This is an article I wrote for the ‘Credo’ column of the Newark Advertiser which appeared in today’s edition.
The Olympic Games are over for another 4 years and those of us that love sport are celebrating the success of Team GB in winning a record 67 medals. In Shona McCallin, a member of the gold-medal winning ladies hockey team, Newark has its own link to a medallist. Shona started playing hockey with Newark Hockey Club, where my daughters also played, and you could see from a very early age that she was going to be a really good player.
Successful athletes need two things: firstly, they need a talent to do something really well, but secondly they need to devote huge amounts of time, effort and discipline to improving until they are the best they can be. Even if they devote years of their lives to their sport there’s no guarantee that they will win a medal, for every winner there are many who don’t win.
There were sporting events in Biblical times too. Every two years, in the great Greek city of Corinth, the Isthmian Games were held, bringing athletes together from all over the Mediterranean world to compete for a prize. Corinth also had an early Christian church, and the apostle Paul wrote two of his letters to that church. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that he used a sporting metaphor to illustrate what living a Christian life is like. He wrote this:
Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever.
Like the athletes those who would be followers of Jesus have to submit to strict discipline. We have to avoid doing things perhaps we would really like to. Just as Mo Farah can’t eat pizza and ice-cream every night if he wants to run like the wind and leave everyone behind him, we can’t give in to the temptations that come before us and expect to get our reward. Athletes have to behave in a different way to the rest of the population, they can’t be just like everyone else and still expect to win. As Christians we need to think and behave as Jesus would want us to, or at least to try our best to. And that means that we look at the world differently to other people, to our friends even, who aren’t trying to follow Jesus’s way.
But the analogy of a race only goes so far. There’s one big difference between the Olympic Games and life in Christ. In the Olympics only one Gold medal is given in each event. Someone wins, but everyone else has to lose for there to be a winner. But Paul knew that the victory prize is available for everyone to win. We can all win the victory prize of being put right with God.