The Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro, began with a spectacular opening ceremony, which included fireworks, more than 6,000 dancers and Brazil’s most famous song, “The Girl from Ipanema”. Over 11,000 athletes are competing in 306 events and 28 sports.
Competition and cooperation
These sports are performance driven – athletes are rated and rewarded according to their performance. But the Bible says that we are all important because we are all made “in the image of God “Gen. 1:26-27NLT). So let’s not value people according to their performance on the sporting arena or their performance in any other avenue of life.
Sports can bring out the best and the worst in people. How do we compete in sports and as a spectator? Do we respect other competitors? Do we respect coaches? Do we respect marshals, umpires and referees? Do we respect other spectators?
Sports can build character. Athletes need to respect and build relationships with team mates. This is particularly important in team sports where cooperation is vital. What about us? Let’s be good team mates by encouraging one another in our teams at work or church. And by forgiving one another.
Commitment and dedication
Athletes commit to training schedules that require discipline, perseverance and endurance. This is challenging and athletes push themselves to the limit. The Christian life is like a race (2 Tim. 4:7) – it requires discipline and endurance to get through life’s trials and temptations. The Bible says, “let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
Christians are to be involved and obedient like athletes, and not like spectators (2 Tim. 2:5). In the context of Christian service, Paul says “.. train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). He’s saying that spiritual fitness is better that physical fitness. As physical training takes dedication and effort, spiritual training in godliness also takes dedication and effort.
Sports are games and the Olympics are called “Games”. Sport is play and not work (although it’s an occupation for professional athletes). Let’s keep this in mind when we watch the competitions. Let’s not value the game so highly that it becomes an idol that separates us from God.
Greek athletes competed for the “victors crown” (2 Tim. 2:5NIV), which was a wreath placed on the head of a victorious athlete. Paul uses this to illustrate Christians as striving for the prize of a reward for their faithful service for Christ: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize (crown) that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize (crown)” (1 Cor. 9:24-25). He’s saying that we should all run like winners. The goal of winning determines an athlete’s lifestyle. Likewise, striving for the eternal “crown of life” should characterize a Christian’s lifestyle (Jas. 1:12).
There is a silent spectator watching the Olympic Games at Rio. The statute of “Christ the Redeemer” towers over the city. With a height of 30 metres (98 ft), on an 8 metre (26 ft) pedestal, it looks down from the top of Mount Corcovado, 700-metre (2,300 ft) above sea level. The statue, which can be seen from almost anywhere in Rio de Janeiro, is one of the main landmarks of Brazil. It can be a reminder of our spiritual lives. What do we think about Jesus? If we claim to be a Christian how committed and dedicated are we to serving Him?
Finally, are we “one of Jesus’ athletes” like in this children’s song?
Grab your sneakers, Tie your laces
Pull your socks up, Do you stretches
Hear the Marshall, On your marks
Ready set go, Out of the blocks
In my dreams I have been an Olympic athlete
I’ve been striving for gold down at Rio
In my life I can be one of Jesus’ athletes
And His golden reward lasts forever
Feel the spirit, Hold the torch
Carry the flame, Run the course
Cheer the Aussies, Olympic Games
Patriotic, Fade away
In my dreams I have been an Olympic athlete
I’ve been striving for gold down at Rio
In my life I can be one of Jesus’ athletes
And His golden reward lasts forever
(Neil Holman, 2000)
Written, August 2016
At the “real” start of the third millennium
This is the first month of a new year and of a new millennium. As the first year was 1 A.D., so 1000 A.D. was the last year of the first millennium. Likewise, the last year of the second millennium was 2000 A.D., which means that 2001 is the first year of the third millennium. So the celebrations that were held twelve months ago should have been called the beginning of the 2000s, not the beginning of the third millennium, which actually begins this month.
Although one day, month or year is not necessarily more important than another (Rom. 14:5), we all like to celebrate important dates such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries. These are milestones that remind us of significant events along the road of life. Let’s look at some important events that God wants us to remember and celebrate.
Remember the Creator
After the universe was created in six days the Bible says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Gen 2:2-3 NIV). This is not the rest that follows weariness, but the rest of satisfaction and completion of a job well done (Gen. 1:31).
The Sabbath was to be observed by the Israelites as a day of rest from everyday work, as a reminder of their God who rested after His work of creation (Ex. 31:14-17). The principle of one day’s rest in seven was established in Old Testament times for the benefit of individuals, families, employees and even animals (Ex. 20:10; Mk. 2:27). Its establishment in the account of creation implies that it is meant for everyone, not just for Israel.
It is said that God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 20:11). This indicates two purposes for the Sabbath rest –as a gift (or blessing) from God for the well-being of humanity, and a special (or holy) day for God. Besides physical rest, it also means remembering the Creator and praising God for His provision for us. He had given us life and time, and on this day we are to give some time back to Him.
So, the Sabbath rest is God’s milestone pointing out His goodness to everyone as their Creator as we pause for a regular weekly break from work. Remember, the wisest man that ever lived said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl. 12:1). Creation reveals the Creator’s eternal power and divine nature .(Rom. 1:20). But this is less evident when life becomes more troublesome and less enjoyable. Unfortunately, those who reject this revelation, choose to worship idols instead of “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Rom. 1:23,25; Acts 17:24).
Remember the Redeemer
The Israelites were given a second reason for observing the Sabbath day: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). It was a weekly reminder of their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This act of God is called “redemption,” which means “buying back” or “ransoming from captivity.” Christ was a “redeemer” in that by His sacrificial death He paid the ransom for our sinfulness and so delivered us from slavery to sin and its penalty (Eph. 1:7).
So, the Sabbath is also God’s milestone pointing out His mercy toward His chosen people as their redeemer. As the Sabbath rest included employees, the Israelites were to show a loving concern to others (Dt. 5:14). This was confirmed when Christ healed the man with a shrivelled hand on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:1-5).
Jesus said that He was Lord of the Sabbath and demonstrated this as the Redeemer of the world (Mt. 12:8; Lk. 4:16-21). The Sabbath was “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in. Christ” (Col. 2:17). After the day of Pentecost, it was more important to remember God’s great salvation for mankind’s sins than to remember the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. Consequently, the early Christians met for worship and the collection of monetary gifts on the first day of the week in memory of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Christian worship on Sunday replaced Jewish observance of the Sabbath. It is interesting to note that according to Leviticus 23:15, the day of Pentecost (Acts. 2:1) may have been on the first day of the week. However, some authorities state that the Pharisees believed that the Sabbath referred to here is the holy day of Passover which fell on a different day each year.
The Jews also celebrated their release from slavery in the first month of each year. As God’s people in Old Testament times, they were given a series of annual religious festivals by God. These festivals commemorated occasions when God had reached out in power to intervene for the Jews or had provided for them in a time of distress. It reminded them of God’s presence and activity among them.
The first and most important of the festivals was the Passover, which was celebrated in the first month of the religious year (Ex. 12:1-30; Lev. 23:4-8). The Hebrew calendar is based on the 29.5 day lunar cycle. Their first month commenced after the spring equinox and is equivalent to March/April inour calendar. As their months began at new moon and the Passover began on the fourteenth of the month, the Passover corresponded with a full moon. Easter is its direct equivalent in our calendar, being the Sunday after the first full moon on/after March 21.
The Passover corresponded with the beginning of the grain harvest (Dt. 16:9) and it commemorated the deliverance and exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Neferhotep 1 (Ex. 12). This was achieved in a miraculous way through the death of a lamb and smearing the lamb’s blood on their door frames. The plague of death to all the first-born sons in Egypt “passed over” the Jewish households with the sign on the door frames. Soon afterwards the Egyptians urged the Jews to leave their country.
Like the Sabbath, these religious festivals were said to be “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). Paul referred to Christ as “our Passover Lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). So the Passover was an illustration of Christ’s sacrifice for us. As the death of the Passover lamb saved the Jews from death, so Christ’s death can save us from the punishment of eternal death in hell. The similarity is emphasized by the fact that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover celebration (Jn. 18:28; 19:14).
When Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples, He instituted the Lord’s Supper by relating the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine to His coming death (Lk. 22:7-20). His followers were told to do this in His remembrance (1 Cor. 11:2326). Believers are told, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). So, the annual Passover was replaced by the weekly Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).
Now and forever
It’s obvious that God wants us to remember and celebrate His great achievements in creation and redemption. This can be done by a regular weekly break from work and by a regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper. These are two of the most important things we can do this week, month, year and millennium –and they will refresh us physically and spiritually.
Such celebrations are not only for now but are for eternity, as the role of God the Father and the Lord as Creator and Redeemer is the theme of the great future celebration in heaven: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being … You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 4:11; 5:9).
Published, January 2001
This year many of the world’s best athletes and sports competitors will strive for victory at Atlanta, after spending hours each day practicing and developing their skills and directing their minds to the task ahead.
Paul likened life to a race and urged us to emulate a winner by running “in such a way as to get a prize” (1 Cor. 9:24 NIV). It’s been said that “the Christian life is more like a marathon than a sprint.” The marathon runner has a series of goals, one for each stage of the race.
Of course, some don’t even participate in the race, so they can’t get a prize. This is like the unbeliever who comes up with all kinds of excuses (Lk. 14:16-21).
Goals are important for both individuals and teams in the “race of life,” as they provide purpose, hope and vision and give meaning to life. Two people who had clear goals and purposes in life were Jesus Christ and Paul.
Doing God’s will
Christ said that He had come to “save the world” (Jn. 3:17), which “was lost” (Lk. 19:10). This purpose was announced before His birth (“He will save His people from their sins,” Mt. 1:21). He desired to preach as He said “that is why I have come” (Mk. 1:38). In Jn. 4:34 Christ claimed that His goal was to “do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” This work was to bring people to belief and eternal life (Jn. 6:38-40).
The key role of prayer is evidence of Christ’s dependence on God the Father. He “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Lk. 5:16). This culminated in His prayer before the crucifixion of “not my will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).
Jesus was not distracted by Satan’s temptations (Mt. 4:1-11) or Peter’s impulsive behavior (Mt. 16:21-23, Jn. 18:10-11). This is in contrast to Peter whose progress was hindered when he was distracted by the circumstances of the storm about him (Mt. 14:30-31).
Striving for the prize
Paul was an enthusiastic competitor who had a clear vision of the prize ahead. He knew that “Everyone who competes in the (Olympic) games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown (or medal) that will not last for ever; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:25-27). So, the goal before him resulted in a life of clear direction, discipline, dedication and devotion.
This is evident in Paul’s ministry of evangelism when he made himself “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:19) and became all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some (v. 22). His ambition was to preach the gospel, particularly where Christ was not known (Rom. 15:20).
One of Paul’s goals was “to know Christ” and become more like Him (Phil. 3:10). In following this direction he forgot what was behind and strained towards what was ahead, claiming “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). The image is that of an athlete striving for victory.
Another of Paul’s goals was to please the Lord and be ready for the end of the race (2 Cor. 5:9-10).
We are also competitors in the race of life who, like Christ and Paul, should have clear goals and direction.
Two conditions are given in Rom. 12:1-2 for following God’s will. These are: offering ourselves to God (rather than following selfish ambitions); and being transformed by the renewing of our minds (allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and actions, Mk. 13:11, Jn. 16:13, Rom. 8:5-6). The consequence of this is that “then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (v. 2).
Like Peter, we can be transformed if we follow Christ’s requests of “you must follow me” (Jn. 21:22) and “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24).
This includes fleeing from evil (2 Tim. 2:22), idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14) and sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18). So, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:1-2). We need to keep Christ in mind, so that we don’t grow weary or give up (v.3) in an endurance race (v.7), that can involve pain (v.11).
Paul noted that interference by legalism had blocked progress in Galatia, although they had been “running a good race” (Gal. 5:7).
According to 1 Cor. 3:8,12-15, believers are rewarded depending on how they run the race of life. It is encouraging to know that we are not alone as we participate with other believers in the divine nature (2 Tim. 2:22, 2 Pet. 1:4).
Goals and Evaluation
Goals provide us with direction and enable evaluation of our progress. They can be short term or long term, general or specific. Shared goals can help us have common purposes in working together as a team in our families and our ministries (2 Cor. 6:14, 1 Cor. 3:8-9).
Christ and Paul were both aware of their progress near the end of their races. Christ prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4) and “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Paul’s main goal in life was to “finish the race and complete the task” the Lord had given him (Acts 20:24). Looking back over his life he could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
Applying this principle to our lives and ministries would mean evaluating our progress periodically in the race of life (such as daily, weekly, yearly). This is consistent with the requirement to test our own actions and not compare ourselves with others (Gal. 6:4). During such assessments we should confirm the goals and consider the methods used to achieve them and be willing to revise these after praying for God’s will to be done. For example, Paul was willing to change direction and go to Macedonia as a result of the Lord’s leading (Acts 16:9). He was ready to move on for God as soon as each task was finished.
We all need to know God’s will on a daily basis in our race of life and in our families and our ministries. This should be the basis of the goals that indicate the way ahead. We should be goal-driven, not activity-driven. By pursuing the Lord’s goals, we can look forward to “well done good and faithful servant” at the finish line, rather than being accused a “wicked and lazy servant” (Mt. 25:21, 26).
Published, July 1996
How many winners can you remember from past Olympic Games?
The opening ceremony of last September’s Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia was an extravaganza beamed around the world. It had a cast of 12,700 performers backed by a crew of 4,600. These Olympic Games were described by the media as the biggest event ever staged on this planet.
The ceremony commenced with 120 horse riders charging around the stadium with flags flying. Then simulated sea creatures floated and swirled above performers in an ocean of color. This was followed by a rapid tour of Australia’s history beginning with more than 1,000 indigenous people performing their traditional dances. Next, fire was symbolized, followed by plants and animals unique to Australia. Then European settlers arrived bringing farming and industrialization followed by immigrants from all continents to form the multi-cultural society that is Australia today. Finally, workers built an enormous bridge and the finale included the word “Eternity” which is on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
After this, athletes from 200 countries paraded into the stadium accompanied by a marching band. They were obviously happy to represent their nations and compete in the Games. One athlete from Paraguay held a banner saying “I finally did it.” This expressed the relief and excitement of making the Olympic team after years of dedicated training to attain the required standard of performance.
The heroes of the Olympics are those who won medals. In fact, a theme song during the Games was titled “Heroes Live Forever” which conveyed the thought that these sporting champions would always be remembered. But how many winners can you remember from past Olympic Games? Memories fade and disappear, and even the world we live in will not last forever (Lk. 21:33; Heb. 1:10-12).
There were images of past heroes, now stricken with illness. Muhammad Ali, who once claimed to be “the greatest,” now suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and another past gold medalist now afflicted with multiple sclerosis, held the Olympic torch on her wheelchair. And research on ex-soccer players published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that half of them suffered from chronic arthritis, anxiety and depression.
The Bible teaches that our souls live forever and that Christians will live in God’s presence forever (1 Th. 4:17). This future reward is called “eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). It is a gift from God. However, those who refuse God’s gift of salvation through Jesus will be punished with everlasting destruction and be separated from God forever (2 Th. 1:8-9).
Follow The Rules
A game consists of the rules by which it is played. An Australian athlete was upset when she was disqualified near the end of the 20 kilometer walk, and some teams failed to exchange the baton correctly in the relay races. Several competitors failed drug tests, and at least four medal winners were stripped of their rewards and expelled from the Games for doping. A swimmer warned that drug use was the biggest threat to the Olympics and called for stricter controls. The failure to follow the rules was not always evident to spectators. Likewise, the Bible says that not all those who behave like Christians will get to heaven. Some will be told by Christ “I never knew you” (Mt. 7:23). The critical test is whether they did the will of God, which includes confessing their sins and receiving Christ as Lord and Savior (Mt. 7:21; Jn. 6:29).
More To Life
Today’s hero is often tomorrow’s “has been.” And there is much more to life than success. The Bible warns against selfish ambition and desire for wealth (1 Tim. 6:10). After all, how do you benefit if you become the most successful person in the world but destroy your future in the process (Mt. 16:26)? Nothing is more important in life than getting right with God so we can spend eternity with Him (Phil. 3:8). The next most important thing is to live for Christ and serve Him by looking after the interests of others (2 Cor. 5:20; Phil. 2:3-5).
As the Olympics are multi-national and multi-cultural, they are often linked with the need for peace. But the world’s greatest need is for peace with God.
Now Is The Time
Athletes had to perform at the required time and place in order to compete for a medal. Past performances did not count and there was no guarantee that they would qualify for the next Olympics in Athens, Greece in 2004. Similarly, life is brief and we don’t know for certain what will happen tomorrow (Prov. 27:1; Jas. 4:14). There was a reminder of the brevity of life during the Games when Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, was called home to be with his seriously ill wife, who died before he could get there.
Proverbs 27:1 tells us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Last year’s Olympics certainly verified this in many ways. Matthew 16:26 asks this rhetorical question: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” The lives of now-forgotten Olympic medalists certainly remind us of this. And James 4:14 warns that “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Trust the Savior today because “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). You may not get the opportunity tomorrow.
The biggest sporting event in history is being held in Sydney, Australia this month. More than 10,000 of the world’s best athletes from 200 nations will compete in 28 sports in the Olympic Games. The strongest competition in the world will be broadcast to a worldwide viewing audience of 3.5 billion. Every athlete will be striving for medals and fame.
The ancient Greeks celebrated the great national festival known as the Olympics between 800 BC and the 400 AD. This festival was celebrated every four years in the sanctuary of their god Zeus in Olympia. It involved competitions between representatives from the Greek city-states.
Did you know that Paul was thinking of similar games when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that all athletes “go into strict training”? These particular games were celebrated every two years on the Isthmus of Corinth in honor of the Greek gods. The Greeks were passionate about the games and the winners received crowns made of laurel or olive branches. In both the ancient and modern games the athletes practice long hours to improve their endurance, strength, skills and performance.
The Bible compares life to a race, but makes remarkable claims about what is victory. In the game of life we can succeed — but not by our own strength. Let’s look at how we can be winners in life’s race. Our examples are King Solomon, who lived 3,000 years ago, and the apostle Paul, who lived 2,000 years ago. Both competed at the top of their professions.
Solomon was from Israel’s royal family, the son of King David. As king for 40 years he had great wealth and power. You might say he was a winner.
A recent poll voted the boxer Muhammad Ali the greatest sports star of the twentieth century. He carried the torch at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. As heavyweight champion of the world he boasted, “I am the greatest!” That’s also how Solomon felt, but it did not last. His book, Ecclesiastes, shows how he sought success in life through such things as wisdom, pleasure, possessions, wealth and hard work.
- Wisdom: Solomon was devoted to exploring everything by wisdom, and became known as the wisest man in the world (1 Ki. 4:29-34; Eccl. 1:13,16). He was an expert in botany and zoology. He wrote 3,000 proverbs and 1,000 songs. He was so famous people from other nations came to hear him. The Queen of Sheba visited him and confirmed that his wisdom and wealth were far greater than what she had been told (1 Ki. 10:6-7).
- Pleasure: Solomon tried to cheer himself with wine, and he acted the fool (Eccl. 2:3). He also indulged in entertainment, and had 1,000 wives who gave him great pleasure. He did whatever made him happy (1 Ki. 11:3; Eccl. 2:8).
- Possessions: Solomon had great homes, vineyards, gardens and groves filled with all kinds of fruit trees. He built reservoirs to irrigate his flourishing groves. He had many slaves and owned more livestock than any other king in Jerusalem. It is recorded that he had 12,000 horses, 1,400 chariots and 4,000 stalls to keep them (2 Chr. 1:14; 9:25).
- Wealth: Solomon was the richest man on earth (1 Ki. 10:23) — like Bill Gates is today. His great wealth came from commerce, mining, gifts from visitors, and taxes from countries between the Euphrates River and Egypt (1 Ki. 4:21; 10:25). He collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of kings and provinces (Eccl. 2:4-8).
- Hard Work: Solomon enjoyed working hard for his success. He undertook many great projects, among them being the palace it took 13 years to build (Eccl. 2:10-11,17-22). He had everything a person could desire, but didn’t find lasting satisfaction in success. He learned that man’s appetite is never satisfied (Eccl. 6:7). As he looked at everything he achieved, it was meaningless and futile, like chasing the wind. There was nothing worthwhile anywhere (Eccl. 2:11). He concluded that unless you “remember your Creator … everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 12:1, 8).
His despair resulted from looking for success in all the wrong places — of trying to find his way in life without God. Leaving God out of life’s race leads to disappointment, because life is more than success. Solomon had everything money could buy and power could seize, but couldn’t find satisfaction. He discovered that a life not centered on God is meaningless.
The Right Race?
Are you following Solomon by leaving God out while striving for such things as education, career, money, power, popularity, pleasure, etc.? Only the top three finishers receive a medal at the Olympic Games. Many athletes will not receive a prize, even though they did their best. Others will be disqualified because they broke the rules of their event.
The marathon race will be run along a well-marked route through the streets of Sydney, Australia to the Olympic Stadium. Athletes must follow this route to qualify for the prize. Jesus saw people as being in two categories: those travelling a wide road that leads to destruction, or a narrow road that leads to eternal life (Mt. 7:13-14). Which road are we running on? Those who ignore God and live like Solomon are running down the route that leads to hell and torment.
During much of his life Solomon was in the wrong race! If we are in the wrong race, then our best is not good enough. Without God, our best efforts, no matter how good, are never good enough to get us to heaven.
We can only enter the race to heaven by accepting God’s offer of forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ. The Bible says we can be saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. Salvation is God’s gift to us and not anything we have done (Eph. 2:8). We can only be winners through Christ’s victory (1 Cor. 15:57; 1 Jn. 5:4-5).
The apostle Paul was privileged to have Hebrew religion, Greek culture and Roman citizenship. He had two names: Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Greek name. The son of a Pharisee, he studied under Gamaliel, an esteemed teacher of Jewish law. He was born a pure-blooded Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a member of the Pharisee sect that demanded the strictest obedience to Jewish law. He obeyed Jewish law so carefully that he was never accused of any fault (Phil. 3:5-6).
His first “race” was religion and he excelled in it. He was a fanatical Pharisee who was convinced that Christians were heretics and that God’s honor demanded their extermination (Gal. 1:13-14). He persecuted and imprisoned Christians and approved of Stephen’s death (Acts 9:1-2; 22:2-5,19-20; 26:4-11; 8:1-3). He travelled around the country capturing Christians. So Saul was racing along the broad road to destruction.
But on the way to Damascus he was miraculously confronted by Jesus and converted from the error of his way. He immediately began to live by faith in his Savior. Now on the narrow road to heaven, he preached Christianity, worked with those he had previously persecuted and was persecuted by his previous colleagues.
Paul used the illustration of a race to describe how he lived: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). He was looking forward to the end of the race, and the prize in heaven to all who put their trust in God.
We are urged to imitate Paul by following his example (Phil. 3:17). He said, “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. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:24-26). He ran hard to win, exercising discipline and self control, with a definite goal and purpose.
Furthermore, he urged us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith … Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3). As runners we should focus on the goal, throwing aside anything that might hinder us, such as materialism and legalism. The “love of money” causes some to wander from the faith, while unbiblical rules stop some from running a good race (Gal. 5:7; 1 Tim. 6:10-12).
As a Christian, Paul could look forward to victory and finishing the race, even victory over death: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Paul knew his mission. Near the end of his life he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul lived by faith.
The Christian’s Race
From Paul’s example we see that Christians are to live by faith and focus on their heavenly destiny. Their goals are: to live like Christ and please God, not others (2 Cor. 5:9; Gal. 1:10; 1 Jn. 2:6); to persevere with passion and be diligent, not lazy (Mt. 25:14-29); to practice humility, not selfish ambition (Mt. 18:4; Phil. 2:3). When asked who is the greatest, Christ said it was whoever is humble like a child. Be a Christ-like servant and don’t have a win-at-all-costs attitude (Mt. 20:25-28).
The Bible says we should: “live” in peace and harmony (Rom. 12:16,18; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Th. 5:13; 1 Tim. 2:2; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:8); “live” by faith (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 2:20; 3:11; Heb. 10:38); “live” a life of love (Eph. 5:2); and “live” by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16,25).
Sports psychologists coach athletes to be winners because they know how much the mind influences performance and behavior. Christians should have their minds set on what the Spirit desires, as they have “the mind of Christ” (Rom. 8:5; 1 Cor. 2:16). The Holy Spirit is their coach (Jn. 16:13). This is their secret of success: right relationships with God and others. So the key to real success is a relationship, not an achievement.
The Christian’s reward is a prize beyond compare. It is described as “the victor’s crown,” “the crown of life,” “the crown of glory” and “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4). Also, since it is kept in heaven, it will never fade away, and never perish or spoil (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:4). As believers are Christ’s servants, their reward is to hear this: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21).
Everyone who accepts Jesus into his/her life is a winner. Remember, that the criminal who repented on the cross was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And Lazarus, the beggar, finished up in heaven, while the rich man was tormented in hell (Lk. 16: 22-26; 23:43).
Unfortunately many live selfish lives that lead to destruction (Phil. 3:18-19). If you have left God out of your life, your best will never be good enough. No matter what you may achieve, you will not have lasting success or lasting victory. Instead, you will have the emptiness and lack of purpose experienced by Solomon. In this case you need to get in the right race by accepting God’s offer of forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ. No great achievement is required, just childlike trust and commitment (Mt. 18:3).
Although you are not competing in the Olympic Games you are running the race of your life. Are you running the good race (Gal. 5:7)? Christians are not only saved by faith, they should also live by faith. This means trust and commitment to God, to the Scriptures and to other Christians. Success depends on your relationship with God.
Where is your commitment and passion in life? Are you chasing after other things like Solomon? Is your attention distracted, or are you developing a new mindset so you will know what God wants you to do in life (Rom. 12:2)? We only have one lifetime, so let’s make it count for God.
Do your best by following Jesus and imitating Paul; don’t be distracted or sidetracked from the race like Solomon.
Published: September 2000