It’s official. The 2014 Sochi Olympics is over. I must admit that, like many others, I got caught up in some of the coverage of the games. I loved watching all the speed and agility of the different snowboarding and skiing events. I liked watching the strategy of the curling matches. And I have to admit, I even enjoyed watching the beauty of the two University of Michigan students compete in ice dancing.
As I sat in my couch, eating some sort of dessert, watching the games, two things struck me as they always do when I watch the Olympics. First, I was struck with all the discipline and training the athletes endure for over three years(and throughout their life) in preparation for their event at the Olympics. These athletes invest a lot of their time, energy, and money. They eat special diets, miss out on certain events with family and friends, and battle through injuries, pain, and illnesses — all so they could compete at the Olympics for an opportunity to have a gold, silver, or bronze medal put around their neck.
The second thing that I am always struck by when I watch the Olympics, is a passage of Scripture found in I Corinthians, chapter 9. In light of the incredible disciple and training of the Olympic athletes, I cannot help think about the words written by Paul in verses 24-27, “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. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Paul loved to use the imagery of an athlete in his writings. Here in these verses, he refers to himself as an athlete for Christ competing in the Spiritual Olympics; and the event he was competing in was the event of reaching as many people as possible who are far from God with the Gospel, by as many means as possible. He talks about this particular event in verses 19-23 leading up to the passage above. In order to excel in this event, Paul knew it would require training on his part. Training that he describes for us in two ways:
1. “I discipline my body” – Some translations use the word “buffet” instead of “discipline”. The Greek word used here literally means hit oneself under the eye. The idea being communicated is that training is painful to the body, because it requires us to hold back from our body what it wants to stop it from hurting – things like rest, sweets, etc. Training to be an athlete for Christ competing in the Spiritual Olympics requires the disciplining of our bodies; causing our bodies pain by holding back the sinful and fleshly things it longs and lusts for.
2. “I keep my body under control” – Again, some translations use the phrase, “I make my body my slave.” The reason Paul would discipline his body and hold back the sinful and fleshly things his body longed for was because he wanted to make his body his slave, instead of himself being a slave to his body. Sadly, many athletes for Christ aren’t competing in the Spiritual Olympics in the event Paul was competing in, or in any event for that matter, because instead of disciplining their bodies, they are slaves to them. They let their bodies and minds tell them what to do.
We must not let this happen, because Paul tells us that if we don’t put in the training by disciplining our bodies and keeping them under control, we will be “disqualified”. This disqualification is not from being an athlete for Christ, but rather it is disqualificationfrom whatever event you are trying to compete in, in the Spiritual Olympics. Lack of training means that you don’t have what it takes spiritually to compete in that event, because you are out of shape.