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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 9 - Verse 24
Verse 24. Know ye not, etc. 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 men, the furtherance of the gospel, and, in his peculiar case, (1 Co 9:16,17,) could obtain better evidence, and furnish to others better evidence that he was actuated by a sincere desire to honour 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 Co 9:24,) and by wrestlers, or boxers, 1 Co 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 men 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 familiar 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 splendour, 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 games were celebrated at Nemaea, a town of Argolis, and were instituted by the Argives in honour of Archemorus, who died by the bite of a serpent, but were renewed by Hercules. They consisted of horse and foot races, of boxing, leaping, running, etc. The conqueror was at first rewarded with a crown of olive, afterwards 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 Alphiss river, on the western part of the Peloponnesus. They were on many accounts the most celebrated of any 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. 434, seq. 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:
alma, podwkeihn, diskon, akonta, palhn:
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 honour 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 fitted men 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 fitting them for war.
"They were swifter than eagles,
Stronger than lions."—2 Sa 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. en stadiw. 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.
Run all. All run who have entered the lists. Usually there were many racers who contended for the prize.
But one receiveth the prize? The victor, and he alone. The prize which was conferred was a wreath of olive at the Olympic games; a wreath of apple at Delphi; of pine at the Isthmian; and of parsley at the Nemean games.—Addison. Whatever the prize was, it was conferred on the successful champion on the last day of the games, and with great solemnity, pomp, congratulation, and rejoicing. \-
"Every one thronged to see and congratulate them;
their relations, friends, and countrymen, shedding tears of
tenderness and joy, Lifted them on their shoulders to show
them to the crowd, and held them up to the applauses of the
whole assembly, who strewed handfuls of flowers over them."
(Anachar. iii. 448.) Nay, at their return home, they rode in a
triumphal chariot; the walls of the city were broken down to
give them entrance; and in many cities a subsistence was
given them out of the public treasury, and they were
exempted from taxes. Cicero says that a victory at the
Olympic games was not much less honourable than a triumph
at Rome. see Anachar. iii. 469, and Rob. Cal., art. Race."
When Paul says that but one receives the prize, he does not mean to say that there will be the same small proportion among those who shall enter into heaven, and among Christians. But his idea is, that as they make an effort to obtain the prize, so should we; as many who strive for it then lose it, it is possible that we may; and that therefore we should strive for the crown, and make an effort for it, as if but one out of many could obtain it. This, he says, was the course which he pursued; and it shows, in a most striking manner, the fact that an effort may be made, and should be made, to enter into heaven.
So run, that ye may obtain. So run in the Christian race, that you may obtain the prize of glory, the crown incorruptible. So live, so deny yourselves, so make constant exertion, that you may not fail of that prize, the crown of glory, which awaits the righteous in heaven. Comp. Heb 12:1. Christians may do this when
(1.) they give themselves wholly to God, and make this the grand business of life;
(2.) "when they lay aside every weight," (Heb 12:1,) and renounce all sin and all improper attachments;
(3.) when they do not allow themselves to be diverted from the object, but keep the goal constantly in view;
(4.) when they do not flag, or grow weary in their course;
(5.) when they deny themselves; and
(6.) when they keep their eye fully fixed on Christ (Heb 12:2) as their example and their strength, and on heaven as the end of their race, and on the crown of glory as their reward.
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