All eyes are focused on Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics where the best athletes of the world compete at the limit of their talent and determination. Michael Phelps boosted his all time gold medal count to 23, far and away the most by any athlete since the modern Olympic Games commenced in 1896. Simone Biles was gold in women’s gymnastics and Usain Bolt proved himself the fastest man on earth for the third Olympics in a row.
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 Rio 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).