We’ve come to the end of the Olympic games. Seen the joy on the faces of the athletes at the closing ceremony and seen the flag passed on to Rio, the next hosts of the Olympics. For many of these athletes, this would mark the end of their career. Their last time competing on the world’s stage. As we recognize their achievements, we’re reminded of the spiritual race that still lies before us…
Running for the Gold
During the 2012 London Olympic Games, we watched athletes who have invested a lot of time, money, and immense effort in order to compete (often in a single event), hoping to receive gold, silver and bronze medals that will be hung on ribbons around their necks. In the original Olympic games the only prize the Greek athletes received was a crown of olive leaves cut from a sacred tree at Olympia. There were no medals and only the winner’s name was recorded. There was no prize for those who finished second or third. While today’s Olympic medals last much longer than a crown of olive leaves, they may not be worth as much as you think.
Olympic gold medals only need to be gilded with a minimum of 6 grams of gold. The rest of the medal is silver that is a minimum of 92.5 percent pure. Silver medals are made entirely of at least 92.5 percent pure silver. At today’s prices the gold medal is only worth around $300 and the silver medal is worth considerably less. But ask any athlete how much it is worth and they are sure to tell you it is priceless. Even so, these medals do not last forever. Medals can tarnish, be stolen, or even be lost. The ribbons they hang from will rot. The athlete’s moment of glory will one day be forgotten. Think about it, how many Olympic champions can you remember? How many world record holders can you name?
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the apostle Paul says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? 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 someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (NIV).
Just as the Olympic Games has come to an end, and the athletes have been awarded their medals, the Olympic flame extinguished, our life will one day come to its end. The Bible says that we also compete, not for a medal, not for a temporary crown of olive leaves, not for honor and personal glory but for a crown that lasts forever. The opponents we face are the enemy and his forces and our own fleshly nature. The glory we receive is not that one moment on the podium but one that endures for all eternity. God’s crown is not for one winner, but for all who strive for righteousness.
The crown is our reward for running the race, for being faithful to our calling, for enduring the struggles and the hardships, for wrestling with the sad events and circumstances we cannot control and do not understand, for finishing the course God has set out for us.
Toward the end of his life Paul writes: “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 Timothy 4:7-8)
Take it to the Next Level
Life is like a race. Sometimes its uphill, sometimes it’s downhill. Sometimes you don’t know how far you’ve come or how far you still have to go. It’s more than simply showing up to the starting line.
The important factor is not how many start, but how many finish. It’s not a half-effort attempt, but a total commitment. It’s not taking short cuts, but following the rules. Only then can you win the prize.
It’s the pursuit of a goal, forgetting about what lies behind and instead straining toward what lies ahead, and casting aside anything that might hinder us. It’s the pursuit of Godliness. It’s something you strive for every moment of every day. We have our coach, our guide, the Holy Spirit and our training manual – the Bible. Our coach makes it clear to us what we need to work on, and the Bible provides instruction on how to make it happen. Both reveal areas where we need self-control, more discipline, and better focus. Both guide our training in righteousness. We must make a disciplined all out effort to act on that instruction. And at the end of this life, we will stand on the victors team. Christ has already run the race, being not only the first, but also the last to make sure that all of us in the middle cross the finish line in victory. Don’t just run. Run in such a way as to win. When things get tough, the discipline carries you through. When the moments of testing come, its the training that brings you the victory.
If you look at many of the great Bible characters you will see a period of training and discipline before God places them in the spotlight. Daniel in Captivity. Joseph in a prison. Moses in a desert. David as a shepherd among the sheep. John and Peter as Fishermen. Saul (Paul) as a Pharisee.
Scriptures Verses for Youth Bible Study
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? 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 someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV)
“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.”
1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
“However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'”
Questions for Youth Discussion
- What are the things we are commanded to DO in these Bible verses?
- What are we told to NOT DO in these Bible verses?
- How are we to run?
- What will result in disqualification for a Christian? What are we disqualified for?
- What actions can cause us to lose our rewards?
- What are the rules for Christian living?
Discipline & Training
- What are the Christian disciplines?
- Why did Paul live a disciplined life?
- What is a disciplined life in the context of living as a Christian?
- What are some of the Christian disciplines that prepare us for the race?
- What are the characteristics of our training?
- What does it mean to run in such a way as to get the prize?
- What does the spiritual athlete need to exercise?
- When have you “run aimlessly” or “beat the air”?
- What requires discipline and self-control in your life?
- What is our goal, our purpose as a Christian?
- What can we do to ensure we finish well?
- What is the prize for Christians?
Application to the Lives of Youth
* What lessons can you find in your past and present circumstances?
* What training and discipline has God revealed a need for in your life?
* What are some goals that you would like to trust God to achieve?
* What are your plans (i.e., activities) to achieve these goals?
What can you begin with today, so that at the end, you can say like Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith, and now there is in heaven the crown of Righteousness.
Need an evangelistic Youth Camp/ Bible Study Series with an Olympic Theme?
What is salvation all about? What does it mean to be saved? This sports themed Bible Study / Camp Curriculum uses the Olympic Flag to introduce the concepts of sin (black circle), forgiveness (red circle), purity (white background), spiritual growth (green circle), heaven (Yellow Circle) and (Baptism) blue circle.
-> Tell me about “Go for the Gold”
Need a Youth Camp/ Bible Study Series on “Running the Christian Race”?
The race as a metaphor for the Christian life is used in several places in the Bible. This series is a great follow up for new Christians or to re-emphasize the basics of our spiritual Journey in the Faith. This Bible Study / Camp Curriculum has a sports theme and is great for athletes as well as a tie in to the youth Olympic Games.
->Tell me about “Destined to Win”
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