Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
The Athens Olympic Games—they were great, weren’t they? And the athletes had a great sense of pride in their achievements. It reminds me that each time the Olympics come around the Olympic Motto comes to the fore: ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Swifter, Higher, Stronger).
The Apostle Paul was aware of the high profile of sport in Ancient Greece and realised that sport would be a good metaphor to instruct the Corinthian Christians in an understanding of Christian principles. He challenged them: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24 – NIV)
The film Chariots of Fire highlights the single-minded dedication of two runners in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris—the devout Christian Eric Liddell, and the determined Jew, Harold Abrahams. They are shown training in all kinds of bleak weather conditions until they are exhausted. Paul writes, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” (1 Corinthians 9:25 – NIV).
Prepare For the Christian Race
What sort of spiritual preparation do we make for the Christian race?
The longest Olympic race takes its name from the Greek village of Marathon, where in 490 BC an Athenian messenger ran 24 miles with the news that the citizen-soldiers of Athens had overcome the invading Persian Army.
History records some great marathon runners—none more famous than the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, who in the 1960s demonstrated his immense physical attributes by twice winning the Olympic marathon. His fitness was legendary—even at the end of the race he would do exercises to show that he had still more resources of strength and power. As the cliché goes, When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
The Christian life is sometimes very tough indeed. Paul knew this all too well, but he never gave in. He chastised others who did so: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to kept you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7 – NIV). Centuries later, Paul still challenges us to push away all the hindrances and press on towards the winning tape (see Philippians 3:14).
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 – NIV)
One sporting example of that attitude is found in the life of American cyclist Greg LeMond. Competing in the Tour de France, on a very long stage of the race that took the cyclists into some very high mountains, the pack were growing tired when there came a very refreshing shower of rain. However, that refreshing rainwater became a problem. As they moved into a small village the road surface changed to cobblestones, and it was there that Greg and his bike parted company. But he got back on his bike and went on to win the race.
When we are thrown by circumstances over which we have no control, we can be tempted to ask, How can there be a God? But, as Christians, we too must get up and carry on! Greg had the help and support of his teammates; we have the help of Jesus Christ. His grace is sufficient for our every need (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul reminds his Corinthian friends that the purpose of the race is to win the prize. It was the same in the Ancient Greek games as it is today in the modern Olympics: only one person or team can take the winner’s garland or Gold Medal.
Follow the Rules, Avoid Short Cuts, Train For a Good Finish
Frequently during a television summary we hear the commentator say to the winner, “You ran a tactical race and finished strongly”. The good finish, (see 1 Corinthians 9:25), is the aim of every prospective champion.
How is the good finish achieved? Paul indicates that it’s by efficient use of physical, mental and spiritual energy. Reflecting on the ‘good finish’ in another letter, Paul writes: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 – NIV). He confidently believed that there was in store for him a crown of righteousness. That reward is promised to everyone who trains for the good finish.
As Paul brings this sporting metaphor to a conclusion, he strikes a warning blow: “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27 – NIV). One of the saddest things about competing in a race is that it is possible to persevere through all the training, only to be disqualified because of some infringement of the rules. For Olympic athletes it may be a succession of false starts, not passing the baton correctly or the use of a prohibited substance.
The rules of the Christian race are the instructions found in God’s Word. The temptation is to take short cuts and ignore the Lord’s teaching, but to do so can lead to spiritual disaster and disqualification.
During the Olympic Games all athletes run for their country; some will run to prove themselves. As Christians, we are called to run ever ‘swifter, higher, stronger’ to the glory of God.
By: Major Stephen Grinsted
Salvationist, 14 August 2004