Vol. 7, No. 6
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A particular emotional appeal as to the value of the Olympics takes the form of focusing on poorly trained athletes from underdeveloped countries who come with an abundance of heart to at least compete in the world's spectacle of their sport. These athletes are poorly trained because they don't have the practice time (due to work schedules) or the opportunity (due to facility deficiencies) equal to their competitors from advanced societies. In those economically advanced regions, athletes may be able to train all day, every day at state-of-the-art facilities with well-funded coaches and programs. They, therefore, should be contenders. But, no one expects these highlighted individuals from the third-world countries to do well in a sport. Why point them out? Because these are those who come for more glorious reasons than a medal. They come to represent the upward progress of a nation which warrants their patriotic loyalty. They represent the virtue of effort in the face of horrible odds. They shine with values of selflessness--building upon their losses (and possible embarrassment) to pave the way for others who will come after them. The appeal of such athletes does strike a heart-chord in many spectators. As one is reported to have put it, these are not here to win their races, but simply to finish.
Can the Bible student help but be reminded of the analogy the apostle Paul drew from the games of his day?
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Note quickly the comparisons: In a physical race, there is one winner; a spiritual race has many--all who finish are considered the victors. Physical athletes discipline themselves (show temperance) in everything from exercise to eating, so as to give themselves the best opportunity for a physical crown. Spiritual disciples take care of their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Timothy 4:8a) as well as their souls (1 Timothy 4:8b) in order to prepare themselves for finishing the current race and receiving the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
The Christian race has no one winning ahead of someone else. It is not a matter of competition. No one needs to be "beaten" for anyone else to go to heaven. A physical race creates a lot of losers by creating one winner: "...one receives the prize." But, everyone who simply finishes the Christian race faithfully will win.
All of this kind of makes you identify with those honorable souls who come to the games just to compete. They are not there to beat anyone, but to make a good showing for their homeland. May we, as Christians, always make a good showing for our own souls' sake, having the attitude of Paul, "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27).