The life of an athlete is a combination of commitment, routine and diet – sacrifices must be made.
A great athlete needs to focus upon a goal – the finish line, the victory, the prize! In the mind of any athlete the prize justifies the sacrifices.
In this three part series we continue the search for meaning in a modern world through the lens of a very old book – the Bible.
The life of a Christian is similar, in principle, to the life of an athlete. And this is not a new idea – it was a theme of God’s Word through the Apostle Paul 2000 years ago.
The apostle Paul was originally a Jewish religious leader who persecuted Christians until his famous conversion on “the road to Emmaus”. He said:
You know that many runners enter a race, and only one of them wins the prize. So run to win!1 Corinthians 9 v 24
In the lifetime of Paul, the victorious athlete would be presented with a crown – not of gold or silver – but a wreath of bay or olive leaves. Not only was it the ultimate prize, it was the only prize. There was nothing for second or third place.
While the wreath would have looked fantastic on the day of the race, and for many days after, in time it would wither and perish. By contrast Paul explains:
Athletes work hard to win a crown that cannot last, but we do it for a crown that will last forever.1 Corinthians 9 v 25
What is the crown that will last for ever?
The Kingdom of God.
Literally, the Greek word for “athlete” means “one who competes for a prize”.
That means hard work, preparation and self control.
I keep my body under control and make it my slave, so I won’t lose out after telling the good news to others.1 Corinthians 9 v 25
In the race for God’s Kingdom it is the mind which must be controlled and strengthened – conditioned by God’s Word and focussed on the greatest of prizes.
The apostle James makes a similar point using the same analogy:
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.James 1 v 12
Another contemporary of Paul, the apostle Peter put it like this:
..goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. My friends, you must do all you can… If you keep on doing this, you won’t stumble and fall. Then our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will give you a glorious welcome into his kingdom that will last forever.2 Peter 1 v 5-11
Athletes free themselves of unnecessary weight. Their physical condition, even their clothing, is designed to be as efficient and competitive as possible.
The weight Jesus removed was selfishness
He put aside all thought for himself and only did the will of his Father in Heaven. The Bible encourages us to do the same:
So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won’t let go. And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us.Hebrews 12 v 1
Before Jesus received the crown of glory (and life) he first endure a crown of thorns.
They made a crown out of thorn branches and placed it on his head, and… They made fun of him and shouted, “Hey, you king of the Jews!”.Matthew 27 v 29
It is a powerful, visual demonstration of His commitment to God’s purpose. He ran perfectly, without falling (sin) and endured to the end.
It also demonstrates how Jesus was prepared to lead by example and bring hope to a dark world.
…we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.
..keep your mind on Jesus, who put up with many insults from sinners.
Then you won’t get discouraged and give up.Hebrews 12 v 1-3
So we’re all called to be athletes in a race that leads to the ultimate prize – God’s Kingdom.
But Jesus was the son of God… how can we be expected to endure in the way that he did?
Continue reading part two – “The Endurance”
(All quotes taken from the Contemporary English Version unless otherwise stated)