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Subtitle: The Apostle Paul Used Athletic Events As Object Lessons

Once again I, along with millions of others, enjoyed the two week Olympic sports smorgasbord and cheered as our young men and women competed for gold. And like most, my heart went out to those whose efforts fell short. Tears moistened many eyes  as cherished dreams failed to materialize. But this will always be the case with such intense competion, because only the very best will receive the prize--even though many years of training are invested in the effort.

Since the first time I saw the Olympics on TV (my grandchildren think it was while dinosaurs roamed the earth!), the dedication exhibited by world-class athletes has always impressed me. And if I had to rate the entire group, the little girl gymnasts and ice skaters would be at the very top. It appears that they focus upon their goal at a much earlier age than do boys and show a maturity beyond their years. Some of the "up close and personal" reports aired by various sports programs about those tiny little bundles of energy have been awesome, to say the least! Barely beyond babies, some have even left home to live with their personal trainers in order to maximize their potential. Regimens that would be daunting to an adult are closely followed and sacrifices made that ordinary kids would not dream of doing--all in the pursuit of excellence.

While it is true that today's gold-winning Olympic atheletes can often reap millions from endorsements, such has not always been the case. Just a few years back, a relatively short-lived fame and the medal itself was about all one could expect. But that did not dampen enthusiasm as many tried to be the best in the world in their particular sport.

In the original Olympic games and up to relatively recent times, the various competitions were limited to men. And only one winner was crowned for each event--not three. The prize was a crown of laurel leaves (not olive leaves--as was reported to be the case during the recent games in Greece. The phrase, "resting upon one's laurels" came about as a reference to those who had retired from competition. They were winners and content with past accomplishments). And it was to this crown of perishable green leaves that the apostle Paul referred in the following passage of Scripture:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours. [25] Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things. They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither. [26] Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. [27] But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit]" 1 Cor. 9:24-27 (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible, emphasis mine)

To be awarded the victor's crown was a "big deal" in those days too and I am sure it afforded some additional perks for those who received it. But all things taken into consideration, it was still small compensation for the amount of time and effort expended. And that is precisely the point Paul is trying to get across. "They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither...." But by contrast, we as Christians should be straining like marathon runners--exerting ourselves to the point of exhaustion--trying to gain the maximum reward possible at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

"Look to yourselves (take care) that you may not lose (throw away or destroy) all that we and you have labored for, but that you may [persevere until you] win and receive back a perfect reward [in full]" 2 John 1:8 (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified).

"I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward" Philip. 3:13-14 (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified)

And referring back to Paul's specific comments in 1 Cor.9:27 (cited above), he mentions the possibility of being adokimos--the Greek word translated "castaway" (KJV) or "unfit" (Amplified). [The additional comment in the Amplified relative to "rejected as a counterfeit" deviates, in my opinion, from the immediate context because a counterfeit competitor would be a highly unlikely prospect]. Many continue to misinterpret this statement as teaching one can lose their salvation, but taken in context the meaning is very clear: those who compete must do so according to the rules or be disqualified. Numerous contestants were disqualified during the past Olympics for various reasons--leaving the start line prematurely, running outside the proper lane in track events, too many fouls on the long jump, etc.--and thus were ruled ineligible for a medal in that event.

In reference to this point about the Olympic Games, the World Book Encyclopedia says: "In the early Olympics, sacrifices of grain, wine, and lambs were made to Zeus on the first day. Solemn oaths were taken that the contests would be fairly judged and the contestants would compete as good sportsmen...." And from other sources we know that anyone caught breaking the rules forfeited their chance of winning. So it is to this forfeiture that Paul refers and we must understand that no other punishment was meted out. He was expressing a personal concern that after having done his best in crossing the finish line of life, he would later find out some of his efforts had been in vain because of an infraction of the rules. A crown that he might have otherwise received would be forfeited.

In the Greek Olympics, the disqualification of a contestant took place at the bema--a platform, or raised stand--where the judges sat, announced their decisions, and passed out the rewards. And Paul alludes to this bema in 2 Corinthians 5:10 when he speaks of "the judgment seat of Christ":

 "For we must all appear and be revealed as we are before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive [his pay] according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil [considering what his purpose and motive have been, and what he has achieved, been busy with, and given himself and his attention to accomplishing]" 2 Cor. 5:10 (Parallel KJV/Amplified Bible).

The Greek word translated "judgment seat" in this verse is bema,  bay'-ma; from the base of Greek 939 (basis); a step, i.e. foot-breath; by implication a rostrum, i.e. tribunal :- judgment-seat, set [foot] on, throne.

All Christians will be judged by Christ at His Bema Seat and there we will learn if there has been a disqualification in any area of our life on earth. Some of us may lose every reward we could have earned by faithfully observing God's rules, but the very fact we learn of the disqualification(s) at His Judgment Seat in heaven rules out loss of salvation!

But returning to the subject of dedication as it applies to the contestants, Paul stresses the point that those athletes gave it their all in order to win a perishable crown of laurel leaves. Yet far too many Christians, who by virtue of the new birth are in the race for rewards of a wonderful and eternal nature, often exhibit little or no dedication. Spiritually fat and flabby, they are content to sit on the bench and let someone else do the sweating. Prayer, Bible study, and using one's time, talent, and treasury wholeheartedly for the Lord Jesus Christ must involve no less commitment than that exhibited by world-class athletes if we are to receive a reward when we cross the finish line. All genuine believers will persevere and finish the race, but not all will "win the prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward."

How about you--are you giving of your best to the Master? Or would you, like so many others, have to admit your zeal has seen better days? Our salvation cost the life of God's own beloved Son, so how can any child of grace "rest on his laurels" and give less than maximum effort? The Christian life is analogous to the "Iron Man Triathlon" and not a 100 meter sprint--so a lifetime of continuous conditioning is required to be successful:

 "THEREFORE THEN, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us" Hebrews 12:1 (Parallel KJV/Amplified Bible).

Once again we see a spiritual truth illustrated by athletic terms. This characteristic of the apostle Paul's writings is but one of many reasons we believe he wrote the Book of Hebrews--a belief some scholars do not share. But regardless of the human instrument God used, this verse conveys the spiritual toughness and perseverance needed to keep on going when every fiber of our being is bone tired and wants to quit.

Long distance runners, as well as other atheletes, often use leg and arm weights during training to increase their endurance--so that when they compete in a race without the weights, their performance is greatly enhanced. And in Hebrews 12:1 (above) it is that removal of the weights the author uses to illustrate a spiritual point. Sin, like the athlete's intentional use of weights, is an unintended encumbrance to us. Our lives are hindered and spiritual stamina is depleted when we ignore our sins and allow them to weigh us down. So to remove them we must claim the promise found in the Book of 1 John:

 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"    1 John 1:9 (KJV)

Please understand that the new birth does not remove our old fallen, depraved nature and sin will continue to a sad fact of life for the believer. But the wonderful and awesome fact is that the death penalty for our sin has been removed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ! He totally changed our relationship to God and transgressions are now those of a child against our Heavenly Father and not our Judge. So to "run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us," we need to understand that sin is as natural as breathing for us--it "readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us." But that fact is definitely not a valid excuse for sinning and to avoid God's hand of chastening, we must try our best to sin less and quickly come to Him for forgiveness when we fail! To put it off and allow sin to build up in our lives weighs us down and hinders our progress in getting to the finish line.

Are you trying your best to run, but are out of breath spiritually and the pain in your side is almost more than you can bear? Beloved, more than likely it is due to unnecessary weights you are hauling around! Keep on plodding toward the finish line and as you do--like a child of the King that you are, approach the Throne of Grace boldly (Heb.4:16) and ask your Savior to remove them. When they are forgiven and fall away, you will fly like the wind!

If you have been born again and received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.

If you have never placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, but have come to sense His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to receive His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you truly believe in Him as Lord and Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.

We hope you have been blessed by this ministry, which seeks to educate and warn people, so that they can see the coming New World Order—Kingdom of Antichrist—in their daily news.

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