February 21, 2014No doubt many hundreds of millions have been glued to their TV sets keeping up with the winter Olympic Games held in Sochi, Russia, that are now in full swing.
Just a few days ago Tina Maze, Olympic downhill skier representing Slovenia, prepared to begin her run down the slopes of the Rosa Khutor course. In first place at the moment was Switzerland's Dominique Gizin, with a time of 1:41:57. Tina gave it her best attempt, and when she reached the bottom of the hill, to her amazement and that of all who watched, she had matched the time of Gizin, to the hundredth of a second! For the first time in the history of Alpine skiing at the winter Olympic Games, the gold medal would be shared and awarded to two athletes!
This was of particular interest because normally only one gets the gold. Of the thousands who train, of the hundreds who make the preliminary trials, and of the dozens who actually compete, the coveted gold medal goes to one. All that sweat and sacrifice, all that energy and effort will ultimately reward only one person and one person only. That's the way the Olympics, and nearly all sporting events, are set up. There's only one winner.
The Apostle Paul makes a spiritual lesson of this. Did you know that he used the Olympic Games as a springboard for teaching spiritual truth? Yes, the Games go back all the way to Bible times, beginning about the seventh century B.C. with races, boxing and wrestling matches, discus and javelin throwing, among the events. They were held every fourth year and the Greeks even divided their calendars into these four year cycles, calling them "Olympiads." Here's what the Apostle said in I Corinthians chapter nine. There are several words in this passage that are drawn directly from the language of the Olympics.
He wrote, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it." I Corinthians 9:24. There was only one "winner" in the Games, but thank God in the greatest "race" of all, the race for eternal life, all can have the gold medal! All can be winners. Jesus paid the price for the salvation of every single inhabitant of this earth, every single son and daughter of Adam when He died on the cross. Everyone has been "elected" to salvation. Not just one person, but all can receive the crown of victory.
The word "race" in that verse is the Greek word stadia, which meant two things. It represented a distance of about 220 yards – called a "furlong" in many Bible translations – which was the distance around the track. The word stadia also came to be associated with the building in which the track was located. Our word "stadium" derives from that usage.
He continues. "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown." I Corinthians 9:25. The word "compete" is the Greek word agonizo and comes into our language as the word "agonize." The athletes put forth the greatest effort in training to compete. No energy was spared to stretch every nerve and muscle in order to grasp the prize.
The word "temperate" in this verse means "self-control." Athletes spared no sacrifice in their training to condition their bodies to the best possible state of health and strength. All this they did to receive a crown; a crown that was "perishable." Keep in mind that back then the winner received a chaplet of apple leaves, which obviously didn't last too long. Before many days had passed, the leaves had faded and become brittle. The word "crown" in this text is stephanos, the crown given to the "winner." The name "Steven" derives from this word, which is used nine times in the New Testament to describe the crown that awaits the believer. There is another word for crown, "diadem," which is a king's crown, and it is applied exclusively to Jesus.
The crown awarded to the believer will be a crown of righteousness, a crown of life which will never fade, unlike the crown of leaves bestowed upon the conquering Olympian. The crown that we'll receive will gleam throughout eternity in the presence of our dear Savior Jesus Who made this possible by shedding His life blood on the cross of Calvary. Paul spoke to this when, nearing the end of his days, he wrote his young protégé Timothy. "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." II Timothy 4:7, 8.
The next verse reads, "Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air." The word "fight" is a word from which we get the word "pugnacious." Boxing was part of the games back then. Sometimes boxers would practice and train by punching the air in an imaginary fight. Paul is saying that in his competing for the prize of eternal life, he is not as one who "shadow boxes." This "fight," which he defines as a "fight of faith" is a very real fight, with rewards that are very real and tangible.
"But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."
Even though all can be winners, and even though all can receive the "prize," the "judge's nod," Paul realized that we must comply with God's plan and cooperate with Him in bringing salvation to us. God can't take rebels to Heaven. And what a great salvation that is! How sad it would be for anyone to be disqualified and miss out!
As you watch the athletes compete in this year's Olympic Games, remember that in a similar way we are competing for a prize. There is a Heaven to win and a Hell to shun. Remember that no matter who you are, Jesus loves you and died to save you. In Him you are a winner. The crown of life awaits! Take Him as your Savior and Lord today! And the winner is… you!