We were deputising at St Andrew's Cathedral this week and had a great time. On Sunday night we visited the FIX congregation, and I was reminded of these verses from 1 Corinthians 9.
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly: I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to other I myself should be disqualified." 1 Cor 9:24-27
One of the things that emerges during Olympic competition is the sacrifices that the athletes have made to get to where they are. While those sideline interviews with parents and friends of athletes are a bit irritating, they are also revealing, because the friends will tell us what its really like for the athletes. The crack of dawn training, the pain, injury and frustration, the extended periods away from home and the personal criticism that comes when expectations are not met.
And why do they do it? For the victory. For the medal. For the chance to become a household name. For the wreath. Of course all of these things will fade away and perish.
At FIX on Sunday night the name 'Dean Lukin' was mentioned. People my age and above remembered the South Australian tuna fisherman who won gold in the superheavyweight weightlifting in LA in 1984. But there is now a whole generation who has never heard of Dean Lukin. In the years to come there will be a generation who have never heard of Michael Phelps, Libby Trickett and Stephanie Rice, let alone the people who get knocked out in the early heats.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul uses the athlete as a model for the Christian. Its a 'how much more' sort of argument. They are disciplined and self controlled for a perishable wreath, for momentary glory - how much more should we be disciplined and self controlled for eternal, imperishable glory.
Just as the athlete trains hard and is disciplined in what they eat and going to training and all that - we are to be disciplined in godliness.
For some of us, the Olympics provide that spark of enthusiasm we need to get out and run around the park or swim a few laps or get the bike out of the garage. That's great - I'm partial to the odd bit of physical exercise myself. But Paul wants the Olympics to take us not just onto the physical training track, but into the godliness gym as well, and be disciplined in our godliness.