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Going for the Gold: The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games

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by Gordon Franz MA

EXCERPT A sport shoe company ran an advertisement during the 1996 Olympics, with the line, “You do not win the silver medal, you lose the gold!” That line caught the essence of athletic competition. The athlete enters the competition with the goal of winning the event, not losing it.

The legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, tried to instill this winning attitude in his football players when he said, “Winning is not everything, it is the only thing.”

The epitaph of a boxer named Agathos Daimon, from Alexandria (Gerand-Jean 1964: 185-187) found on a funerary monument at Olympia in Greece said:

Here he died boxing in the stadium

Having prayed to Zeus for a wreath

or death. Age 35. Farewell.

For this competitor, second place was not an option. He went for the gold and died trying to win it (Milavic 1992: 11; Gerand-Jean 1964).

The Apostle Paul described the Christian life in terms of athletic metaphors. His goal was to win the “race” of the Christian life, not to loose it (Phil. 3:12-14; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:6-8). He died winning the race!

Paul at Corinth

Dr. Luke does not explicitly state why Paul went to Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18). However, the discerning Bible student, knowing the historical-geography of the city of Corinth could surmise three reasons for Paul going to this city. First, Corinth was on the strategic lines of communications. There was the major east-west maritime trade route that went via the Isthmus of Corinth, which was a vital link in trade between Rome and the eastern part of the empire. There were also the north-south land roads that went from the Greek mainland to the Peloponnesos. Many people passed through this area and Corinth would be strategic for the spread of the gospel. The second reason for Paul going to Corinth was that there was a Jewish community in Corinth (Acts 18:4). As a general rule, Paul sought out the Jewish community because he had a desire to reach his kinsmen according to the flesh with the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 9:1-5). The third reason was that the Isthmian Games were held during the spring of AD 51 and Paul knew there would be many people from throughout Greece at this event. The games were a golden opportunity to reach many with the gospel. All three reasons for going to Corinth have one common denominator. The Apostle Paul wanted to reach as many people as he could with the gospel. The message that Paul preached to these people was that the Lord Jesus died for all the sins of fallen humanity and rose again from the dead on the third day to prove that sin had been paid for. Paul taught that the Lord offers eternal life, a home in heaven and forgiveness of sins to any and all who would put there trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. Good works, baptism, or any other meritorious deeds had nothing to do with one’s salvation (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:5; 5:8)….

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