals to the Corinthians’ familiar knowledge of the arena and the competitors, ‘Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?’ He would have them picture the eager racers, with every muscle strained, and the one victor starting to the front; and then he says, ‘Look at that panting conqueror. That is how you should run. So run-’meaning thereby not, ‘Run so that you may obtain the prize,’ but ‘Run so’ as the victor does, ‘in order that you may obtain.’ So, then, this victor is to be a lesson to us, and we are to take a leaf out of his book. Let us see what he teaches us.

I. The first thing is, the utmost tension and energy and strenuous effort.

It is very remarkable that Paul should pick out these Grecian games as containing for Christian people any lesson, for they were honeycombed, through and through, with idolatry and all sorts of immorality, so that no Jew ventured to go near them, and it was part of the discipline of the early Christian Church that professing Christians should have nothing to do with them in any shape.

And yet here, as in many other parts of his letters, Paul takes these foul things as patterns for Christians. ‘There is a soul of goodness in things evil, if we would observantly distil it out.’ It is very much as if English preachers were to refer their people to a racecourse, and say, ‘Even there you may pick out lessons, and learn something of the way in which Christian people ought to live.’

On the same principle the New Testament deals with that diabolical business of fighting. It is taken as an emblem for the Christian soldier, because, with all its devilishness, there is in it this, at least, that men give themselves up absolutely to the will of their commander, and are ready to fling away their lives if he lifts his finger. That at least is grand and noble, and to be imitated on a higher plane.

In like manner Paul takes these poor racers as teaching us a lesson. Though the thing be all full of sin, we can get one valuable thought out of it, and it is this-If people would work half as hard to gain the highest object that a man can set before him, as hundreds of people are ready to do in order to gain trivial and paltry objects, there would be fewer stunted and half-dead Christians amongst us. ‘That is the way to run,’ says Paul, ‘if you want to obtain.’

Look at the contrast that he hints at, between the prize that stirs these racers’ energies into such tremendous operation and the prize which Christians profess to be pursuing. ‘They do it to obtain a corruptible crown’-a twist of pine branch out of the neighbouring grove, worth half-a-farthing, and a little passing glory not worth much more. They do it to obtain a corruptible crown; we do not do it, though we professedly have an incorruptible one as our aim and object. If we contrast the relative values of the objects that men pursue so eagerly, and the objects of the Christian course, surely we ought to be smitten down with penitent consciousness of our own unworthiness, if not of our own hypocrisy.

It is not even there that the lesson stops, because we Christian people may be patterns and rebukes to ourselves. For, on the one side of our nature we show what we can do when we are really in earnest about getting something; and on the other side we show with how little work we can be contented, when, at bottom, we do not much care whether we get the prize or not. If you and I really believed that that crown of glory which Paul speaks about might be ours, and would be all sufficing for us if it were ours, as truly as we believe that money is a good thing, there would not be such a difference between the way in which we clutch at the one and the apathy which scarcely cares to put out a hand for the other. The things that are seen and temporal do get the larger portion of the energies and thoughts of the average Christian man, and the things that are unseen and eternal get only what is left. Sometimes ninety per cent. of the water of a stream is taken away to drive a milldam or do work, and only ten per cent. can be spared to trickle down the half-dry channel and do nothing but reflect the bright sun and help the little flowers and the grass to grow. So, the larger portion of most lives goes to drive the mill-wheels, and there is very little left, in the case of many of us, in order to help us towards God, and bring us closer into communion with our Lord. ‘Run’ for the crown as eagerly as you ‘run’ for your incomes, or for anything that you really, in your deepest desires, want. Take yourselves for your own patterns and your own rebukes. Your own lives may show you how you can love, hope, work, and deny yourselves when you have sufficient inducement, and their flame should put to shame their frost, for the warmth is directed towards trifles and the coldness towards the crown. If you would run for the incorruptible prize of effort in the fashion in which others and yourselves run for the corruptible, your whole lives would be changed. Why! if Christian people in general really took half-half? ay! a tenth part of-the honest, persistent pains to improve their Christian character, and become more like Jesus Christ, which a violinist will take to master his instrument, there would be a new life for most of our Christian communities. Hours and hours of patient practice are not too much for the one; how many moments do we give to the other? ‘So run, that ye obtain.’

II. The victorious runner sets Christians an example of rigid self-control.

Every man that is striving for the mastery is ‘temperate in all things.’ The discipline for runners and athletes was rigid. They had ten months of spare diet-no wine-hard gymnastic exercises every day, until not an ounce of superfluous flesh was upon their muscles, before they were allowed to run in the arena. And, says Paul, that is the example for us. They practise this rigid discipline and abstinence by way of preparation for the race, and after it was run they might dispense with the training. You and I have to practise rigid abstinence as part of the race, as a continuous necessity. They did not abstain only from bad things, they did not only avoid criminal acts of sensuous indulgence; but they abstained from many perfectly legitimate things. So for us it is not enough to say, ‘I draw the line there, at this or that vice, and I will have nothing to do with these.’ You will never make a growing Christian if abstinence from palpable sins only is your standard. You must ‘lay aside’ every sin, of course, but also ‘every weight’ Many things are ‘weights’ that are not ‘sins’; and if we are to run fast we must run light, and if we are to do any good in this world we have to live by rigid control and abstain from much that is perfectly legitimate, because, if we do not, we shall fail in accomplishing the highest purposes for which we are here. Not only in regard to the gross sensual indulgences which these men had to avoid, but in regard to a great deal of the outgoings of our interests and our hearts, we have to apply the knife very closely and cut to the quick, if we would have leisure and sympathy and affection left for loftier objects. It is a very easy thing to be a Christian in one aspect, inasmuch as a Christian at bottom is a man that is trusting to Jesus Christ, and that is not hard to do. It is a very hard thing to be a Christian in another aspect, because a real Christian is a man who, by reason of his trusting Jesus Christ, has set his heel upon the neck of the animal that is in him, and keeps the flesh well down, and not only the flesh, but the desires of the mind as well as of the flesh, and subordinates them all to the one aim of pleasing Him. ‘No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life’ if his object is to please Him that has called him to be a soldier. Unless we cut off a great many of the thorns, so to speak, by which things catch hold of us as we pass them, we shall not make much advance in the Christian life. Rigid self-control and abstinence from else legitimate things that draw us away from Him are needful, if we are so to run as the poor heathen racer teaches us.

III. The last grace that is suggested here, the last leaf to take out of these racers’ book, is definiteness and concentration of aim.

‘I, therefore,’ says the Apostle, ‘so run not as uncertainly.’ If the runner is now heading that way and now this, making all manner of loops upon his path, of course he will be left hopelessly in the rear. It is the old fable of the Grecian mythology transplanted into Christian soil. The runner who turned aside to pick up the golden apple was disappointed of his hopes of the radiant fair. The ship, at the helm of which is a steersman who has either a feeble hand or does not understand his business, and which therefore keeps yawing from side to side, with the bows pointing now this way and now that, is not holding a course that will make the harbour first in the race. The people that to-day are marching with their faces towards Zion, and to-morrow making a loop-line to the world, will be a long time before they reach their terminus. I believe there are few things more lacking in the average Christian life of to-day than resolute, conscious concentration upon an aim which is clearly and always before us. Do you know what you are aiming at? That is the first question. Have you a distinct theory of life’s purpose that you can put into half a dozen words, or have you not? In the one case, there is some chance of attaining your object; in the other one, none. Alas! we find many Christian people who do not set before themselves, with emphasis and constancy, as their aim the doing of God’s will, and so sometimes they do it, when it happens to be easy, and sometimes, when temptations are strong, they do not. It needs a strong hand on the tiller to keep it steady when the wind is blowing in puffs and gusts, and sometimes the sail bellies full and sometimes it is almost empty. The various strengths of the temptations that blow us out of our course are such that we shall never keep a straight line of direction, which is the shortest line, and the only one on which we shall ‘obtain,’ unless we know very distinctly where we want to go, and have a good strong will that has learned to say ‘No!’ when the temptations come. ‘Whom resist steadfast in the faith.’ ‘I therefore so run, not as uncertainly,’ taking one course one day and another the next.

Now, that definite aim is one that can be equally pursued in all varieties of life. ‘This one thing I do’ said one who did about as many things as most people, but the different kinds of things that Paul did were all, at bottom, one thing. And we, in all the varieties of our circumstances, may keep this one clear aim before us, and whether it be in this way or in that, we may be equally and at all times seeking the better country, and bending all circumstances and all duty to make us more like our Master and bring us closer to Him.

The Psalmist did not offer an impossible prayer when he said: ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in His temple.’ Was David in ‘the house of the Lord’ when he was with his sheep in the wilderness, and when he was in Saul’s palace, and when he was living with wild beasts in dens and caves of the earth, and when he was a fugitive, hunted like a partridge upon the mountains? Was he always in the Lord’s house? Yes! At any rate he could be. All that we do may be doing His will, and over a life, crowded with varying circumstances and yet simplified and made blessed by unvarying obedience, we may write, ‘This one thing I do.’

But we shall not keep this one aim clear before our eyes, unless we habituate ourselves to the contemplation of the end. The runner, according to Paul’s vivid picture in another of his letters, forgets the things that are behind, and stretches out towards the things that are before. And just as a man runs with his body inclining forward, and his eager hand nearer the prize than his body, and his eyesight and his heart travelling ahead of them both to grasp it, so if we want to live with the one worthy aim for ours, and to put all our effort and faith into what deserves it all-the Christian race-we must bring clear before us continually, or at least with the utmost frequency, the prize of our high calling, the crown of righteousness. Then we shall run so that we may, at the last, be able to finish our course with joy, and dying to hope with all humility that there is laid up for us a crown of righteousness.1 Corinthians 9:24-25. Know ye not that — In those famous games, which are kept in the isthmus, near your city; they who run in a race Εν σταδιω, in the stadium, (so the place was called where the athletes contended,) run indeed all — And contend one with another; but one — Only of them all; receiveth the prize — Whereas in the Christian race, the success of one is no hinderance to that of others. How much greater encouragement then have you to run, since you may all receive the prize of your high calling. And every man that striveth for the mastery — That there contendeth; is temperate in all things — To an almost incredible degree; using the most rigorous self-denial in food, sleep, and every other sensual indulgence. It may not be improper to observe here, that “those who taught the gymnastic art, prescribed to their disciples the kind of meat that was proper, the quantity they were to eat, and the hours at which they were to eat: they prescribed to them likewise the hours of their exercise and rest: they forbade them the use of wine and women. So Horace tells us, Article Poetry, line 412: —

Qui studet optatam cursu contingere metam, Multa tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit, Abstinuit Venere et Baccho.

A youth who hopes the Olympic prize to gain, All arts must try, and every toil sustain; The extremes of heat and cold must often prove, And shun the weakening joys of wine and love. — FRANCIS.

This whole course, which lasted for many years, was called ασκεσις, exercise. Hence the ancient monks, who imitated, and even outstripped, the athletics in their rules of temperance, and in the laboriousness of their exercises, were called ασκηται, ascetics.” Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown — “The crowns for which the Greeks contended in their games, were, for the most part, of the leaves of trees, which, though evergreens, soon withered. In the Olympic games, sacred to Jupiter, the crowns were of the wild olive; in the Pythian, sacred to Apollo, they were of laurel; in the Isthmian, of pines; and in the Nemæan, of smallage, or parsley. The honours, likewise, of which these crowns were the pledges, by length of time lost their agreeableness, and at last perished, being all confined to the present life.” But we are animated by the view of an incorruptible crown; termed a crown of righteousness, 2 Timothy 4:8; and a crown of life, James 1:12; and Revelation 2:10. A crown this which never fades, as the word αφθαρτος, here used, implies: that is, there never shall be any period put to the honours and advantages of it. As a reason for what the apostle here says, Dr. Macknight thinks that his enemies, (who, from his not taking a maintenance, inferred that he was no apostle,) “affirmed, that whatever disinterestedness he might pretend, it was not credible that he would undergo such continued labour in preaching, and in complying with the humours of mankind, unless he had reaped some present advantage from his labours. But to show them the futility of their reasoning, he desired them to consider the long course of laborious discipline and exercise which the contenders in the Grecian games submitted to, for so small a prize as a crown of leaves; which, after their utmost pains, they were not sure of obtaining, and which, when obtained, would soon fade, with all its honours and advantages. Whereas, by the labours and sufferings which he underwent as an apostle, he was sure of obtaining an infinitely better crown, which would never fade.”9:24-27 The apostle compares himself to the racers and combatants in the Isthmian games, well known by the Corinthians. But in the Christian race all may run so as to obtain. There is the greatest encouragement, therefore, to persevere with all our strength, in this course. Those who ran in these games were kept to a spare diet. They used themselves to hardships. They practised the exercises. And those who pursue the interests of their souls, must combat hard with fleshly lusts. The body must not be suffered to rule. The apostle presses this advice on the Corinthians. He sets before himself and them the danger of yielding to fleshly desires, pampering the body, and its lusts and appetites. Holy fear of himself was needed to keep an apostle faithful: how much more is it needful for our preservation! Let us learn from hence humility and caution, and to watch against dangers which surround us while in the body.Know ye not ... - In the remainder of this chapter, Paul illustrates the general sentiment on which he had been dwelling - the duty of practicing self-denial for the salvation of others - by a reference to the well known games which were celebrated near Corinth. Throughout the chapter, his object had been to show that in declining to receive a support for preaching, he had done it, not because he was conscious that he had no claim to it, but because by doing it he could better advance the salvation of people, the furtherance of the gospel, and in his special case 1 Corinthians 9:16-17 could obtain better evidence, and furnish to others better evidence that he was actuated by a sincere desire to honor God in the gospel. He had denied himself. He had voluntarily submitted to great privations. He had had a great object in view in doing it. And he now says, that in the well known athletic games at Corinth, the same thing was done by the "racers" 1 Corinthians 9:24, and by "wrestlers, or boxers"; 1 Corinthians 9:25.

If they had done it, for objects so comparatively unimportant as the attainment of an "earthly" garland, assuredly it was proper for him to do it to obtain a crown which should never fade away. This is one of the most beautiful, appropriate, vigorous, and bold illustrations that can anywhere be found; and is a striking instance of the force with which the most vigorous and self-denying efforts of Christians can be vindicated, and can be urgeD by a reference to the conduct of people in the affairs of this life. By the phrase "know ye not," Paul intimates that those games to which he alludes were well known to them, and that they must be famillar with their design, and with the manner in which they were conducted. The games to which the apostle alludes were celebrated with extraordinary pomp and splendor, every fourth year, on the isthmus which joined the Peloponnesus to the main land, and on a part of which the city of Corinth stood.

There were in Greece four species of games, the Pythian, or Delphic; the Isthmian, or Corinthian; the Nemean, and the Olympic. On these occasions persons were assembled from all parts of Greece, and the time during which they continued was devoted to extraordinary festivity and amusement. The Isthmian or Corinthian games were celebrated in the narrow part of the Isthmus of Corinth, to the north of the city, and were doubtless the games to which the apostle more particularly alluded, though the games in each of the places were substantially of the same nature, and the same illustration would in the main apply to all. The Nemean game were celebrated at "Nemaea," a town of Argolis, and were instituted by the Argives in honor of Archemorus, who died by the bite of a serpent, but were renewed by Hercules, They consisted of horse races and foot races, of boxing, leaping, running, etc. The conqueror was at first rewarded with a crown of olive, afterward of green parsley.

They were celebrated every third, or, according to others, every fifth year. The "Pythian" games were celebrated every four years at Delphi, in Phocis, at the foot of Mount Parnassus, where was the seat of the celebrated Delphic oracle. These games were of the same character substantially as those celebrated in other places, and attracted persons not only from other parts of Greece, but from distant countries; see Travels of Anacharsis, vol. ii, pp. 375-418. The "Olympic" games were celebrated in Olympia, a town of Elis, on the southern bank of the Alphias river, on the western part of the Peloponnesus. They were on many accounts the most celebrated of any games in Greece. They were said to have been instituted by Hercules, who planted a grove called "Altis," which he dedicated to Jupiter. They were attended not only from all parts of Greece, but, from the most distant countries. These were celebrated every fourth year; and hence, in Grecian chronology, a period of four years was called an Olympiad; see Anacharsis, vol. iii, p. 434ff. It thus happened that in one or more of these places there were games celebrated every year, to which no small part of the inhabitants of Greece were attracted. Though the apostle probably had particular reference to the "Isthmian" games celebrated in the vicinity of Corinth, yet his illustration is applicable to them all; for in all the exercises were nearly the same. They consisted chiefly in leaping, running, throwing the discus or quoit, boxing, wrestling, and were expressed in the following line:

Ἀλυά, ποδωκείην, δίσκον, ἀκοντα, τάλην Alua, podōkeiēn, diskon, akonta, talēn

, "Leaping, running, throwing the quoit, darting, wrestling." Connected with these were also, sometimes, other exercises, as races of chariots, horses, etc. The apostle refers to but two of these exercises in his illustration.

They which run - This was one of the principal exercises at the games. Fleetness or swiftness was regarded as an extraordinary virtue; and great pains were taken in order to excel in this. Indeed they regarded it so highly that those who prepared themselves for it thought it worth while to use means to burn their spleen, because it was believed to be a hinderance to them, and to retard them in the race. Rob. Cal. Homer tells us that swiftness was one of the most excellent endowments with which a man can be blessed.

"No greater honor e'er has been attain'd,

Than what strong hands or nimble feet have gain'd."

"One reason" why this was deemed so valuable an attainment among the Greeks, was, that it suited people eminently for war as it was then conducted. It enabled them to make a sudden and unexpected onset, or a rapid retreat. Hence, the character which Homer constantly gives of Achilles is that he was swift of foot. And thus David, in his poetical lamentations over Saul and Jonathan, takes special notice of this qualification of theirs, as preparing them for war.

"They were swifter than eagles,

Stronger than lions." 2 Samuel 1:23.

For these races they prepared themselves by a long course of previous discipline and exercise; and nothing was left undone that might contribute to secure the victory.

In a race - (ἐν σταδίῳ en stadiō). In the "stadium." The "stadium," or running ground, or place in which the boxers contended, and where races were run. At Olympia the stadium was a causeway 604 feet in length, and of proportionable width. Herod. lib. 2. c. 149. It was surrounded by a terrace, and by the seats of the judges of the games. At one end was fixed the boundary or goal to which they ran.

continued...

24. Know ye not—The Isthmian games, in which the foot race was a leading one, were of course well known, and a subject of patriotic pride to the Corinthians, who lived in the immediate neighborhood. These periodical games were to the Greeks rather a passion than a mere amusement: hence their suitableness as an image of Christian earnestness.

in a race—Greek, "in a race course."

all … one—Although we knew that one alone could be saved, still it Would be well worth our while to run [Bengel]. Even in the Christian race not "all" who enter on the race win (1Co 10:1-5).

So run, that ye may obtain—said parenthetically. These are the words in which the instructors of the young in the exercise schools (gymnasia) and the spectators on the race course exhorted their pupils to stimulate them to put forth all exertions. The gymnasium was a prominent feature in every Greek city. Every candidate had to take an oath that he had been ten months in training, and that he would violate none of the regulations (2Ti 2:5; compare 1Ti 4:7, 8). He lived on a strict self-denying diet, refraining from wine and pleasant foods, and enduring cold and heat and most laborious discipline. The "prize" awarded by the judge or umpire was a chaplet of green leaves; at the Isthmus, those of the indigenous pine, for which parsley leaves were temporarily substituted (1Co 9:25). The Greek for "obtain" is fully obtain. It is in vain to begin, unless we persevere to the end (Mt 10:22; 24:13; Re 2:10). The "so" expresses, Run with such perseverance in the heavenly course, as "all" the runners exhibit in the earthly "race" just spoken of: to the end that ye may attain the prize.

The apostle presseth all his former discourse by minding them of the difficulty of getting to heaven, and of the obligation that lay upon them to be the first in the spiritual race. To this purpose he fetcheth a similitude from what they saw daily, in the practice of those who frequented those games by which the Romans and Corinthians were wont to divert themselves. They had several, known by the names of the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games, the latter of which were most proper to Greece. At these games there were several that ran races, either on foot or on horseback: and several that wrestled. The reward was a crown, or garland: and for those that ran, we read that the crown or garland was hung up at the end of the race, and those who, running on foot or on horseback, could first lay hold upon it, and take it down, had it, so as though many ran, yet but one had the crown. So, he saith, it is as to getting to heaven; men might think it was a light matter, but they who would have the crown of glory must run for it, and it was a work which required so much striving and labour, that not many would have that crown: which is the same with that which our Saviour saith, Luke 13:24. For many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. 2 Timothy 2:5, If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. Therefore, saith the apostle, make it your business,

so to run, that you may obtain; not only to do things in themselves lawful or good, but which are so clothed with all their circumstances, and in the best manner, for the glory of God, and the good of others. Know ye not that they which run in a race,.... The allusion in this and the following verses is to the Grecian games, which consisted, among other things, of running of races, and of wrestling, combating, and fighting; and which are in this and the context particularly mentioned: and the apostle the rather makes use of these terms, and refers to these things, because they were well known to the Corinthians, and refers to them as well known; for the Isthmian games were performed in their neighbourhood, and doubtless had been seen by many of them, for the Corinthians were presidents of them. The race, or stadium in which they ran, was the space or interval between the place they set out from, and that which they ran unto, and consisted of 125 paces, or 625 feet; it was the space of a furlong, and about the eighth part of a mile: in this they

run all; as many as would, that came around from all parts, striving who should be foremost and get the crown;

but one receives the prize; which was held by the president of the game, or judge of the race, and received by the winner, who was judged to be so by him; and was no other in the Isthmian games, which are most likely to be referred to here, than a crown made of pine tree branches, or leaves, and sometimes of dried parsley (s):

so run that ye may obtain. The apostle accommodates or applies the above account to the Christian's course of life, and exhorts to run in it in like manner as racers do in a race. The "stadium", or "race" plot in the which the believer runs, is this world, or this present life; he is only a runner now and here, for no sooner is the time of his departure come, but his course or race is finished; and, as his forerunner Christ, sits down in full rest from all his labours as at a table, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and on a throne with Christ: the course he runs includes the exercise of every grace, particularly faith, which is expressed not only by going to Christ, walking in him, but by fleeing and running to him; and the discharge of every duty, signified by a running in the way of God's commandments; and, in a word, the whole of a Christian profession, and the holding of it fast, and holding on in it unto the end. The act of "running" is a motion forward, a following on to know the Lord, a going from strength to strength, from one degree of grace to another, a pressing forward toward the mark for the prize; and requires spiritual strength from Christ, and a daily renewal of it; is to be performed with readiness, swiftness, and cheerfulness, in opposition to a slowness of heart to believe, and a slothfulness and sluggishness in the business and service of Christ. The manner of running, "so", that is, as the Grecians ran in their races; they ran "all", so should all believers run, ministers and churches, churches and the several members thereof, old and young professors; so the church determines for herself, her members, and the daughters of Jerusalem, "we will run after thee", Sol 1:4 and they have this encouragement which the others had not, for only one received the prize with the Grecians, but here all, that run well, obtain: again, they ran and strove to be foremost, who should get to the goal first and receive the prize, so should believers be emulous to outdo each other, to go before one another, in faith and holiness; striving in the strength of Christ, who should do most service for him, and bring most glory to him: moreover, as they ran in the way that was marked out for them, not turning to the right hand or the left, so should believers run in the way of salvation, which is Christ; in the way of holiness, faith, and truth; and in the path of duty and ordinances, which are all clearly pointed out unto them: once more, as they while running kept their eye upon the mark, so should believers, while running the race set before them, be continually looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith: to say no more, as they kept running till they came to the end of their race, so should the saints; there is no time for stopping or looking back; remember Lot's wife. The end of running is to obtain the prize, the incorruptible crown of eternal life; not that this is to be procured in a way of merit by running; for the best services of the saints have no merit in them, they are previously due to God, nor can they be profitable to him; and besides, are done by the assistance of his own grace and strength; nor is there any proportion between the best works of men, and this crown of glory, life, and righteousness; yea, salvation, or eternal life, is expressly denied to be of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, and is always represented as this crown is, to be a free gift: the meaning of the expression is, that believers are to run on in their Christian race, that they may, and when they are come to the end of it they shall, as he that came foremost in the race did, stretch forth their hand, lay hold on, and receive the crown which the righteous Judge will give them; and is the true import of the word made use of here, and the sense the same with 1 Timothy 6:12. "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life", and denotes that the persevering saint shall enjoy the crown.

(s) Schmid. Prolegam. in Isthm. Pindar, p. 5, 6. & Not. in Olymp. p. 312. Paschalius de Coronis, l. 6. c. 27. p. 441.

{11} Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

(11) He brings in another reason for this wrong, that is, that they were given to gluttony, for there were solemn banquets of sacrifices, and the loose living of the priests was always too much celebrated and kept. Therefore it was hard for those who were accustomed to loose living, especially when they pretended the liberty of the Gospel, to be restrained in these banquets. But on the other hand, the apostle calls them by a pleasant similitude, and also by his own example, to sobriety and mortification of the flesh, showing that they cannot be fit to run or wrestle (as then the games of Isthmies were) who pamper up their bodies. And therefore affirming that they can have no reward unless they take another course and manner of life.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Corinthians 9:24 ff. Exhortation to his readers to follow his example, clothed in figures borrowed from the relations of athletic competition among the Greeks (comp Php 3:12 ff.).

Doubtless Paul, writing to the Corinthians, was thinking of the Isthmian games, which continued to be held even after the destruction of the city by Mummius (Pausanias, 1 Corinthians 2:2). There is no sufficient ground for supposing the Olympic games to be meant, as those in which the foot-race formed a peculiarly prominent feature (Spanheim, Wolf, al[1527]), for running was not excluded at the other places of competition; and it is not necessary to assume that the apostle had a knowledge enabling him to make nice distinctions between the different kinds of contest at the different games.

ΤῸ ΒΡΑΒΕῖΟΝ] ΛΈΓΕΤΑΙ ΔῈ ΟὝΤΩ ΤῸ ΔΙΔΌΜΕΝΟΝ ΓΈΡΑς Τῷ ΝΙΚΉΣΑΝΤΙ ἈΘΛΗΤῇ, ἈΠῸ ΜῈΝ ΤῶΝ ΔΙΔΌΝΤΩΝ ΑὐΤῸ ΒΡΑΒΕΥΤῶΝ ΒΡΑΒΕῖΟΝ, ἈΠῸ ΔῈ ΤῶΝ ἈΘΛΟΎΝΤΩΝ ἎΘΛΟΝ, Scholiast on Pindar, Ol. i. 5. Στέφος δέ ἐστι τοῦ ἀγῶνος (the Isthmian) ΠΊΤΥς (pine), τὸ δὲ ἀνέκαθεν σέλινα (not ivy, but parsley) καὶ αὐτοῦ ἦν ὁ στέφανος, Scholiast on Pindar, Isthm. ὑπόθεσις; comp Plutarch, qu. symp. v. 3, and see Boeckh and Dissen, a[1529] Pind. Ol. xiii. 33; Hermann, gottesdienstl. Alterth. § 50. 27, ed. 2. In the application (ἵνα καταλ.), we are to understand the future Messianic salvation which all may reach. Comp 1 Timothy 6:12.

ΟὝΤΩ ΤΡΈΧΕΤΕ, ἽΝΑ] should not be rendered, as it is by most expositors, “so run, that,”—which the ἵνα, as a particle expressive of design, makes inadmissible (comp 1 Corinthians 9:26-27),—but: in such way run (like the one referred to), in order that. This does away, too, with the awkwardness which would otherwise be involved in εἷς with the plural ΚΑΤΑΛΆΒΗΤΕ. Paul exhorts his readers to run in a way as worthy of the prize (so to shape their inner and outer life), as the one who, by decision of the judge, receives the crown for the foot-race, in order that they may attain to it (i.e. the crown of the Messianic salvation). There is no need for the arbitrary insertion of the idea: “as is necessary, in order that,” etc. (Hofmann).

[1527] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[1529] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.1 Corinthians 9:24-27. § 30. PAUL’S ASCETICISM. The last words of § 29 indicate that the writer feels his own salvation to be bound up in his mission to his fellowmen. The self-denial practised for the latter of these objects is necessary, in point of fact, for both. His example should teach the Cor[1383] the need of stern self-discipline on their personal account, as well as in the interests of weaker brethren. From 1 Corinthians 9:24 onwards to 1 Corinthians 10:22 P. pursues this line of warning, addressed to men who were imperilling their own souls by self-indulgence and worldly conformity. Of the danger of missing the prize of life through indiscipline P. is keenly sensible in his own case; he conveys his apprehension under the picture, so familiar to the Cor[1384], of the Isthmian Games.

[1383] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[1384] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.24–27. Exhortation to Self-restraint

24. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?] Not that this is the case in the Christian course, but that each should manifest the same eagerness and sustained effort as if the prize could be given to one only. The Corinthians are now exhorted to follow the example of their teacher in all self-mistrust and self-restraint. There can be little doubt that there is an allusion here to the Isthmian games, which took place every three years at a spot on the seacoast about nine miles from Corinth. This was one of those festivals “which exercised so great an influence over the Grecian mind, which were, in fact, to their imaginations what the temple was to the Jews and the triumph to the Romans.” Stanley. At this period, he remarks, the Olympic games, the chief national institution of the Greeks (see Art. “Olympia” in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities), had possibly lost some of their interest, while the Isthmus had been the centre of the last expiring struggle of Greek independence, and was destined to be the place where, a few years after the date of this Epistle, Nero stood to announce that the province of Achaia had received the honour of Roman citizenship.

in a race] Literally, in the stadium, or race-course. See Art. “Stadium” in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities. This was a fixed course, oblong in shape, with one end semicircular, fitted round with seats, that the spectators might see all that went on. It was “not a mere resort for public amusement, but an almost sacred edifice, under the tutelage of the patron deity of the Ionian tribes, and surrounded by the most solemn recollections of Greece; its white marble seats rising like a temple in the grassy slope, where its outlines may still be traced, under the shadow of the huge Corinthian citadel, which guards the entrance to the Peloponnesus, and overlooking the blue waters of the Saronic Gulf with Athens glittering in the distance.” Stanley.

prize] Greek, βραβεῖον, from whence, through the late Latin word bravium, comes our English brave. See note on next verse.1 Corinthians 9:24. Οὐκ οἴδατε, know ye not?) The comparison is to a thing very well known to the Corinthians.—[80] εἷς, one) Although we knew, that one alone would be saved, still it would be well worth our while to run. [For what will become of those, who never cease to defend themselves by the inactivity of others. Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:5.—V. g.]—οὔτω τρέχετε, ἼΝΑ ΚΑΤΑΛΆΒΗΤΕ, so run that ye may obtain) Paul speaks of himself to the end of the chapter; he does not yet exhort the Corinthians directly; therefore he seems here to introduce into his discourse by a third party[81] that sort of encouragement, which P. Faber, i. 2, Agonist. c. 32, shows that the judges of the combats, the instructors of the young in gymnastics and the spectators were accustomed to give;—also Chrysostom Hom. on the expression εἂν πεινᾷ; and Caesarius, quaest. 29; for the words, he says, they say,[82] are more than once omitted. See ch. 1 Corinthians 5:13, 1 Corinthians 15:32-33; Ephesians 6:2; Colossians 2:21; Psalm 137:6; Jeremiah 2:25; Jeremiah 51:9. Therefore this is the sense here; they say, so run, etc.; and this clause belongs to the protasis, which is continued at the beginning of the following verse, οὓτω, so, a particle expressive of praise as well as of exhortation, Php 4:1.—τρέχετε, run) All are urged, as if each, not merely one, was to obtain the prize.—ἳνα, that) to the end that.

[80] πάντες, all) Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:1.—V. g.

[81] See Appendix, under the title Sermocinatio. “So run that ye may obtain” is not Paul’s direct exhortation to the Corinthians, but the language of the spectators of the games, etc., to the racers, quoted by Paul as applying to himself. Comp. v. 26.Obliquely reference was meant to the Corinthians.—ED.

[82] Beng. means that Paul’s omitting, in the allusion or quotation, “As the saying is,” does not militate against its being a quotation. For he elsewhere omits this express marking of quotations.—ED.Verses 24-27. - Exhortation to earnestness as a corollary from the principles here stated. Verse 24. - Know ye not that they which run in a race run all? They as Corinthians would well know the full bearing of every illustration derived from the triennial Isthmian games, which were the chief glory of their city, and which at this period had even thrown the Olympic games into the shade. The words "in a race," are rather, in the stadium. The traces of the great Corinthian stadium, where the games were held and the races run, are still visible on the isthmus. This metaphor of "the race," which has pervaded the common language of Christianity, is also found in Hebrews 12:1; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:7. The prize. The bracium was the wreath given to the victor by the judges. The Christian prize is that of "the high calling of God in Jesus Christ," towards which St. Paul himself was pressing forward. In a race (ἐν σταδίῳ)

Or, better, in a race-course. From ἵστημι to place or establish. Hence a stated distance; a standard of length. In all other New-Testament passages it is used of a measure of length, and is rendered furlong, representing 606.75 English feet. From the fact that the race-courses were usually of exactly this length, the word was applied to the race-course itself. The position chosen for the stadium was usually on the side of a hill, which would furnish a natural slope for seats; a corresponding elevation on the opposite side, being formed by a mound of earth, and the seats being supported upon arches. The stadium was oblong in shape, and semicircular at one end; though, after the Roman conquest of Greece, both ends were often made semicircular. A straight wall shut in the area at one end, and here were the entrances and the starting-place for the runners. At the other end was the goal, which, like the starting-point, was marked by a square pillar. Half-way between these was a third pillar. On the first pillar was inscribed excel; on the second, hasten; on the third, turn, since the racers turned round the column to go back to the starting-point.

The isthmus of Corinth was the scene of the Isthmian games, one of the four great national festivals of the Greeks. The celebration was a season of great rejoicing and feasting. The contests included horse, foot, and chariot-racing; wrestling, boxing, musical and poetical trials, and later, fights of animals. The victor's prize was a garland of pine leaves, and his victory was generally celebrated in triumphal odes called epinikia, of which specimens remain among the poems of Pindar. At the period of Paul's epistles the games were still celebrated, and the apostle himself may very probably have been present. At the same time, he would have been familiar with similar scenes in Tarsus, in all the great cities of Asia Minor, especially Ephesus, and even in Jerusalem. Metaphors and allusions founded upon such spectacles abound in Paul's writings. Racers, 1 Corinthians 9:24; boxers, 1 Corinthians 9:26, 1 Corinthians 9:27; gladiators fighting with beasts, 1 Corinthians 15:32; the judge awarding the prize, 2 Timothy 4:8; the goal and the prize, 1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14; the chaplet, 1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:8, the training for the contest, 1 Timothy 4:7, 1 Timothy 4:8; the rules governing it, 2 Timothy 2:5; the chariot-race, Philippians 3:14. These images never occur in the gospels. See on of life, Revelation 2:10.

Prize (βραβεῖον)

Only here and Philippians 3:14. The kindred verb βραβεύω to be umpire, occurs once, Colossians 3:15. See note.

Obtain (καταλάβητε)

Lit., lay hold of. Rev., attain. See on comprehended, John 1:5; see on come upon you, John 12:35; and see on perceived, Acts 4:13. Compare Philippians 3:12.

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