Run a good race

Published 10:12 pm Friday, February 23, 2018

By Thurman Hayes

Maybe like millions of people around the world, you’ve been enjoying the Olympic Games. You probably know that the games first began in ancient Greece. But did you know that the writers of the New Testament, who lived in that world, frequently employ images from the games?

It is obvious from the writings of the Apostle Paul that he was not only familiar with the games but had carefully observed them. Consider some of the athletic images that he uses in his writings:

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In 2 Timothy 4:7-8, he writes to his protégé, Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” This passage is loaded with imagery from the games: Boxing, racing and the winner’s crown are all here. In Paul’s day, rather than receiving a medal around the neck, the winner would receive a “crown” made out of greenery, a wreath that was placed upon their heads. He is saying here that the one who stays faithful to Christ throughout our race of life will one day receive a “crown” which we can then cast at the feet of King Jesus.

Also in 2 Timothy, he says that “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). In the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won the gold medal in the 100-meter final, smashing the world record in the process. But three days later, he was humiliated and stripped of his medal after drug tests revealed that he had taken steroids. Just as an athlete cannot be crowned unless he or she competes according to the rules, we can do things that can ruin our Christian testimony.

Paul’s most extended athletic metaphor is found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, where he writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Olympic athletes discipline themselves in their diet and conditioning and training, in order to win a medal that will one day fade away. Furthermore, when the athlete dies, they cannot take the gold medal with them. But as Christians, we are serving God faithfully for a reward that will never fade. It is eternal!

One of the most famous athletic images in the New Testament is found in Hebrews 12:1-2, where the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…”

In your race, be looking to the only One who has run with perfection. That is Jesus. Keep your eyes fixed on Him.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.