As we watch the 30th modern Olympiad, it would good to remember that the Bible has something to say about these competitions.
Beginning in 776 BC the Olympic Games took place in Greece every four years. Everyone around the world even in those days knew about them, including the people who lived in Palestine. That is why Paul used them to point to an ultimate reality and a higher level of competition with eternal stakes. He writes that athletes train to win a temporary prize, while followers of Christ run to win an eternal one.
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” – 1 Corinthians 9:26
When you see the athletes running, training, disciplining themselves and working through pain, as believers, we should see another kind of running, striving and award ceremony:
John Piper writes “the games . . . are meant to be seen and heard by Christians as a tremendous impulse to fight the fight of faith and run the race of life with nothing less than Olympic passion and perseverance. . . .”
Life is a proving ground where we reveal who we are, whom we trust, and what we love. It is a place for showing whose power, intelligence or goodness we trust—ours or God's. Life is not a field for demonstrating our own ability to make good choices. It's a field for showing how the goodness, truth and beauty of Christ take us captive and move us to choose and run for his glory.
The race of life has eternal consequences not because grace depends on the way we run, but because grace is verified and showcased by the way we run. How we run not only affects us but also impacts others.
"By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored [I ran, I fought] more exceedingly than all, yet it was not I but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Paul's running did not nullify the purpose of God's grace; it verified the power of that grace at work in and through him. And so it is with us.
Eternal life hangs on the way we run and the way we fight not because salvation is based on the merit of our works, but because faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Life is a proving ground for whether our faith is alive or dead—a proving ground for whom we trust and whom we love.