“Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we are incorruptible.”

From August 8–24 the whole world was absorbed in what has been touted the “greatest show on earth”, the 2008 – 27th Olympiad, held in Beijing, China. No expense was spared to make this extravaganza something the world would never forget (the estimated cost was $40 billion), and to convince all that China “had arrived” and was a super power to be reckoned with. Amidst all the excitement, hype and show, what was the impact upon the followers of Christ, and what impression would this event have on Almighty God?

Firstly we can say that all the glitz and glamour of the opening and closing ceremonies pale into insignificance when placed alongside the glory of the daily rising and setting sun which God ordained in the beginning. Safely we find refuge under the shadow of His wings. Man’s efforts are paltry and transient alongside His mighty works.

But what is the significance of the Olympic games experience for us as those whom God has chosen to participate in the “race for life”? Clearly there are lessons. The analogy is often referred to especially by the Apostle Paul. In a notable warning to the Corinthians he says: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things [rsv ‘Every athlete exercises self-control in all things’]. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown (rsv ‘perishable wreath’, Gk stephanos – a gold medal?!); but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly [rsv ‘aimlessly’]; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air [like a shadow boxer]: But I keep under [rsv ‘pommel’] my body, and bring it into subjection; lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway [rsv ‘disqualified’]” (1 Cor 9:24–27). The parallels with our “race for life” are many. He reminds us that not all will receive the prize, which warns and encourages us to strive to be single-minded. The Truth is the most important thing in life and all else should be subservient to obtaining the prize. Then he speaks of the need for temperance and self-control; any excess or over-indulgence could cost dearly. When we think of the years of training, self-sacrifice and pain athletes inflict on themselves for the gold medal and the fleeting glory, we might well feel ashamed of the effort we put into our chosen vocation. And our reward is beyond our mortal conception – glory, honour and true immortality! The personal preparation Paul speaks of relates to us too. What does he mean by “keeping under his body”? It translates into “crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:24). By “the flesh” is meant all that is in this world, the lust of the flesh, eyes and pride of life (1 John 2:15–16). As believers and disciples we are all aware of the internal struggle we face day by day. There is the need to exercise choice and self control, to follow in the footsteps and example of our Lord. We are not free to choose whatever we please. We have elected to follow the Son of God, who said he who loses his life for my sake shall find it. How we spend our money, where we go, what company we keep, who are our friends, how we spend our time, what choices we make in all aspects of our life tell what manner of persons we are. These choices indicate whether we “keep the body under” or not.

It is all a matter of the mind. “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” Sobering words, these are, and challenging. It has been said that what a person truly believes he will ultimately become! So it is not a literal battle that we are in but a spiritual and the victory depends on our state of mind.

Consider some other words of the great apostle which give us an insight into his thinking and how we can attain success: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:4–5). There cannot be any let up, no relaxing of our focus if we are to win the “race for life”. But how do we keep our minds focused on Christ? There are things we can and should do. We need to expose ourselves constantly to the things that are going to help us, and to eschew the things that hinder: daily Bible reading and meditation, attendance at the Memorial Meeting to remind us of our Lord’s love and sacrifice for us, as well as at our Bible study classes; read worthwhile material in lieu of the trash and soul-destroying plethora of papers and magazines on every imaginable subject; enjoy fellowship with those of “like precious faith” instead of the world, and look out for opportunities to serve our Lord and encourage one another. It may seem strange, but these activities are part of our preparation, our training for “our Olympics”. The “crown of gold” (Rev 4:4) is offered to us, and our Lord has admonished us to hold fast, that no man might take our crown (Rev 3:11).

The apostle Paul also spoke of the need to bear in mind the rules lest we be disqualified: “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (rsv 2 Tim 2:5). The recent Olympics saw many fail because of such breaches, crossing lines, taking performance enhancing drugs etc. So we, too, have to abide by the rules, the commandments received from the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps we should carefully read the “Teaching of the Master” in Matthew chapters 5–7 to acquaint ourselves with the greatest speech ever spoken for human admonition and observance. Whatever sacrifices we make today in our probation are infinitesimal compared with the glory to be revealed in us. There is simply no equation between what we do for Christ’s sake and what he will give his saints. Imagine being able to “mount up with wings as eagles”, to be able to run, and not be weary; and to walk and not be faint. This is the reward in store for those who “wait on the Lord” (Isa 40:28–31).

So let us be encouraged to greater service, greater efforts in Christ. Surrounded as we are by so great a cloud of fellow disciples, we must lay aside all hindrances, all the sins that may beset us and patiently “endure unto the end”. Jesus is our pace setter and to him we must look as the author and finisher of the “race of faith”. If we are weary let us resolve to renew our efforts, let us lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees. And as we approach the finishing line we will find coming to meet us our beloved Lord and Saviour, bearing in his hands the grace we so much need to complete the course victoriously (Heb 12:1–2,12,15).

The Apostle Paul was driven by the quest for victory: “I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ… Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind [past failures that could discourage] and reaching forward unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:8,13–14).

At his life’s end he could say: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim 4:7–8).

The Beijing Olympics are over. The champions have received the gold medals they laboured and strove for. Their glorious victories will soon fade from human memory, however great. “Yahweh takes no pleasure in the legs of a man”, but He does take pleasure in the faithful and dedicated service of those He loved and has called. Let us renew our efforts to make our wonderful calling and election sure so we might obtain the golden crown of eternal life.