Only one person in the Olympic race gets the gold but all Christians can win the crown. Olympic glory fades but a Christian’s crown lasts forever. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
Like many men today Paul knew sports and like many pastors today he used athletic images when he taught about spiritual things. Paul knew about running races (Galatians 2:2 and 1 Corinthians 9:26 ), boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26), wrestling (Ephesians 6:12), and gladiatorial contests (1 Corinthians 4:9; 15:32). (For more on this see the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery article on athletics which was helpful to me in compiling this list)
In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, Paul likens his work in ministry to Olympic competition.
There are similarities:
Not everyone gets a prize. In the Olympics most lose. In ministry some are disqualified.
We must exercise self-control. Those in athletics and ministry must learn to control their urges and practice delayed gratification.
We must prepare hard. Years of work stand behind Olympic gold. In ministry there are regular hours of prayer and study and service that build and build as the years go on and create a depth that empowers our ministries.
We must know our goals and be focused. Athletes and Christians must say “no” as often as or more than they say “yes.” They must respect their gifting and goals and expend themselves accordingly.
We don’t run aimlessly or swing wildly hitting only air. It isn’t “do something” but “do the best things.”
If we don’t compete correctly, we will be disqualified. It isn’t win at any cost- taking banned drugs or losing of our marriage. We can look good for a time but our cheating will be uncovered when we stand before Jesus or sooner.
There are differences
Our crown doesn’t perish. Many champions at the Olympics or professional athletics fade from view or become a silly embarrassment. Service rewarded for Jesus is rewarded forever.
There can be more than one winner. There is only one gold medal in each event but in the Church all can receive a “well-done good and faithful servant.”