In case you didn't keep up with the Olympics, I didn't win any medals. Again. My best athletic efforts would never be good enough to even get me on the team for any given event. So until the day "Poor Penmanship" or "Being Average at Walking" become Olympic sports, don't expect to see me on the medal platform.
Ironically for couch potatoes like me, Paul describes our lives as Christians in athletic terms: "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" (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). Paul likens the life of faith to a race. This isn't a sprint or a relay; this is an endurance run, a marathon. We don't make a mad dash for the finish line, going at an unsustainable pace for a short while. No, we're in it for the long haul. We race for a lifetime.
At the end of that race -- of any race -- the prize is awarded. In our day, first place gets a gold medal. In Paul's time, the victor received a crown of laurels or another plant to wear. Being vegetable matter, the crown eventually disintegrated, as he says in v. 25. What crown could a Christian win that would last forever? Eternal life. Our reward for following Christ, for remaining faithful over the course of our lives, is to live forever in a perfect place.
While I'll never win Olympic gold, I continue to run the race of faith, waiting to win my crown at the end of the age. Come run with me.