“And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor.9:25 ASV).
Perhaps you have watched some of the Olympic Games this past week. If you have, then you have watched while athletes from all over the world have competed to win the coveted gold medal. Several athletes have won multiple medals. Competing in the games, however, is not the sum total of the efforts these athletes have expended. Some have trained for many months, others for years, simply to participate in the events. But to win a medal, well, that is an honor above honors.
You may have noticed in watching some of the awards ceremonies that the athletes have been receiving crowns made of olive leaves. In former years, we have not seen this at the Olympic Games. It is something that is unique to the games being in the nation of Greece. In the original Olympic Games (which were held from around 770 B.C. to 300 A.D., a period of over 1000 years) it was this crown of olive leaves for which the athletes competed.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul alludes to these games with which the Christians at Corinth would have been familiar. Some of these Christians may have known a friend who participated in these games; some may have participated themselves. They were familiar with these games through their own personal experience. They, like we, knew the efforts and struggles expended in order to compete and win the prize. The word for “strive” in this verse is the Greek word “AGONIZOMAI.” One can almost hear the word “agonize” when pronouncing that word. So when Paul makes reference to these games, they, and we, know the degree to which we must go to be faithful to Christ and to win the crown.
In the Greek language, there were two words for “crown.” The word used in this context is from the Greek word “STEFANOS.” We get the English name Stephen from this word. Matthew, Mark, and John use this word to describe the “crown” of thorns that was placed on Jesus’ head before his crucifixion. In addition to 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul uses the word to describe the saints at Philippi for whom he labored (Philippians 4:1), the saints at Thessalonica as well (1 Thessalonians 2:19), the crown of lawful victory (2 Timothy 2:5), and the crown of righteousness which all the faithful will receive at life’s end (2 Timothy 4:8). James uses this word to speak concerning the Christian’s crown of life (James 1:12), Peter, the crown of glory that the chief shepherd will give (1 Peter 5:4), and Jesus, the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
In discussing our efforts to obtain this crown, Paul makes it clear that we cannot obtain this crown unlawfully. 2 Timothy 2:5 states, “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” As Christians, we must ensure that we are striving, training ourselves on a daily basis, and doing so lawfully, that is, under the banner of Christ’s covenant today. Sadly, there have been some athletes who have not participated in our Olympic games because of unlawful activities. It would be even sadder still, for one who professes to be a Christian to enter eternity in such a situation. Let us resolve, therefore, to discipline ourselves each day, to strive for the crown, and to do so lawfully that one day we may have that crown of righteousness!