More than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries have trained intensively for years, with their focus on the London Olympics, which have started now. Paul also closely observed the top athletes of the day. For him they were a great inspiration for his Christian life.
The Olympic Games as we know them today have their roots in the civilization of Ancient Greece, where Paul grew up and worked as an apostle.
History tells us that Olympic games were held in Antioch in 44 A.D. This was during Paul's lifetime, and in a place that he knew very well. Large, national sporting events were also organized in Corinth during the time that Paul lived and worked there.
Running and martial arts were the most popular sports at that time. Paul uses this as an illustration to make the meaning of a Christian life especially clear for the church in Corinth. He writes about this in his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 9. “Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you,” he writes in 1 Cor. 9:23. And then he takes the Corinthians to the sporting elite: all those who compete must practice self control in day-to-day life, and must put everything else aside for their sport. Because they love their sport, and because they're going for gold.
That's why there is no top athlete for whom sport is only of secondary interest. Everything in his life revolves around it. “Run in such a way ...,” writes Paul.
Christianity as a secondary issue, an “amateur sport”, didn't exist for Paul. His day to day life, the way he used his time, the way he interacted with other people, his desire to live a God-fearing life, his pursuit of love, his life in righteousness and thankfulness—yes, his entire life was about Christ and His church. He gave everything to obtain an imperishable crown, which God Himself would give to him.
Yes, the Olympic Games truly have a message for us. When we see all those athletes in action, this should be a inspiration for us:
Run is such a way, live every day of your life in such a way, that God can give you an imperishable crown.