If you’re like me, you’ve spent the last 18 evenings watching the Olympics. I confess, my evenings have nearly completely surrendered to the primetime broadcast of the Games in Sochi, and the infamous eyes of Bob Costas. Poor guy. He only works two weeks every other year and his eyes chose THESE two weeks to get pink eye. Tough break. Also, I know Bob does more than just the Olympics, but I’m not sure what.
Now, we return to normal life, having forgotten most of the competitors’ names. Oh, a few might stick out, like Ted Ligety (I’m sure “ligety-split” got old real fast as a kid), or figure skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White, affectionately known at my house as “Wallace and Davis” (a favorite musical pair from the movie White Christmas). But other than that, we get on with our lives.
Wait Right There
Actually, God doesn’t want us to forget about the Olympics. Instead, He wants us to learn from them, whether you’re competing or watching. And no, I’m not talking about learning to do a backwards triple toe loop 720 split biathlon. But that would be cool.
Last week I wrote about how the Olympics can be a prime example of “the pride of life” talked about in I John 2. But they can also serve as a platform for the Gospel for athletes like Kelly Clark, David Wise, Lolo Jones, and a favorite veteran and commentator Scott Hamilton. But God still has something for us to learn from the Games.
In I Corinthians 9, Paul actually mentions “the Games.”
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
The Games he’s talking about are actually the Isthmian Games, held in Corinth during the first century. Early Christians, who first read I Corinthians, would have been familiar with the Isthmian Games, much like we are with the Olympics. Athletes who participated in these games had to prove that they were a Roman citizen, and that they had trained for at least a solid year before competing. They obviously didn’t have figure skating at the Isthmian Games, because you have to start training when you’re like 8 months old for that.
Isthmian athletes, Olympic athletes had to work hard. They had to be diligent, they had to be intentional. And they worked for a wreath (Isthmian champions were crowned with a wreath), or a chunk of precious metal.
A Spiritual Athlete
No, not just an athlete who happens to love Jesus. I mean loving Jesus as an athletic Event!
Paul makes the comparison to the Christian life. We aren’t working for a wreath or a medal. We’re working for something that lasts much longer than a wreath that perishes, that metal that can be melted and ruined. We are working for a much better prize, an imperishable one that we will receive in Heaven…but we gotta train like an athlete. We need to eat the right foods, stick to a training schedule, and not give up. It’s hard, but we must stay in the race, running for the prize, disciplining ourselves so that we don’t become disqualified or unfit for ministry. We must work intentionally. We must know the truth, pray, eat spiritual food (meat, not milk). And we must run with our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.
You might not win a gold, silver, or bronze medal in this lifetime…but in eternity, your work will be worth it. Promise.
Now where did I put my ice skates…