by Ong Eng Boon
I love almost all sports programmes the TV has to offer. I followed the just concluded Olympic games daily just to get a feel of the competitive spirit. I am always amazed by the athletes’ sporting abilities in their respective disciplines.
The athletes have to discipline themselves and go through many sacrifices as well as bodily pain as they train and exert themselves to the limit so that they can be in top physical condition to compete in the games.
All athletes give their best. The purpose of an athlete is to win in the events they are competing in; they want to be among the best and stand at the winners’ podium.
If you want to come out victorious, you will have to work a little bit harder than others. Almost instantaneously you become a hero of your nation if you are victorious! Who doesn’t like a hero?
Apostle Paul reminded the Christians that the Christian life is almost like taking part in a race but the important thing is to FINISH THE RACE!
“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 to subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
- Know that we are involved in a race with a PURPOSE
Many people live their life on this earth aimlessly. They live very much like others are being born into this world not because of their own choice; many just go through life’s routine of growing up, getting an education, getting a job, getting married, starting a family and eventually growing old and dying.
Many also live a carefree life without even considering if God exists as the values of this world is so overwhelming. Many end up questioning God’s existence let alone come into obedience of the gospel of Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Brethren, if you are in a race, you need to be constantly on the move and not stay idle without doing anything. Jesus Himself began His ministry at about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23) and for three years He was on the move constantly.
“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” (Matthew 9:35)
We ought to be like Jesus, busy going around sharing the gospel, helping those in need along the way and teaching them to eventually come into obedience of the gospel. The value of the kingdom of heaven far outweighs the values this world has to offer!
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)
- Know the necessity of DISCIPLINE involved in a race
Athletes who compete in a race are highly motivated and dedicated as they know the necessity of disciplining themselves as they have to go through a strict regime of training methods and techniques which exact much pain and require endurance on their part in order to achieve the desired results. They train day and night without complaining and even adhere to proper diets and a strict lifestyle (example, no late nights) in order to claim the ultimate prize, the gold medal.
Likewise, Paul told us “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things…….. But I discipline my body and bring it to subjection…” (1 Cor. 9:25, 27)
I remember running a marathon during my younger days. In order to run the 42.196 km race, you need to train yourself up to a point that you need to clock a minimum of 35 km. You also need a good pair of shoes to help you finish the race within the cut off time of six hours.
During training, I did not clock enough mileage as I ran only about 30km. During the run, I almost did not finish the race! I almost gave up as my legs started to wobble at the 35 km mark but along the way, many competitors who were in the race cheered and encouraged each another. We walked, hopped, jogged and eventually finished the race within the time limit! What an achievement it was to finish the marathon!
Brethren, we ought to help one another and encourage one another to finish our Christian race. Along the way let’s watch out for those who are about to give up and fall out of the race!
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others,” (Phil. 2:3-4)
In the race we may huff and puff but let us run with endurance and with encouragement, let us finish the race together!
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnare us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…..” (Heb. 12:1-2)
- Know that at the end of the race, there is an IMPERISHABLE CROWN waiting for all of us who FINISH THE RACE
In an Olympic game, only one can emerge as the winner and win the ultimate prize which is the gold medal. During Paul’s days, the victorious Olympians were given a prize which he described as a “perishable crown.” This is made up of little laurels made up like a crown and placed on top of the winner’s head. Its worth is usually symbolical at that time. Today, those who are victorious return with much glory and become heroes of the nation. On top of that, prize monies in cash or kind which can run into millions of ringgit are also offered!
The victory which people win in the sporting events of the world is grand for the moment, but it does not last. It fades away with time and people forget the sports heroes as time passes. The heroes of today will no longer be remembered by generations to come.
For a Christian, it is different; he wins an “imperishable crown” which is eternal in nature and it is not only given to the victorious but to all who finishes the race!
This is the reward which Paul describes in 2 Timothy 4:8: “the crown of righteousness” which shall be bestowed upon the faithful by the Lord himself “at that day” which is the judgment day . It is the “crown of glory that does not not away” which shall be given to the redeemed and to those who love Him “when the chief Shepherd appears.” (1 Pet. 5:4) It is the “crown of life.” (Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10)
Therefore let us conquer all our enemies and finish running the race and not fall out along the way. It will be tragic if we fall out.
In this life, we have three enemies: Satan, the world, and ourself. It is ourself which is the most difficult to deal with.
Apostle Peter warned us to “be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:9) But Paul is not afraid of Satan; he said, “lest Satan should take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Cor. 2:11)
Paul is also not afraid of the world for he said, “ But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14) And we are told in 1 John 2:15 -16, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.”
To paraphrase Paul, he was asking us to discipline our body and bring it to subjection, lest when we have preached to others, we ourselves should become disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:27).
Paul was very much aware that every Christian, including you and me, should exercise the strictest self-control over the body, because our desires and appetites are a powerful source of temptation that our enemies, Satan and the world, may use to prevent us from finishing the Christian race.
Brethren, let us run the race with much endurance and with the reward of imperishable crown in mind. Together we can be victorious in Christ!
Paul said, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:57) and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13)