People say I’m a competitive person. It’s probably true, since I must confess that I have been known to cheat while playing Monopoly (on more than one occasion). It’s a shallow victory though, knowing that you didn’t really deserve it. But even when I am competing honestly, which has been known to happen, any victory fades away as quickly as it comes. That’s simply how it is with this world. We strive for what we desire, only to find that what we desire is kind of hollow…
It was the same for the Corinthians. They too lived in a world where the competition ruled, yet success was only fleeting. The prize might have been reached, yet it’s never lasting. That’s just the way with the things of this world. Everything fades. Success. Glory. Wealth. Beauty. Nothing is truly lasting.
But in the race of following Jesus, everyone who runs gets a crown, and that crown is everlasting! It shall not fade away. It shall not become obsolete. It shall not diminish with the passing of time. It shines and shimmers, and it lasts. Paul uses not just the metaphor of a running race, but also of a boxing match. He does not “run aimlessly” in the race, and neither does he “fight like a boxer beating the air”, but rather there is focus, discipline, and the pursuit of a clear goal in mind.
Pauls point is neither asceticism or self-flagellation, but rather the need for self restraint in the disciplined pursuit of "the crown that will last forever”. I suspect that Paul is referring here to the hardships that he himself faced in his proclamation of the gospel. That this hardship was in it’s own way a conditioning for him to continue in his endeavour, so that he might one day share in the reward promised.
My friends, we all all live in a culture where the pursuit of fading crowns is all encompassing! Let us not be distracted by these short lived victories, but keep our eyes focused on the prize that will never fade. Let us endure the hardships that occur in following Jesus, just as Paul himself endured many hardships along the way. And let us see those trials and challenges as opportunities that might strengthen our resolve to run the race, and reach the eternal prize.