“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. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, 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 9:24-27
In 2002, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The torch that made its way across the world to the games that year passed within 50 yards of our house. My wife and I stood and watched the entourage as I took a picture of a man in a wheel chair who had the privilege of carrying the Olympic flame for a few hundred yards. Helicopters were flying overhead and several hundred of my neighbors lined the street. It was pretty dramatic. The Olympic Games are ultimately about the athletes who train for years for one event and, for the most part, give it everything they have for a gold medal. To be declared the winner and represent their countries well is their goal — and there are always many stirring stories and stunning performances.
All of these very fine athletes have trained for years to do their very best — with hopes of winning. That’s the Olympic tradition. But did you know that when the Olympics first started there was only one event — a 600 feet foot race and there was only one prize because there was only one winner? The prize was a wreath of wild olive branches. There were no second or third place awards — no silver or bronze. In fact there was no gold either. The ancient Olympic Games began in 776 BC and were primarily a part of a religious festival in honor of a mythical god named Zeus, the father of the Greek pantheon. It was held in Olympia in western Greece. In the first century AD, the apostle Paul was well aware of the Olympic games and he used them and similar athletic events, as an illustration of the Christian life and the race we’re all in for the winner’s crown. There’s no silver or bronze in this race either but there is a prize — a victor’s crown for everyone who finishes the race as the apostle tells us in this scripture.
We can learn a lot by viewing athletic competition. There are many wonderful parallels and analogies with our spiritual journey. More can be learned, however, from God’s Word about how to run the only race in life that really counts and being a winner — with Christ’s help. Like the apostle Paul’s personal claim, we too, can be victorious. With God’s help we can fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith — but it will take dedication, commitment, training and perseverance. The race is not over until the day God calls us up to the winners stand, gives us our crown and says these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:13).
My friends, let’s keep training and let’s keep running. Let every new day be the one when we do our personal best. Maranatha!