“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.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NIV)
The 2012 Olympic Games in London England are now over, and life goes on. The Paralympics are being conducted, and again, these games shall soon pass and life will get back to normal.
But while the games are occurring, it is marvelous to witness the athletic prowess of superbly trained athletes competing against themselves and others to set a new world record and gain a medal.
We marvel at their feats, at the execution of very difficult physical tasks, at the endurance they demonstrate.
I believe that one runner, Manteo Mitchell, an American, continued running even after breaking his leg. Such dramatic events stir national pride and causes us to greatly admire such determination.
This form of heroism is the stuff of books and movies. Yet there is a greater form of heroism that we need to consider today as we read the verses above.
Many biblical scholars regard the apostle Paul as someone who followed the Olympics of his time and the races that led up to them. Possibly he knew the names of many great athletes of the time. Certainly he made enough references to running and competition to cause us to think that this is true.
Paul compared competitive sports to Christianity. Indeed there are some similarities as well as some clear differences. In earthly sports only one person gets the prize, while in Christianity everyone who believes in Jesus and walks with Him gets the prize. The prizes that the world offers their athletes fade soon enough but the prize of eternal life for those who run the spiritual race lasts forever.
In the competition Paul speaks of, there are three things we need to consider. First, we must go into rigorous training to gain the prize. Here Paul is obviously referring to the self denial Jesus calls all of His people to demand of themselves. In fact, Jesus said that the ones who follow Him must die to self in order to gain the prize.
This idea of self denial runs contrary to the spirit of our day. We are told to indulge ourselves, we are told we deserve all we can get from this life. The Christian knows that those who make this life their heaven will never gain the eternal heaven spoken of in Scripture. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus if we are to gain the crown that lasts forever.
Perhaps this is where you have stumbled in your efforts to follow Jesus. You need to refocus and accept the truth that this life is not ours to hold on to. We must release ourselves from what is here and now in order to gain what is forever.
Will you let go of earthly ambitions in order to win the crown of life? If you insist on this poor world’s treasures, you may possibly gain them, but you will lose eternity. What a poor bargain, gaining the world but losing Jesus, the pearl of great price. Count the cost and may you find grace to give up what lasts for a day in order to gain what is yours forever.