Today our Olympic team arrived home to great applause and adulation, bringing with them New Zealand’s best medal haul yet. The 18 medals claimed by the team bettered the previous games best of 13, and propelled NZ to fourth of all countries on a medals-per-capita basis, an average of one medal per 250,000 Kiwis.
Did you realise the Olympic Games are mentioned in the Bible? They began way back in 776BC, and during the days of the early Church were a famous four-yearly spectacle, just as they are today. The Apostle Paul referred to the games several times to help him explain vital spiritual principles.
For instance, in I Corinthians 9:24 he said “In a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize.” The prize in those days was generally a wreath or garland of olive leaves, only given to one victor in each race. Paul went on to urge his readers to
“run in such a way as to get the prize,” comparing our spiritual life to a race in which everyone can be a winner!
In verse 25, he went on to refer to the discipline required of athletes, noting that “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”
The successful athletes in Rio de Janeiro were men and women who sacrificed many of the pleasures other people enjoy in order to devote countless hours of exhausting struggle, sweat and toil in training for their events.
The Greek word translated "goes into strict training" in verse 25 is "agonizomenos", literally "agonizes". Yet these athletes went through all this just to obtain a temporary garland of leaves that began to wither away as soon as they were plucked. The gold, silver and bronze medals of today are made of sturdier material, but they also will fade and tarnish over time.
Paul continued: “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” The spiritual crown offered to victorious Christians is the glorious prize of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. If athletes in the physical games go to such lengths to gain success, shouldn’t we be willing to devote some real effort to our spiritual lives?
Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us".
As we reflect on the wonderful achievements of our athletes in Rio, let's remember that we are all competing in our own personal spiritual Olympic Games. We can all be winners; indeed we are already winners because Jesus has given us the victory (1 Cor 15:57). We need to daily continue to ask for His help in putting our sins behind us, and we can look forward to surging across the finish line, snapping the tape of victory and receiving the glorious crown of eternal life!