You might be surprised to know that one of the authors of the Bible seems to have been a bit of a sports fan. The apostle Paul wrote several times about wrestling and fights. He referred to races on at least three occasions. He talked about the goal and the prize. And he mentioned "the crown" several times, not using the word for a royal crown but the word that refers to the laurels given to the winners of athletic events in ancient times.
Paul especially used these terms when writing to the church in Corinth. Beginning about 600 years before Christ, Corinth hosted a group of games known as the Isthmian Games, held every two years. Some Bible experts even suggest that Paul may have attended these games on at least one occasion.
In writing to these Corinthian Christians, Paul wrote these words:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
We look at the sacrifices that athletes make, and we understand why they do what they do. They deprive themselves of certain foods. They get up early and exercise for long hours. They push their bodies to the brink of injury in order to improve their performance. And they do it for rewards that won't last.
Paul says that he was also living a regimented lifestyle, disciplining himself in order to win the most important race of all. He was doing it, not to receive a crown of leaves to put on his head, but to receive a crown of life that would never go away.