Mo Farah, 33, said he thought his Rio 2016 Olympics "dream was over." This member of the Great Britain team was defending champ (London, 2012) of the 10,000m event, and he had every reason to believe he could win it again—until he tripped on his training partner and fell on the track.
But rather than give up, Farah did something remarkable. He jumped back to his feet. And he didn’t just prove he could get up and make it to the finish line. No—he took off and ran for 16 more laps and pressed on to won the gold!
The apostle Paul uses a running metaphor for the Christian faith in his letter to the Philippians: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing . . . though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world." How? "By holding on to the word of life [the torch?]. Why? "So that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain” (2:14–17).
The Philippians’ maturity was what Paul had to show for all his sacrifices—enduring hunger, persecution, loneliness, cold . . . And he likened his labor for them to training for a race.
Elsewhere Paul gave training advice to the Corinthians. Bear in mind that in ancient Olympic events, there were no second- or third-place awards—the winner took all:
“You know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. So run to win!” (1 Cor. 9:24).
One way to win is to get up when we fall rather than wallowing in our failure. Our falls may make it much more difficult to win, but we can still cross the line as champs.
And how do we “train” to win? Paul tells us: “All those who compete in the games use self-control so they can win a crown” (v. 25). Runners who constantly indulge their minds and bodies with thoughts of defeat, inhaling crack cocaine, contracting STD’s, and snarfing up mounds of ice cream don’t win gold medals. Rather, champions control minds and bodies in order to cross the finish line first.
In ancient times, the Olympic winner didn’t receive gold or a medal as his (it was always a “he”) reward. The winner’s prize was a crown woven of olive leaves from Mt. Olympus—leaves that would soon wilt. With the image of these wilted leaves in mind, read Paul’s words:
“That crown is an earthly thing that lasts only a short time, but our crown will never be destroyed.”
God rewards winners in the spiritual life with rewards we can enjoy for eternity. So, Paul’s advice? “I do not run without a goal . . . I treat my body hard and make it my slave so that I myself will not be disqualified after I have preached to others” (9:24–26).
Do you share Paul’s goal? How can you make your body your slave so you can not only finish the race but win the imperishable crown?