“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, 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.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Few things are able to capture the attention and the imagination of the world like the Olympic Games. Every four years there seems to be a new story, or a new athlete that captivates the hearts and minds of the people. It’s easy to understand why. The best athletes in the world train their entire lives for this one moment in history. The life of an Olympic athlete is one of drive, determination, and discipline. When they succeed and achieve their goals of Olympic Gold, we can’t help but rejoice with them. When they fall short, or tragedy strikes and they end up injured and fail to obtain that moment of glory they’ve worked so hard for, our hearts break for them and we too mourn.
As I ponder these things, I can’t help but be reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9. He was quite fond of using athletic analogies to describe the Christian life. Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9 of a race in which all the runners run, yet only one can receive the prize. He speaks of the self-control and the discipline that an athlete must possess. He then speaks of the focus and self-control he himself lives out in order that he not be disqualified.
I believe one reason the Olympic Games and Olympic athletes capture our hearts and minds so powerfully, is because we all understand what it is to have a goal and to work hard to achieve it. There are few pleasures as sweet as working your entire life for something, and then achieving it.
Another reason the Olympic Games and Olympic athletes so easily captivate us is because we also understand the desire for glory. What small kid hasn’t dreamed of hitting the game winning home run or the game winning basket or goal? If athletics isn’t necessarily your thing, perhaps your goal is getting the highest grades, or being the best at your job. Maybe you want to be known as the greatest cook, or a great artist. The fact is we all have something we love to do, and if we were really honest with ourselves we would love to be known as the best.
Well, if we want to be the best, we know what it takes: Hard work, discipline, focus, and perseverance. So, when we watch the Olympics, we see people who have achieved, or are striving to achieve their life’s goal of being great and taking hold of Olympic glory. And the symbol of that glory is the Gold Medal.
But here’s the thing. Olympic glory is fleeting. For most of the athletes that capture the attention of a nation, in a few years most people won’t remember their names, or at best they will be simply a footnote in history. Even if they do achieve that ultimate glory and become household names as some do, even that doesn’t last for eternity. One day they will die, and their gold medals will end up lost or in a trash heap. Olympic athletes might no longer receive wreathes like they did in the day, but even a gold medal isn’t imperishable.
We however, don’t run for a perishable prize, as Paul reminds us. If Olympic athletes train so hard and exercise such discipline and live lives of such intense drive and focus in order to attain worldly glory, how much more should we as Christians live and work to take hold of Spiritual glory? An Olympic athlete can’t just drift through life, or breeze through training sessions and hope to win the gold…and Christian, we can’t just drift through life and think we will receive our crown of glory.
In an athletic competition there can be only one winner, and only one who will achieve glory. The good news for the Christian is that all who call upon the name of Jesus will receive an eternal prize, and will know the glory of God and share an eternal inheritance with Christ. The Bible tells us that at the cross Jesus secured the final victory already. How did this powerful truth motivate the Apostle Paul? He said, “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.”
Knowing the imperishable prize that awaited him drove Paul. It ought to drive us as well. As an athlete must live lives of discipline and single minded focus, so should we. What is your focus? As those who are partakers of the eternal glory of Christ, then our focus must be on Him. We should live our lives to honor and glorify Him. We should live our lives in a way that shows that instead of living for this life, we are living for something far greater. We as Christians don’t live for the perishable, but for the imperishable.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith..” –Hebrews 12::1-2