We [go into strict training] to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:25
The careers of most National Football League players are remarkably brief: just 3.3 years on average, according to statista.com. Then there’s NFL quarterback Tom Brady. In 2021, he began his twenty-second season at the age of forty-four. How? Perhaps his famously rigorous diet and exercise routine have enabled him to maintain his competitive edge. Brady’s seven Super Bowl rings have earned him the title of G.O.A.T.—greatest of all time in the NFL. But it’s a title he never could have achieved apart from letting his single-minded pursuit of football perfection shape everything in his life.
The apostle Paul recognized athletes exhibiting similar discipline in his day (1 Corinthians 9:24). But he also saw that no matter how much they trained, ultimately their glory faded. In contrast, he said, we have an opportunity to live for Jesus in a way that affects eternity. If athletes striving for momentary glory can work so hard at it, Paul implies, how much more should those living for “a crown that will last forever” (v. 25).
We don’t train to earn salvation. Rather, just the opposite: as we realize how truly wondrous our salvation is, it reshapes our priorities, our perspective, and the very things we live for as each of us faithfully runs our own race of faith in God’s strength.
How do you think your faith motivates you to give your very best? How can you avoid legalism as you grow in spiritual disciplines?
Father, help me to grow in discipline as a response to Your love and not as an attempt to earn something You’ve already given me.
Learn more about the basics of spiritual life.
Believers in Jesus in Corinth would have connected with Paul’s athletic metaphors in 1 Corinthians 9. Corinth was the place where the Isthmian games convened. Craig Keener notes in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: “Corinth itself hosted major games for all Greece every two years on the isthmus; these were the best-attended Greek festivals next to the Olympic games.” Running and boxing (v. 26) were just two of the events in which athletes would compete. Other events included wrestling, throwing the discus and javelin, the long jump, chariot racing, poetry reading, and singing. Paul makes athletic references in 1 Timothy 4:8, 2 Timothy 2:5, and in these verses from 2 Timothy 4:7–8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.”