TO GET THE PRIZE…
The watcher tucked himself into the mid-level branches of the old olive tree and strained to see the sweat glistened bodies pacing themselves on the newly crushed sand below. The pack of powerfully muscled men were rounding the corner for the twenty-third time in the past hours and not once had they noticed him. There were only five runners left of the original twenty.
The Isthmian games were only weeks away and the citizens of Corinth were ablaze with preparations. Only one year ago the Athenians and Romans had beaten some of their best athletes and pride was on the line. The watcher could see that the hosts of the games did not intend to be humiliated again.
The city leaders had wrestled hard to win back the right to host these games. When the Romans crushed the Greeks and destroyed Corinth almost two centuries earlier the games had been absconded by the rival city of Sicyon. Julius Ceasar rebuilt Corinth and the athletic facilities were now some of the best around.
The world went on as if Corinth’s destruction was nothing significant. In each Olympiad the Olympic games were followed by the Isthmian Games every second and fourth year and the Pythian games in the third year.
Athletes took their skills to the battle field with life as the only reward. At the games there was the pine wreath, the possibility of a statue and the glory of a name known and spoken on every lip.
For half a millenia the glistening bodies of athletes tested their strides and strengths against each other in this place. Emperors and rulers faded but the games continued. Chariot races, wrestling, boxing, and pankration were underway in the space around the watcher. One man held his interest.
In a single day this athlete had triumphed in running, wrestling and pankration.
Pankration was a no-holds barred fight, man against man, until one lay unconscious, injured beyond help, or dead. It was a bloody, brutal sport involving kicking, bare-knuckled punching, wrestling and any brutal force to debilitate the opposition. There were no time restraints or breaks and the only rest was between the end of one fight and the start of the next. Only one man would be standing on the final day and the watcher was observing the favored one as he trained.
The watcher slithered down the tree and melted back into the shadows of the pine grove behind the track.
“Did you observe how he trains, Timothy?”
“I can see Paul that he is determined to win again.”
“This is how we must be as followers of Christ. While you were watching the man I wrote words of truth for the church at Corinth. I believe they will see exactly what you just saw when they read together.”
“Paul, you know these people are focused on their own pleasures, on their gods and goddesses, on their own glory. They look for the wisdom of men and consider this talk of a crucified Messiah as foolishness. They care more for their entertainment than for the truth. How will you ever persuade them?”
“It won’t be eloquence or superior wisdom that I bring. I do come in weakness, fear and trembling but I also come with the power of God and the word of God. Listen.”
‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.’
“Paul, these are big expectations.”
“Timothy, remember this champion. We are called to endure the same hardship as soldiers of Jesus. If you will be a champion you must compete within the rules and not give up. You must train yourself to endure. You will win your reward if you do not give up.”
Timothy took one last look at the track through the forest that shielded them. Only two men remained.
“Only one man gets the prize. Will you be the one?”
(ICorinthians 9:24-27 NIV)
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