Should you ever have the opportunity to visit ancient Corinth, there is an out-of-the-way, seldom-seen-by-tourists place that makes what Paul wrote to the Corinthians more meaningful. Remember Paul’s comments that those who run in a race should run in such a way as to gain the prize? If your guide really knows his geography, he will take you to the place near the Corinthian canal where the Isthmian games were held every two years.
Paul was a master at bringing home spiritual truths in such a way that his readers could readily identify with them. The Isthmian games were a forerunner of the modern Olympics, and Greeks loved their athletes, who were venerated as basketball and soccer stars are today.
“Everyone who competes in the games,” wrote Paul, “goes into strict training” (1 Corinthians 9:25). It’s still true. The old adage, “no pain, no gain,” speaks in subdued tones of the discipline, the long hours of training, the hardships day after day so that you are ready when the day comes to compete.
Using the same analogy, the writer of Hebrews said, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, KJV).
Athletes still use some of the basic training techniques that the Greeks used. To strengthen their muscles they would often carry heavy weights, or strap them on their legs, but when the day of the race came, they took off everything that was non-essential.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1
Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews liken your walk with the Lord to the race run by the athlete. It has a starting point that is at your conversion, and it has a terminus—when you meet the Lord. In this contest, the writer says you are to rid yourself of two things—the weights that slow you down, and the sins which (like a heavy garment) keep you from achieving.
If every word is significant, then there is a reason why two words—weights and sins—are used, and understanding the difference provides insights for us today. The first word, ogkos, in Greek means a weight, a burden, or an impediment—anything that really keeps you from walking with the Lord, something that in and of itself is not wrong. But it becomes wrong in relation to keeping you from doing the will of God.
The second word, harmatia, means just what it suggests—sin. It meant “missing the mark,” “falling short of a goal or target.” It was the same word that Jesus used when Luke recorded His comments on prayer as Jesus said we should pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.”
The writer says, “Get rid of what keeps you from being at your best including what you clearly know is wrong—sin!” And how do we do that? First, you make the decision that anything which keeps you from giving your best to the Master has to go. Jesus said that you can’t serve two masters, which is what you are trying to do. Doesn’t work! You never succeed with a schizophrenic approach to Christianity. If Jesus Christ is the one He claimed to be, serve Him with all your heart.
Then confess and forsake what the Bible calls sin. God’s promise is still in effect as He said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Staying focused, renewing your determination, and hanging in there day after day is what it takes to win. It’s true when you are running a race and when you are living the Christian life.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27