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Olympics and Christians

Olympics And Christians

Recently, the opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, hosted in Beijing, China, took place. Many people look forward to watching these athletes compete in the various scheduled events. Those who will participate spent much sweat and sacrifice.

The arrival of the Olympics has caused me to look with intrigue at the numerous times in the New Testament that the world of sports is alluded to. Certainly, the intent of the Spirit is not that Christians should become Olympians, but rather that the same diligent preparation and endurance which is necessary among those who are successful in athletics is required in the child of God, if he is to be successful in serving the Lord.

Jude wrote to the saints, exhorting them to "...contend earnestly for the faith..." (Jude 3, NKJV). One English translation reads, "...agonize for the faith..." Why? The Greek word, which appears there is a strong word referring to a great struggle (i.e. in competition for a prize). It is the same word, which might be used in reference to the sacrifice needed in Olympic wrestling. For 3 minutes, the competitors give every ounce of strength, determination and focus to the battle. As Christians, we are to "...agonize for the faith..." We are to give every bit of our strength and attention to defending the word of God. When asked about the first and greatest of all the commandments, Jesus quoted the words of Moses, "...you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30). Friend, this is still the first and greatest commandment. And if we will love the LORD, as we should, then we will agonize in the defense of His word.

The image of wrestling is used elsewhere in the New Testament to discuss the Christian walk. To the Ephesians, Paul wrote, "...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this present age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12) The opponent of our bout is not another person; we are engaged in a spiritual conflict, and must give our all in the fight. Paul commands Timothy, "Fight the good fight..." (1 Timothy 6:12)

Of himself, nearing the end of his time here, Paul said, "...I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) In addition to the fight, the apostle depicted the Christian life as a race to be run. It is a race that requires patience (Hebrews 10:36) For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise”, and that demands we lay aside all weights and snares, so we might effectively compete (Hebrews 12:1) Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us”. Some may run, and then become hindered; get off course. We must be certain that as we run, we do not turn aside, stop or in some other way make our run vain.  Philippians 2:16 says, Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain”. We, like Paul, need to finish the race.

Why run? Why fight? In the ancient Olympics, the winners were given a crown of wild olive leaves, and received home with great celebrations. One might even receive meals for the rest of his life at state expense as a prize for his achievements. Today, Olympians compete for medals, national pride, and in many cases, additional funding for future Olympic competitions from government and private sector. The Christian also competes for a prize. The apostle Paul, speaking to the Philippians in this same Olympic style language, wrote, "...forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14) As the Olympians of ancient times and today have a goal, a prize, the Christian does also. But our prize is not a crown of olive leaves to be placed on the head or a gold medal to be hung around the neck. Our trophy is not a meal ticket for life or a promise of future monetary sponsorship. Our reward is an eternal and heavenly home in the presence of God.

Again, appealing to the Olympic experience, Paul indicated to the Corinthians, "...those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize..." In the Games, there is only one winner. Second place is often called first loser. God be praised, in His kingdom, more than one will receive the prize. But, lest we become negligent or loose in our walk, the apostle continues, "Run in such a way that you may obtain it." (1 Corinthians 9:24) We need to persevere with the very diligence we would have should there only be one permitted to enter the presence of God. Of his own course, Paul comments, "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." (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)  Let us know what God expects of us, and let us do it, that we might receive our heavenly home.


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