24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but wefor an imperishable crown.
26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
run a race (v.24) — the reference is to the public Isthmian Games held once in three years close to Corinth. With these occasions all the Corinthians were very familiar. There were also the Olympian, Pythian and Nemean Games. These occasions were more than mere contests, they were great national and religious festivals. Only freemen could enter for them, and these only after they had satisfied the officials that they had undergone the appointed preliminary training. Upon the occasion a herald announced the name and country of each competitor. The victor received a crown consisting of a garland of either ivy or pine leaves. His family was honored, and when he returned to his own town, a breach was made in the walls through which he was to enter, this being a token that a place so honored needed no defending walls. The most famous contemporary Greek poet would immortalize his name in verse. — Vine, page 65.
Moreover, they [contestants in the Isthmian Games] must keep morally clean, for preceding each contest the contestants were led about the arena by the herald or master of ceremonies while he asked, in a loud voice, whether any spectator could accuse the contestants of any crime, wickedness, slavery or depravity in life and manners. — Laurin, page 159
obtain it (v.24) — the prize — It’s not the competition, but the level of effort Paul is referring to.
temperate (v.25) = exercising self-control
perishable crown (v.25) — a wreath of leaves — liable to decay
imperishable (v.25) = amarantinos = unfading — the amaranth flower was a symbol of perpetuity
not with uncertainty (v.26) — without a definite goal
beats the air (v.26) — as a careless boxer
discipline my body (v.27) = strike under the eye — beat black and blue — combat with the old nature — Romans 6:13; 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31
subjection (v.27) — treat as a slave
preached (v.27) = acted as a herald
disqualified (v.27) = disapproved as a result of not passing the test — loss of reward
the word [disqualified] is often taken to mean cast off from God’s face and to be lost forever, but this thought is entirely strange to this passage and to the whole of Paul’s thought as well. The word is also an ancient athletic expression and means to be struck off the list as a runner and combatant. By no means does he suggest a loss of salvation and of his standing in Christ, but a loss of service and the consequent reward of grace, which in this whole section is persistently before his mind. — Bultema, page 79