It’s been quite interesting to watch some of the Olympics this summer and now the paralympics begin. The display of talent in the closing ceremonies and the endurance and strength in the athletes is something that comes through discipline and training. What human beings are able to accomplish is astounding.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.

Psalm 139:14 NLT

I am certain that not every athlete may consider a higher power when they are competing. I do find it interesting to see a photo of Canadian Andre De Grass after winning the gold in the men’s 200m; he is on one knee, looking and pointing up. It reminded me of a blog I wrote about olympic medalist, Eric Liddell.

Eric Liddell was a devout Christian and missionary to China, who felt it a priority to run in the Olympic games. His sister felt that his training for the 1924 Olympics deterred him from returning to China. He said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure.” We usually would not class running or involvement in a sporting activity as spiritual, or God-honouring, but more a physical activity. For Liddell, running wasn’t just a fun activity but a God-honouring one.

Word4Now Blog – June 2017

The Bible describes our bodies as temples and indicates that there is a greater purpose in everything we do, maybe even greater than we realize.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Paul, 1 Cor. 6:20 ESV

Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord, and not for men.

Paul, Col. 3:23 HCSB

The Apostle Paul made many references to sport like “running in a race” with the goal to “get the prize” and also referenced boxing and wrestling in his writings. This got me to wondering if he might have attended the Olympics. In my search I found this article titled: The Historical Background of Paul’s Athletic Allusions by Jerry M Hullinger which states:

The chief athletic contest in Greece was the Olympic games. Founded in 776 B.C., these games were held every four years.

Many other athletic contests were spawned from the Olympics and there was one held in Corinth. The Isthmian Games form the backdrop for 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Paul probably was in Corinth when the games of A.D. 49 or 51 were held. A further reason that lends weight to the idea that Paul attended these games is his profession as a tentmaker. At such occasions, large numbers of tents would be needed to provide shelter for the crowds of visitors …

Even if Paul were not, technically speaking, a tentmaker but rather a leatherworker, this would not have precluded his making or repairing tents or shelters.

It’s quite fascinating to think that Paul’s writings were influenced by these competitions because he was likely an eyewitness to many of these events.

24Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

Paul, 1 Cor. 9:24-27 NLT

Some lessons Paul shared from these games:

  • Bring glory to God by using one’s strength and talent, not only in sport, but also in life’s work.
  • Apply the same sort of discipline and training in life as those in sport in order to obtain a crown (earned in the ancient games) or a medal in our modern day Olympics
  • To know your purpose you need to look up (beyond the sun).

Sometimes it’s easy to think that what we do on this earth lacks meaning and purpose and finding fulfilment can be exasperating. There is even a book in the Bible dedicated to “the Futility of All Endeavour” (Ecclesiates).

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Solomon, Eccl. 1:14 NIV

It is natural to only look “under the sun” to discover our purpose. I recently read that the way to discover meaning is to look beyond the sun, into the heavenliness. That’s why Paul encouraged us “to work for the Lord” (rather than men) and this is to “win a prize that will not fade away.” Through the games, Paul was reminding us that our focus can so easily be on the wrong prize.

Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that the reason he exerted him­self in his ministry was so that he would obtain an incorruptible crown (στέφανος; cf. 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8).

Jerry M Hullinger, The Historical Background of Paul’s Athletic Allusions.

Paul’s references to the believer’s prize seem to be related to conflict in the spiritual life, a prize that can be won only if one throws himself and his resources entirely into the struggle.

Ethelbert Stauffer, “βραβεύω? in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
vol. 1 (1964), 638; and Smith, “Games,” 2:1173.

What a powerful statement: the prize can only be won by a complete investment of oneself and the resources that have been entrusted to our care. Are we putting all our energy and resources into what we have been called to do? Are we looking beyond the sun daily in order to walk in the work that God has prepared (in advance) for us to do (see Eph 2:10)?

Possessing this crown signified spiritual, emotional, financial, and social benefits. Yet as Paul wrote, as grand as this earthly attainment was, it paled in significance when compared to the heavenly reward for the faithful believer (1 Cor. 9:25).

Jerry M Hullinger, The Historical Background of Paul’s Athletic Allusions.

Any recognition or reward for our efforts and accomplishments in the industry that we work in or sport in which we compete, will pale in comparison to the reward we can look forward to. This happens when we invest our lives with a perspective that’s beyond this world.

Just as a side note: My son, David completed some research and did a project using Legos to explore the history of the Olympics in a 7 minute video for one of his classes in university. Thought you might find it interesting.

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