The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, remind me of all the places where the New Testament exhorts us to think of the Christian life in terms of sports and exercise. There are too many references to be coincidental. I am persuaded that God really wants us to give more than a passing thought to athletics when we think of how to strive after Him.
Among the New Testament writers, no one refers to athleticism more than Paul. When we pull together his scattered allusions to physical discipline, the impact is quite remarkable:
“But I do not account my life of any value, nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
“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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
“So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body to keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
“I went up because of a revelation and set before them … the gospel … in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain” (Galatians 2:2).
“… so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain …” (Philippians 2:16).
“… I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. … [F]orgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
I find the Pauline analogies to athleticism helpful. Reflecting on these angles of truth, we may urge one another on to the muscular virtues of self-discipline, self-control, self-denial, and daily striving for excellence.