If you’re anything like me, you have been captivated the last few days by the Summer Olympics. On more than one occasion, I have nearly woken up the kids cheering on the USA athletes (I forget they are sometimes broadcast on a several hour delay!). Since they only occur every four years, the stakes are higher than other competitions, which means the performances are often incredible!
It also means the defeats are even more agonizing. (It might have simply been nationalistic pride, but I have been quoting Bela Karolyi several times this week – “It was a total rip-off!”) Of course the remarkable display of strength, endurance, and skill from the Chinese team and individuals like Phelps make these games a joy to watch. Not to mention all of the inspirational stories surrounding the lives of the athletes, which only layers the games with more significance.
The original Olympic Games took place in Greece every four years without interruption from 776 B.C. until they were suppressed by the Emperor Theodosius in A.D. 393 – that’s 1,169 years! Everyone knew about the games. Paul even used them to illustrate something about the Christian life.
In 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 he says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 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.”
Paul uses the intense training and competition of the Olympics to help Christians look beyond this world to the world to come. In all of the intense training, in all of the hope of glory, in all of the discipline and sacrifice of training and competing, remember that those athletes are only competing for something that will soon fade away. How much more should we as God’s people devote ourselves to living the Christians life – something with eternal significance?
The race we run is not for a prize that will one day fade away, but the prize of eternal life itself. How much more then should we discipline ourselves and deny ourselves and train ourselves for the day of Christ’s return? Let us run in such a way as to finish well, and obtain the prize of our faith to the glory of God!