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Let us run with patience the race that is set before us
Lessons from the Olympics
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August 10, 2012 - Audio, 13.75 MIN
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As the Olympics get into full swing, we are reminded of the powerful lessons which the Bible presents to us in relation to how we should live lives pleasing to God. This is Matt Davies joining you for another Bible in the News.
The news this week is full of the achievements of men and women competing at the Olympic games in London UK. Many world records have been broken in the games, with athletes training harder and better to get their bodies in peak physical fitness in order to win at their events.

One such man is Jamaica's Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive - who set a new Olympic record of running the 100 meters in 9.63 seconds and was just outside breaking the 200 meter record winning that race in 19.32 seconds.

Back in April 2012, reporter Mark Bailey wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper. After interviewing Bolt - he reported that:

'He spends hours refining his technique on the track and building strength in the gym. "Because I am always messing about and my running style looks effortless, a lot of people think I’m lazy – which I am sometimes," he admits. "But I say to them, 'See you in the morning at 6am, come and watch me train.' I am blessed with natural abilities, but I make the most of what I have. I enjoy myself because I work hard."'

It is this lesson of "hard work" and dedication which is underlined when we turn to our Bibles in connection with the subject of the Olympics.

The Olympic games which the world is enjoying at this present time have their origins in ancient Greece. The ancient Olympic games were originally held in Olympia from the 8th Century BC to the 4th Century AD - before they restarted in modern times in 1894. They were therefore a huge part of the ancient world and as such are used in the Scriptures to illustrate Biblical principles in a way that readers of the time could associate with. We would be foolish not to consider the very serious lessons which come home to us...

The passage which contains the most references to the games can be found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 which records the inspired words of the apostle Paul:

"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."

Here Paul compares the races which are run in the Olympics - to life. The exhortation is clear, just as an athlete will dedicate themselves to training in order to compete in a race, we should dedicate ourselves to living lives which follow after the example of Christ.

This lesson comes out more fully when we examine the Greek words behind the English translation. For example in verse 25 the phrase translated "striveth for the mastery" is the Greek word "agōnizomai" which Thayer's Lexicon states means "to enter a contest; contend in the gymnastic games". This word crops up in some very interesting places in our Bibles - for example Jesus uses it in Luke 13:24 when he tells those that would follow him to "strive (agōnizomai) to enter in at the strait gate; for many I say unto you will seek to enter in and shall not be able". It also appears in 1 Timothy 6:12 which states that we should "fight (agōnizomai) the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life". This Greek word "agōnizomai" is where our English verb "to agonize" comes from and when we connect this with the verses we've mentioned we can understand that this should be our approach to the things of God. It is only those who agonise to master faith and put that faith into practice, who will finish the race and be given the reward of eternal life in God's mercy at the end.

We might ask - but what should we have faith in and how do we lead a life of faith? In Mark (16:15-16), Jesus tells us the answer in his instruction to his apostles:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

It is this Gospel message which we must seek out, understand and dedicate our lives to. The gospel is made up of x2 aspects: "The things concerning the Kingdom of God" and "the name of Jesus Christ" (see Acts 8:12). The next step, after understanding those things is baptism and from then on it is to continually seek to live a life after the example of Jesus Christ. This is not an easy task but if we set our minds to it like an athlete sets their mind on the games, being "temperate" or having "self control", then we will put ourselves in a good stead to receive the prize through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If athletes dedicate themselves to win a corruptible title, then how much more should we strive - with an everlasting prize of being part of God's future Kingdom on the earth on offer?

Another word that is interesting from the passage we have looked at in 1 Corinthians 9 is "pykteuō" (v26) which is the word for "fights". The passage says Paul "fights" but he does so "not as one that beateth the air". The word is the Greek word for "boxing" and Paul is using it in the sense of someone who is shadow boxing - i.e. a training exercise carried out, where the athlete punches the air. Our "boxing match" is not like this. It is real and means we need to "keep under" or  "beat back" our natural inclinations to sin if we are indeed to get through the race of faith.

Paul says if he does not do this, even though he has preached to others he could be a "cast away". The word there for castaway is the Greek "adokimos" which in this context means he would be "disqualified". This brings to mind 2 Timothy 2:5 which states "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." The rules have been set out - they are in God's word and we need to dedicate ourselves to following them.

At the beginning of our quotation from 1 Corinthians 9 comes a word which perhaps is the most interesting because of its connections elsewhere in our Bibles. It is the word for "race" in verse 24 which Paul, by inspiration, associates with a life of faith.

The idea of running a race is picked up on in Hebrews:
"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

This patient running of a race is also picked up by the wise preacher in Ecclesiastes "the race is not to the swift" Ecclesiastes 9:11.

Here in Corinthians the Greek word for "race" is "stadion" from where we get our English word "stadium". Vines records that this word "stadion" has two meanings "a stadium i.e. a measure of length, 600 Greek feet" and "a race course". Clearly these ideas are connected. The race itself and the track it was performed on became known by the same name (i.e. "stadion"). This word is translated as "furlong" in other parts of our Bible and it is significant that in the symbology of Revelation 21:16 this word appears.

In Revelation 21 John receives a vision of a symbolic city, representing the faithful saints in God's kingdom. In verse 16 of this chapter we read:
"And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal."

The word furlong there is the Greek "stadion". In the symbology then we see that this is a beautiful picture of all those who have successfully competed in the race, have dedicated themselves to following after Christ and who have been given the crown of victory.  They become part of the New Jerusalem which John saw "coming down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (v2). This is a vision of the future of those who, because of their faith, have had their vile bodies changed and fashioned like Christ's glorious immortal body (Phil 3:21), who have believed in the gospel of God and have therefore been made "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) and have been given a position of rulership in God's Kingdom.

No matter how impressive the athletes may seem who compete in the games, it must be remembered that when compared next to the supernatural abilities God's power can give, man seems puny, slow and cumbersome.

For example, no matter how amazing the weights lifted by Olympic athletes seem, it compares little to the power of God, Who gave Samson the strength to push down a whole building (Judges 16:29-30). It makes no difference how fast a man can run the 100 meters because this becomes meaningless when compared with instant teleportation (John 20:19). Tactical advantages go to waste when compared with mind reading (Acts 5:3) and knowing the future (Acts 27:34+44)! Water sports seem less amazing when we consider how Jesus could control the stormy seas (Mark 4:37-39) and even walk on water (John 6:19).

How then with these things in mind can we not be inspired to seek out the truth of the gospel and follow after the example of the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Philippians "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Phil 3:13.

This has been Matt Davies - join us again next time God willing for another instalment of "The Bible in the News".

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