Summary: Go for the (Lasting) Gold! 1) Be disciplined 2) Stay focused
“Go for the Gold!” That’s exactly what hundreds of athletes intend to do the next couple of weeks at the Winter Olympics in Torino (Turin), Italy. What does it take to win a gold medal? It takes discipline and focus. If you haven’t had the discipline to train hard for years, you don’t stand a chance of beating other athletes who have been so disciplined. Training hard alone, however, is no guarantee that you’ll stand atop the winner’s podium. You need to stay focused. A loss of focus, even for a split second, can lead to a misplaced step and a race ending crash and dashed medal hopes. (Just ask Jeremy Wotherspoon - the Canadian speed skater who was favored to win his event four years ago in Salt Lake City but slipped and fell.)
Speaking through the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit says that we can learn a lot about what it means to be a Christian from the world of athletics. As Paul wrote the words of our text, he was probably thinking of the Isthmian games, a sporting event second in popularity only to the Olympic games. Paul says that, like an athlete training to win the prize, Christians are to go for lasting gold by being disciplined and staying focused.
There’s no doubt it takes discipline to become an Olympian. Most speed skaters, for example, go through two intensive training sessions a day to prepare for their event. The morning begins with an off-ice and on-ice warm-up, followed by as much as 15 km of skating and then a warm-down on the stationary bike. The afternoon will find speed skaters working out on the bike and in the weight room.
Why would athletes put themselves through such gruelling training sessions? They do it because they want to win the prize. For athletes at the Isthmian games in Corinth, that meant a crown of wild celery (by Paul’s day they had upgraded (?) to crowns of fir-tree boughs) http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/I/Isthmian.asp. Athletes at the Olympics today should be thankful that they’ll receive a gold medal should they win. And along with a gold medal will come fame and maybe even a million dollar endorsement deal. But even with the potential of winning million dollar endorsement deals, Olympians today might as well be competing for a crown of wild celery. That’s because the money they could earn from winning a gold medal may last just as long as a crown of celery. It’s no wonder Paul urges us to train for a prize that lasts. Paul of course is talking about the prize of eternal life in the loving and glorious presence of God.
Is heaven really that valuable of a prize? Well what would you give to have a life with no sinus problems? What would you give to have a life with no overbearing bosses? What would you to give to have a life where adults always listen to you when you speak to them? What would you give to have a life where there is no need for doctor appointments and waiting rooms? What would you give to have a life where there is no senseless violence – a life where there is no violence at all? It’s the kind of life we all dream of isn’t it? It’s a life without sin. That’s the kind of unending life God promises all believers in Christ Jesus. That’s the lasting prize worth training for as hard as an Olympian trains for a gold medal.
Now when I say “train,” I’m not suggesting that we’re doing anything to earn eternal life. We can’t. Sin ties us to the starting blocks so that when the gun goes off we can’t move an inch, nor do we want to! Jesus on the other hand moved swiftly out of the blocks and jumped every hurdle Satan put in his way. God the Father upheld and highlighted Jesus’ victory over sin and the devil with the resurrection on Easter Sunday. So the lasting gold of heaven is ours. It’s everyone’s! This doesn’t mean, however, that all will make it to heaven. Paul makes it clear that we can become disqualified from the prize of heaven (1 Corinthians 9:27). That disqualification would come should we lose our faith in Jesus.
What can cause us to lose our faith? A lack of disciplining our sinful nature can do this. Our sinful nature is that rebellious part of us that doesn’t want to do God’s will. It’s like having a left foot that’s always purposely trying to trip the right foot. How difficult do you think it would be to win a gold medal in speed skating if that’s what your left foot was always doing? What would you do with such a rebellious foot? You might tie it up. You might even cut it off because you would have a better chance of winning the gold medal if your one good foot wasn’t constantly impeded by the bad foot. Paul spoke about doing something similar with the sinful nature when he wrote: “…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 Corinthians 9:27).