Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Ambitions?

Our fascination with the Olympics is no new thing. The Games were part of the culture of the 1st century and they serve as a rich source of metaphors for several New Testament writers, especially Paul. We sometimes need to dig a little to spot some of the references but they give us a wonderful glimpse into the mind-set of early Christians.

One word which is easily overlooked is the word sometimes translated as ‘strive’;

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 1 Cor 9:25 KJV.

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. Col 1:27–29 NKJV.


I’ve gone with the old KJV in the first of these references here to pick up the word ‘striving’. It is a vivid Olympic picture. In Paul’s day there was just a ‘first prize’ of a laurel wreath; no silver or bronze. That’s what he means when he calls the prize ‘a corruptible crown’. The laurel or bay tree victor’s crown was a very temporary award, unless you added it to the soup!

The word translated ‘strive’ is ‘ag┼Źnizomai’. It is the word from which we derive ‘agony’ but the focus of the original word is not on pain but on effort. It means to enter a context and to strive with strenuous zeal. It is the fierce concentration of the athlete who has a single goal in view. The rest of the world hardly exists for him. I recall seeing, on the TV, Linford Christie win the 100m in 1992. His focus was almost frightening. He didn’t even blink; I'm not sure he even breathed!

In this sense Paul was an Olympian. Not for him the Christian cruise. His mission statement, if he ever had one, was not ‘chill’ but ‘exert’ every scrap of ransomed energy to achieve the goal. And his goal was surprising. For him, the goal was ‘every man perfect in Christ Jesus’. Modern preachers have become very twitchy over the word ‘perfect’. They fear the unreality of ‘perfectionism’ but the opposite danger is just as real; ‘im-perfection-ism’. That’s the notion that we are nothing more than redeemed sinners and we had better get used to the idea. The belief that we are condemned to spend this life as a ‘divided man’ is growing in popularity again. Paul, however, believed that a man or woman could be 100% for God 100% of the time.

How do we stand with the gospel for today? Can God save us to the ‘uttermost’, 100% of the time or if not what percentage do we think will satisfy Him? Mind you, Paul was very clear how he expected to see this through; his trust was not in his own energy and resolution but in the ongoing miracle of the indwelling Christ. His banner was ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ and his methodology was ‘striving according to His working which works in me mightily.’

If we have the victor (Greek: nike) living on the inside why should we fail in our Olympic efforts?

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