The Olympic Games started a week ago in Brazil with the prospect of three weeks of non-stop sports coverage across the media. Even if our interest is slight, we cannot ignore the Olympics and it does have spiritual lessons.
The original Olympics started in Greece long before the time of Christ and had, by then, become a familiar event. Which may have prompted the Apostle Paul to use the Olympics as an ‘object lesson’ when he wrote to one of the first Christian churches about the ‘prize’ of being in God’s Kingdom:
“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. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now[the athletes] do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus:not with uncertainty. Thus I fight:not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [for the prize].” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV)
Just think of the dedication, preparation, cost and sacrifice needed by those who are battling for an Olympic Medal that will eventually fade and tarnish. We must ask ourselves whether we go to similar efforts to win the prize of eternal life?
Many people these days already recognise the importance of physical exercise, so they play a sport or go jogging. But as Paul told the young Christian Timothy, practicing godliness is even more important:
“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1Timothy 4:8 NKJV)
Occasional church-going is not enough! We need to practice being a Christian every day! A good place to start is regular Bible reading.
Being a ‘professional’ Christian
Why is it that when we come to religion we sometimes seem to think that we do not need to ‘keep practicing’ day-in and day-out, like the Olympic Medal winners do? Professional athletes literally eat, breathe and sleep their sport. They practice continually until they know that they will react correctly in every situation.
Similarly, professional athletes in every age realise that their body is important to their career. For that reason they are careful not to abuse or hurt it. Which prompted Paul to ask this question in his letter:
“Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NKJV)
Paul pointed out that top class athletes had to be “temperate in all things”. In other words, they had to practice self-control over diet, the amount of training they did, and the sort of amusements they allowed themselves.
Paul felt the same way about his fellow Christians who were in “the race for life eternal”. He wrote that our spiritual side needs to be regularly fed the correct food and spiritually unhelpful distractions need to be excluded from our lives, if we are to have any hope of winning a place in God’s Kingdom!
Be a winner!
Olympic sport is a brutal contest – there are only a very few medal winners and lots of losers despite all their efforts.
But in God’s Kingdom that’s coming soon there will be many winners. That’s the heart-warming contrast to the competitive world in which we live.
It’s not a ‘game’ and we can all be winners!! But only if we focus ourselves whole-heartedly on that valuable prize.