Competing in the Games
- “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self- control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1Cor. 9:25).
This is the perfect “parable” for the Christian. Those who compete in sports must exercise self-control in order to win. No one thinks it is too hard for them to buffet their body to win at sports. Thus when God commands His children to “abstain from every form of evil,” and to “resist even unto blood, striving against sin,” it too is necessary to win the crown (1Th. 5:22; Heb. 12:4).
As we witness their self-control to master their sport, how do our own efforts measure up? Jesus bemoaned the truth that “the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light.” (Lk. 16:8). It is a great tragedy that those who will put forth the efforts for a few years of victory excel those who want to go to heaven for eternity. Every time we sit down to watch a game and we see someone excel, we need to remember that they are a great example of how we should be striving against sin and growing as a Christian.
There is a second use of athletics in the Scriptures. It is something so important that every sport has referees or umpires.
- “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2Tim. 2:5)
Cheating leads to disqualification and the nullification of a score or victory. Recent scandals have disqualified entire teams because of illegal use of drugs to enhance the body. We all feel righteous indignation if we see a player cheating. No matter how good the athlete or the amount of time and effort they put into training, they are disqualified if they break the rules. Even a decisive win can be removed if it is later determined steroids were used. Paul’s words ring as true today as when they were written nearly 2,000 years ago.
Have we given careful thought to how this applies in the spiritual realm? We all know we must have a desire to show God our zeal and determination since “those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1Cor. 9:24), but contending lawfully is just as important. No matter what the results, if the rules are violated all is in vain!
There is a great day of judgment and some Christians will lose their crowns for the same reason. At some point in the life, they exchanged the difficulties of playing by the rules for the easier walk of “making it up as we go.”
The rules have been set by God and we must abide by them if we want to be crowned. We must “learn not to go beyond what is written” (1Cor. 4:6) and that if we do not “abide in the teaching of Christ we have not God” (2Jn. 9). How many times have we seen zealous people stripped of their prize because they did not compete according to God’s rules? Cain’s “works were evil” and he was disqualified from his worship when he did not offer his gift by ‘hearing by the word of God’ in faith (Gen 4:1-10; Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17; 1Jn. 3:12). Nadab and Abihu were not only disqualified but lost their lives when they brought “strange fire the Lord had not commanded them.” (Lev. 10:1-3). Moses was disqualified from entering the promised land when he “struck the rock and spoke rashly with his lips.” (Num. 20:7-12; Ps 106:32-33) Saul was disqualified from being king when he brought back some of the animals to sacrifice after God had said to utterly destroy them (1Sam 15). This is exactly Paul’s point to Timothy! You can’t show God your zeal outside of God’s rules in His word and be successful!
There is a powerful temptation to do this today. Some churches are growing because they have changed God’s rules of worship, work, or membership. Regardless of their success, if they don’t contend by God’s rules they will be stripped of their crown.
God has never been more interested in results than in “competing lawfully!” Samuel told Saul “to obey is better.” Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1Cor. 9:27)
Conclusion. God knows how much we enjoy sports competitions. He knows that in the realm of sports we completely understand both the need for self-control and competing by the rules. He therefore used them as a parable for our service to Christ. Our crown is based on our efforts to "trust in Jehovah with all our hearts” and “do the will of My Father in heaven." Since “we walk by faith and not by sight”, it defeats the entire purpose when we begin to "lean upon our own understanding" and no longer “compete according to the rules.”
- “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Mt. 7:21-23).