With the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics behind us, much of what took place – scenes of glory, disappointments, sweat, tears, smiles of satisfaction, etc. are now behind us. What perhaps will be etched in memory for a long time to come are the depleted crowds and much-muted cheers due to the on-going pandemic. Aside from all these, what might be some reminders for our Christian life as we recollect scenes of certain events we saw?
1 Cor 9:24-27 come in handy:
In this passage, Paul uses sporting metaphors in teaching what are some of the things we need to consider for our Christian journey on earth. Using the image of an athlete, Paul exhorts Christians on the need for self-control (vs 25). Much as it is difficult to see how an out-of-shape and flabby athlete can ever possibly win any medal, it is hard to see how any Christian might hope to listen to the words, ‘Welcome, good and faithful servant’, if we do not take time looking into spiritual disciplines in enabling us to stay fit spiritually.
In line with self-discipline, Paul points to the indispensability of training in godliness (1 Tim 4:7). Such training does not necessitate one to go through Bible-school or check oneself into a monastery, but simply to spend adequate time in the basic disciplines of Prayer and Bible-reading. For those who wish to venture further, Richard Foster’s ‘Celebration of Discipline’ provides a much more extensive guide for those who are desirous in looking deeper.
Here in this passage, Paul also uses the metaphor of a boxer. Boxers are often seen during warm-ups and practices, ‘beating into the air’ – which is what Paul refers to as well (vs 26), but each boxer is not content with mere shadow-boxing. This is only to train oneself for what one hopes to achieve eventually. With all these training, it is meant that finally in the boxing ring, each of their punches will connect and land with the force and strength that they can muster – through their disciplined rigor in shadow-boxing. Apparently, the word ‘discipline’ (vs 27) is being translated from a word that means, ‘to bruise, to beat black and blue.’ The message I get is that in our Christian life, we do not want to be content with merely cruising along but being decisive winners as we do battle against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Is there a reward in going through such lengths for spiritual discipline? Of course! In comparison to a perishable wreath (vs 25) which a winning athlete receives in the Greek games in Paul’s days, Christians can look forward to the kind of reward that is imperishable. Or in Eugene Petersen’s ‘The Message’ translation – the difference between gold medal that tarnishes and fades (perishable) and the kind that is gold eternally (imperishable). May we be motivated to win in our Christian race.
Elder Richard Lai