All eyes are focused on London for the Olympics where we are mesmerized by the best athletes of the world competing at the limit of their talent and determination. A high bar was set for the entertainment factor when the Queen appeared to skydive into the opening ceremonies alongside her 007 agent, James Bond.
The Olympic games date back to 770 BC and were expanded in the first century by Augustus Caesar, the Emperor of record at Jesus’ birth. Writing to Greeks in the first century, the Apostle Paul drew on Olympic metaphors to help them understand how to live the Christian life: “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.” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Christianity is not a spectator religion. We all must run! In spite of the fact that our churches are arranged so that most of us appear to be sitting in the stands watching a few performers on the stage, the truth is that we must compete in the race. Sunday services are more like team meetings in the locker room to get us ready for the main event that starts on Monday.
The Academy Award winning movie Chariots of Fire depicted the 1924 Olympic competition between Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, the two fastest men of their day. Abrahams had never lost a race until Eric Liddell beat him in the 100 meter dash by a single step. Mortified by the loss, he later sat in the empty stands with his fiancé. She kept trying to encourage him, but he finally snapped at her, “You don’t understand. If I can’t win, I won’t run.” Stunned, she paused for a moment then responded with typical feminine insight. “If you don’t run,” she said, “you can’t win!” That is the Apostle’s point. If we don’t run, we can’t win. We must all live out our faith in Christ in such a way that we “run to win!”
This requires discipline. Paul continues, “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.(1 Cor. 9:25). The athletes we are watching in London must exercise great discipline in diet and training. Only by imposing discipline upon their bodies can they compete for the gold.
Too many Christians think that once they accept Christ by faith and receive the assurance of heaven that they can live however they wish. They are like someone who has been accepted to the Olympics and chooses to train for their event by eating Blue Bell ice cream and watching others compete on TV. They might be at the Olympics, but they won’t win the prize. The Apostle concludes, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:27).