The Gold Medal LifeBlog / Produced by The High Calling
For when the One Great Scorer comes To mark against your name, He writes—not that you won or lost— But how you played the Game. Grantland Rice, Alumnus Football, 1924
If sports imagery races through modern writing, it did not start with Americans or the 20th century. Contests and competition are timeless allusions to illustrate life in general and the Christian’s journey in particular.
. . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb. 12:1) “If anyone competes as an athlete. . . .” (2 Tim. 2:5) “I press on toward the goal to win the prize. (Phil. 3:14) Even in 1 Pet. 5:4, the disciple states, "when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Mediterranean peoples in Jesus' time loved physical contests. Greece’s games in Olympia were the ancient world’s most famous, but Corinth hosted the Isthmian games. Olympic champions received a crown of laurels, and Corinth’s athletes strove for celery wreaths. These were the “crowns that do not last” that Paul wrote about. In his haunting “To an Athlete Dying Young,” the 19th century poet A. E. Houseman similarly echoes the fragility of life’s prizes:
And round that early-laurelled head Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead, And find unwithered on its curls The garland briefer than a girl's.
To attain life’s lasting crown takes a lifetime of training. An athlete’s eternal “yes” to God’s call leads to discipline, sacrifice, commitment . . . enslavement to Christ. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:2-4)
Only the well-trained competitor can recognize and defeat evil. Disciplines such as prayer and scripture reading help buffer our constitutions for the match. We sacrifice our present selves in faithful hope for new selves. Our discipline and sacrifice combine with faith that endures so that we too “may not be disqualified for the prize.”
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 a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Cor. 9:24-27