Many of us are athletes, or or at least we like to think we are. At the very least, many of us enjoy sports. Athletic endeavors are a big part of modern life, with physical activity taking on great importance because of the enjoyment we find in these pursuits as well as the health benefits we receive. Most all of us, at one time or another, have participated in some sort of organized sport. Many began when they were just youngsters, while others have taken up physical activity later in life.
The select few excel at such a level, they are able to make a career out of their chosen sport, many times a profitable one.
The apostle Paul likened our spiritual lives to that of an athlete, and the parallels are striking. See what Paul had to say in I Corinthians 9:24-27:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, 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.
Most, if not all, athletes start with some God-given ability or propensity toward his chosen pursuit. The ones who succeed, that reach the pinnacle are the ones who train. Champions work hard, finish strong, and keep their eye on the goal - to win the prize! Endurance is a word that symbolizes their efforts. The practice, they train, they push themselves to the breaking point to develop their bodies and the skillls needed to excel.
Look for a moment at what an athelete works for, the "prize at the end of the fight." Championship rings, fame, glory, trophies, money, and yes, even women (or men, for that matter). Things that are temporary.
Now look for a moment at just a few of the things that a believer might be working for, the spiritual "prize at the end of the fight."
* The crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7,8)
* Crown of life (Revelation 2:10)
* Hearing the words, "Well done, good and
faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21)
We should be good stewards of our bodies while here on earth. Our bodies are gifts from God. However, while physical training definitely has it advantages and rewards, even if we aren't professional athletes, it is nonetheless temporary. Our bodies age, and, even if we live to be 100 years old, death will still do away with the phyiscal things.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:20, 21: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal." The temporary things will pass away, so we must look to eternity for where our true treasure is.
Also, in I Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul tells us that we are all building something with our lives, on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Are we building with wood, hay, and straw or with gold, silver, and costly stones? One day, our work will be tested with fire, and if it survives, will receive our appropriate reward.
Look again at verses 26 and 27 of I Corinthians 9. The idea expressed here is "I have a plan", of being proactive instead of reactive. Taking responsiblility and not playing the blame game. Being disciplined. We are all disciplined in some way with every aspect of our lives, it just boils down to "Am I self-disciplined or other-disciplined?"
How many times have we seen someone prominent (even in christian circles) have a lifetime of service ruined because of a lifestyle or incident that contradicts who they claimed to be? Does that mean we have to be perfect? That's impossible! Jesus paid the penalty for us because we are sinners. However, that doesn't give us license to live like we please. If we truly are new creations in Christ, we have a new mindset that makes us want to live for Him. We need to be disciplined to live a life that doesn't contradict what we say. Our lives should confirm our words, not contradict them. Basically, Paul is saying we should "Practice what we preach."
Since we know we can't be perfect, there will be times we fail and disappoint others. We need to continue to be people of confession and forgiveness, which is a part of living a disciplined life. When we fail to confess our sins, as well as fail to forgive others when they fall, that's when we have problems.
May the words you say that let others know you are a Christian be backed up by the way you live your life. You are a living epistle! Epistles are the New Testament letters written to individuals or churches, and in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, the principle of being "living epistles" is expressed. Paul says that we are "Letters from Christ," written not with ink, but with the Spirit of God on human hearts. Be a living letter for others to see and read, by how you live your life.