Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. I Corinthians 9:24
When Paul was working with the pagan people of Asia Minor, he was dealing with their Hellenistic mindset and aspirations of pleasure and self-preservation. They lacked the foundation of Biblical knowledge and scripturally based cultural traditions. He sought for examples that would translate true principles--such as a zeal for God-- into their understanding.
In the area of athletics and the Olympic games, Jesus’ disciples and Biblical writers found powerful metaphors of the zeal God desires. The games were widely known throughout the Roman world, and the Biblical writers used the metaphor of athletic training and performance to communicate the Gospel message.
By capturing images of the intensity, passion, and focus required for athletic competition, they were able to explain true discipleship to people who were otherwise unfamiliar with God and his Word.