Saturday afternoon Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open women’s tennis tournament. She is 19 and the first Canadian ever to win a grand slam tennis tournament.
A comment made by one of her opponents has stuck in my mind: “She never gives up.” In several matches she seemed to be faltering, on the verge of being defeated. Then Ms. Andreescu would re-focus, buckle down and do what she needed to do to win the match.
The New Testament writers, especially the apostle Paul, often drew analogies from the popular sports of their day. Here, in abbreviated form, is the way Adam Clarke explained the last four verses of the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians:
They which run in a race run all – The apostle alludes to the athletic exercises in the games celebrated every fifth year on the isthmus which joins the Peloponnesus, or Morea, to the main land; and were thence termed the Isthmian games. The exercises were running, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus, etc.; to the three first of these the apostle especially alludes.
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But one receiveth the prize? – The apostle places the Christian race in contrast to the Isthmian games; in them, only one received the prize, though all ran; in this, if all run, all will receive the prize; therefore he says, So run that ye may obtain. Be as much in earnest to get to heaven as others are to gain their prize; and, although only one of them can win, all of you may obtain.
Is temperate in all things – All those who contended in these exercises went through a long state and series of painful preparations. To this exact discipline Epictetus refers, cap. 35:“Do you wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games? – Consider the requisite preparations and the consequences: you must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which you dislike; you must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the necessary and prescribed times both in heat and in cold; you must drink nothing cooling; take no wine as formerly; in a word, you must put yourself under the directions of a pugilist, as you would under those of a physician, and afterwards enter the lists. Here you may get your arm broken, your foot put out of joint, be obliged to swallow mouthfuls of dust, to receive many stripes, and after all be conquered.” Thus we find that these suffered much hardships in order to conquer, and yet were uncertain of the victory.
They do it to obtain a corruptible crown – The crown won by the victor in the Olympian games was made of the wild olive; in the Pythian games of laurel; in the Nemean games of parsley; and in the Isthmian games of the pine. These were all corruptible, for they began to wither as soon as they were separated from the trees, or plucked out of the earth. In opposition to these, the apostle says, he contended for an incorruptible crown, the heavenly inheritance. He sought not worldly honour; but that honour which comes from God.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly – In the foot-course in those games, how many soever ran, only one could have the prize, however strenuously they might exert themselves; therefore, all ran uncertainly; but it was different in the Christian course, if every one ran as he ought, each would receive the prize.
Not as one that beateth the air – Pugilists were said to beat the air when they had to contend with a nimble adversary, who, by running from side to side, stooping, and various contortions of the body, eluded the blows of his antagonist; who spent his strength on the air, frequently missing his aim, and sometimes overturning himself in attempting to hit his adversary, when this, by his agility, had been able to elude the blow. We have an example of this in Virgil’s account of the boxing match between Entellus and Dares, so well told Aeneid. v., ver. 426, etc., and which will give us a proper view of the subject to which the apostle alludes: viz. boxing at the Isthmian games.
To such a combat as this the apostle most manifestly alludes: and in the above description the reader will see the full force and meaning of the words, So fight I, not as one that beateth the air – I have a real and a deadly foe; and as I fight not only for my honour but for my life, I aim every blow well, and do execution with each.
But I keep under my body, etc. – This is an allusion, not only to boxers, but also to wrestlers in the same games, as we learn from the word υʽπωπιαζω, which signifies to hit in the eyes; and δουλαγωγω, which signifies to trip, and give the antagonist a fall, and then keep him down when he was down, and having obliged him to acknowledge himself conquered, make him a slave. The apostle considers his body as an enemy with which he must contend; he must mortify it by self-denial, abstinence, and severe labour; it must be the slave of his soul, and not the soul the slave of the body, which in all unregenerate men is the case.
Lest – having preached to others – The word which we translate having preached, refers to the office of the herald at these games, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, display the prizes, exhort the combatants, excite the emulation of those who were to contend, declare the terms of each contest, pronounce the name of the victors, and put the crown on their heads.
Should be a castaway – The word signifies such a person as judges of the games reject as not having deserved the prize. So Paul himself might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God. Had this heavenly man lived in our days, he would by a certain class of people have been deemed a legalist; a people who widely differ from the practice of the apostle, for they are conformed to the world, and they feed themselves without fear.