OLYMIC GEMS (I) – TRAINING
We enjoy watching the Olympics. It is stimulating to see athletes who have trained themselves to peak performance, competing before millions. The Apostle Paul was also a watcher of the Greek Olympic Games. I deduce this from the fact that he frequently used pictures from the Games to illustrate truths about the Christian life. Preachers draw their illustrations largely from their interests. Paul was educated at the University of Tarsus which was one of the centres of Greek culture. Now to Romans and Greeks, the Olympic Games assumed great importance. They breathed the Games rather like our culture breathes T.V. The victors were honoured for life. They were heroes and never had to pay any more taxes. They exemplified certain virtues which Paul took and applied to our Christian lives.
I want to emphasize one of those virtues as we focus on the athletes’ training.
To a large extent, the race is won or lost in the months leading up to the games.
The race itself is like the tip of an iceberg, but the hours and hours of strenuous training are unseen. To maintain a regular training schedule requires discipline, determination and endurance. What keeps them going is the thought of the prize and the honour at the end of the race. They have a goal in life and with all their effort they are preparing themselves to reach it.
Training by its nature is repetitive. You go through the same motions again and again until they are second nature to you, until you can perform them in your sleep, or under the fierce pressure of competition. If you are not fully trained, your performance will crack under the pressure.
Watching the gymnasts perform their somersaults and spins with such ease, one can easily forget that it is about 20% natural gift and 80% hard work, day in and day out. You can tell the difference between some who still find it a bit of an effort (although they do a good job) and others who have abtained such mastery of technique that they seem to do it effortlessly. The motions have become part of them. This doesn’t come overnight but is the result of years of dedicated training.
Paul tells us to train ourselves in godliness: “Train yourself to be godly.
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1Timothy 4:7-8).
*We are to train ourselves, in the repetition of everyday life, in work and play, in problems and pains as well as in good times, to look to God for all things and to be thankful.
*We are to train ourselves to trust in God when things are hard and when they are going well.
*We are to train ourselves to have times of prayer and the Word everyday.
*We are to train ourselves to be faithful in the local church.
*We are to train ourselves to be faithful in the stewardship of our finances, time, and ministries.
*We are to train ourselves to act in love and forgiveness, speaking good things to build them up.
This will be tough at times. Training is tough and repetitious, but the rewards are great, not the least of which is a beautiful, mature, whole Christian character. Our actions form our habits, our habits will then determine our character, and our character will determine our destiny. Our long-term natural and spiritual success is determined by our faithfulness in training.
OLYMPIC GEMS (2) – DISQUALIFIED!
Drugs always features in the Olympics. Those found breaking the rules are disqualified and their honour and prizes are lost. Similar situations arose in the Greek Games at the time the New Testament was written.
Referring to this Paul said: “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (1 Timothy 2:5).
In those days the rules were much stricter than now. Not only were certain drugs forbidden,but for 10 months before the contest the athlete was required to be in strict training. During this time he had to do prescribed exercise, living apart from the ordinary pursuits of life. Moreover he was placed on a rigid diet. If he broke these training rules he would be disqualified, and would receive no prize.
Paul talked about this saying: “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” (1Corinthians 9:24-25)
Self-discipline was essential, because often the athlete would not feel like working out. His flesh would want to take a short-cut, have a day off, or break his diet. But he would be motivated to discipline and train his flesh by a strong desire to receive his victor’s crown, his reward of glory and honour, and to avoid the shame of disqualification.
So Paul goes on to say: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others I myself should become disqualified” (1Corinthians 9:27). What a tragedy it is to be disqualified because of breaking the rules after all that training! To the Greeks it was not just about winning. Winning beautifully, with style - that was the true victory.
In another place Paul tells us to: “fight the good fight of faith” (1Timothy 6:12).
He is again using the picture of an athlete contest. In our walk of faith we are asked to be like an athlete engaging in a contest using good, well–trained technique. We are to put forth an effort to live our life pleasing to God, according to His rules, precepts and wisdom, a life that is marked by a beauty of technique. We are to run a GOOD race and fight a GOOD fight.
A good fight or race is of course one that we win, but more than that, it is one that we win well, we win it in the right way, with style, courage, according to God’s rules. We can all be victors through Christ. We can run our race and fight our fight of faith successfully. He calls, equips and anoints us to be winners in this life, but to do this we must submit to His training and learn His ways and wisdom, and run our race His way, by His grace. Then we will win beautifully!
In our Christian lives we are often tempted to bend or break the rules for an easier life. Like athletes taking drugs, we feel the pressure to take short-cuts in order to get ahead and be a winner. However, short-term gains become long-term pains. What we compromise to get we will eventually lose. We will find ourselves disqualified for rewards in this life and the next. This is what Jesus meant when He said: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 19:30).
Some, who seem to be getting ahead in this life, are doing so by compromising their integrity and will end up on the bottom, disqualified. their short term gain will be a long-term pain. Others in order to keep their popularity and status will compromise their beliefs and convictions. Our fear of disqualification should be greater than our fear of what other people think about us. We must remember that at the end of the race the Lord will judge our works and reward us accordingly. We must always keep this vision of what will happen at the end of the race before us. The good Olympic athletes who pay the price and cultivate their art to point of excellence, are a great example, inspiration and stimulus to us all in our Christian lives.
OLYMPIC GEMS (3) – Running the Race.
How exciting it must be for an athlete, after months of training for the Olympics to finally walk into the arena with thousands watching and cheering him. He also knows that there are millions more, unseen by him, who are also watching by T.V. In our Christian life we are watched by those around us that we can see, as well as by many others who are unseen. These are the believers in heaven who have already run their race and are now in the stands cheering us on (Hebrews 11).
After describing this great group of people Paul says in Hebrews 12:1:
“Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
He encourages us to rise to the occasion and to take off all surplus clothing that just weighs us down. In those days they wore a tunic which would wrap itself around their legs and entangle them if they tried to run in it. To run in a tunic and to carry extra weight would be crazy. Thus to run our Christian race well, we will have to throw off the things that waste our time and energy, and which trip us up. Nothing must get in the way of reaching that finishing-line. To be a winner you must be single-minded.
The athlete must remove all distracting thoughts from his mind, so that he focuses only on crossing the line. He must be single-minded. That is why Paul declares:
“One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what
is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:13).
We must forget our past sins by receiving Christ’s forgiveness. We must forget
our successes also, so that we can give our whole effort to running our race now. We must not look round to compare ourselves to the other runners to see how
they are doing or we will lose precious yards. We must also look way from the crowd, whatever they are shouting at us, whether praise or condemnation.
We must look with a single eye toward the goal of the finishing line.
We are encouraged in this because Jesus has already run His race to victory,
and is standing at the finishing line ready to greet us and reward us with great joy.
Paul says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, (the author and perfector of our faith) who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus, our example, focused on the joy of completing His mission, set His face like flint toward the finish and endured the suffering of the Cross. He ran His race,
even when it meant great pain, and crossed the line. Then God exalted Him,
raising Him from death, and He sat down on the Judge’s Seat.
We are to consider Jesus and the race He ran especially when it becomes difficult
and we hit the pain barrier (Hebrews 12:3). We are to run with the same single-minded determination, looking to the moment when we will stand before Jesus, and receive our prize. In the Olympics all winners have their gaze fixed firmly
on the finishing line with every ounce of their being straining to reach the goal. Only after the race do they relax their concentration and rejoice in their victory.
Every Christian has a race to run. Some are limping and need our help. Others are weary and slowing down. Others are jogging at half-speed. We all need a fresh look at Jesus waiting for us at the Finish, to spur us on greater things.
OLYMPIC GEMS (4) – THE PRIZE
Every athlete dreams of standing on the Olympic podium and receiving his medal. The potential joys and rewards of victory spur him on to greater efforts in the now. In the ancient Greek Games they received crowns instead of medals. The victor's crown was garland, woven of oak leaves, ivy, myrtle, olive or of flowers, violets or roses and was placed upon the head by the Judge who presided over the Games, even perhaps the Emperor, who sat on the Judgement Seat (Bema) The winner would also be honoured for the rest of his life, he would have the key of his home town and he would never had to pay taxes again. The rewards of victory were substantial.
When Paul says: “We shall all stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ” (2Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10). He is again thinking of the Games. The Emperor would be sat on an elevated seat and the athletes stood before him to receive their crowns at the end of their race.
2Corinthians 5:10,11: “For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Romans 14:10-13: “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
One day, when we have run our race we will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament describes the rewards that He will then give us, as crowns. Thus the Olympic medals or crowns are a picture of spiritual crowns that will be given to us.
2Timothy 2:5: “if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
Revelation 3:11: “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your Crown.”
If the athletes gave their all for a temporary crown, how much more should we, for an eternal one. As Paul said: “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” (1Corinthians 9:24-25).
There are 5 kinds of Crown mentioned in the Bible:
1. The Crown of Rejoicing (also known as the soulwinner’s Crown). Those people we have helped to faith in Christ will be a crown for us. Speaking of his converts Paul said: “For what is our hope, or joy, or the Crown of Rejoicing? Is it not even you in the Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His Coming” (1Thessalonians 2:19).“Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and Crown,
so stand fast in the Lord, beloved” (Philippians 4:1).
2. The Crown of Glory. There is also a Crown for good leadership. Speaking to the leaders (the Apostle) Peter promised: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the Crown of Glory that does not fade away” (1Peter 5:1-5).
We all have different gifts and abilities that we can use to serve the Lord. If we use them well there is a crown of glory awaiting us too. We will be rewarded by God according to how faithful we have been over our areas of responsibility in the home, at work and in ministry.
3. The Crown of Life is promised to those who keep their love for the Lord and stay true to Him through the trials and temptations of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).
James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the Crown of Life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Revelation 2:10: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the Crown of Life.”
4. The Imperishable Crown, for those who excercise self-control and discipline over their flesh: “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 (self-controlled) in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1Corinthians 9:24-27)
5. The Crown of Righteousness. At the end of his life Paul sums it all up: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the Crown of Righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day–and not only me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2Timothy 4:7-8)
We all have our race to run. A crown awaits those who live motivated by the Lord’s Return. We must stay in our lane and run with all our might looking forward to when we stand before the Lord and hear Him saying: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
The Church in Heaven will be clothed in white, enthroned and crowned with the glory of God (gold represents the Divine nature and glory):
“Around the throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones I saw 24 elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had Crowns of Gold on their heads...
Whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their Crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:4, 9-11).
How many Crowns will you have in Heaven to cast at the Lord’s feet in your worship?