Every four years we see the best athletes from around the world come together to compete against each other in what is known as the Olympic Games. Athletic prowess can be used to highlight our approach to spiritual development.
The Apostle Paul certainly appeared to have been well acquainted with athletic achievement. The Olympic Games were established well before Paul’s time, so maybe due to his travels and familiarity with the area of Greece he was aware of the games being held in Olympia.
His allegorical use of striving in athletic endeavors to make a spiritual point is effective. “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. 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” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). Even a cursory observation of the expenditure of effort at any of the Olympic Games leaves one amazed at the lengths some people will go to in order to secure a perishable crown. It takes years of hard training and dedication to gain a brief moment of glory. We can respect that kind of effort and be happy to see achievement rewarded. We also need to keep our eye on the goal of life. Paul encourages us to, “… lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …” (Hebrews 12:1).
To Paul’s writings we can add the wisdom of Solomon which provides additional perspective to the physical achievements man pursues. In Ecclesiastes chapter nine, Solomon encourages us to put our heart into whatever our hands find to do. Whatever we are working on we need to put our heart into it because our time is limited. Solomon warns that the race of life is not to the swift or the battle to the strong because other factors may come into play which can interrupt the best laid plans of man (Ecclesiastes 9:7-12). Physical labor benefits while you are alive but has no value beyond the grave.
This is why Solomon reduced what we should be doing with all out might down to, “Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
By Brian Orchard