Olympic Champions in Christ

August 18, 2016 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

I enjoy watching the Olympics. I marvel at the athletic prowess of the competitors and the feats they accomplish, which I could never imagine doing. I love rooting for Team USA and watching the medal counts.

Part of being created in the image of God is an inner longing to be excellent or associated with excellence. The Olympics appeal to that inner longing. While I know I could never be an Olympic competitor, I long for that sort of discipline to mark and shape my pursuit of excellence in other areas. My relationship with God. My ministry. My marriage. My parenting. How can we develop that sort of discipline?

The apostle Paul was familiar with athletic competition from the Greek Empire and in the Roman Empire, precursors to our modern Olympics. He uses the imagery of those competitions to describe his desire for discipline in his ministry and godliness. He writes in 1 Corinthians 9…

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (v. 24-27).

What inspires and sustains Paul’s discipline in his life?

The Prize! Christ has secured the prize and those who love his appearing are assured of obtaining it.

Notice how Paul begins… talking about the prize for competitors. In earthly competition the prize is temporary (as the old cliché says, you can’t take it with you, even the gold medal); and only one receives the first place prize. But, in Christ, all who love his appearing (i.e. place their faith and hope in Christ) receive the prize (see 2 Tim. 4:8), while the performance was completed by Christ Himself.

This secure and assured prize inspires and sustains discipline. How? Paul says he disciplines his body lest he should be disqualified, as if he never ran or completed the race. He never says he disciplines his body so that he would win the prize. He understands that the prize is freely won by Christ. The discipline, even the desire for the prize, is evidence of obtaining the prize. In fact, Paul would say the discipline is part of the prize. A little later in his letter to the Corinthians he says, comparing himself with other apostles, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (15:10). When Paul says that he disciplines his body, he could quickly add, “though it is not I, but God who is disciplining my body for the sake of his call on my life” (cf. Gal. 2:20, Phil. 2:12-13).

Why is this so important?

In a world where everything is a competition (class rank in school; job openings at work; comparisons with the neighbor’s home and lifestyle; even making your way home in rush hour), it is such a relief to know that we are not competing to gain God. God gives himself freely in Christ. And, because we are in Christ, we are excellent, and God is making us excellent (see Phil. 1:6). We are champions in Christ (“more than conquerors”? Rom. 8:37). The discipline Paul speaks about is merely learning how to live like a champion.

Be encouraged. Rest in Christ. You are a champion. Even when you don't "stick your landing." Make it your aim, like Paul, to live like a champion in Christ.


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