The following Blog was written by Dave Lindsey, a member of STF-USA and a Pastor of a church in Greenwood, Indiana.
February is Super Bowl month, and even if you’re not a fan, you have to have some appreciation for what professional athletes do to compete at that level. Athletes actually spend much more time conditioning and practicing than they do competing. No athlete who is serious about their sport would try to compete without being in shape.
The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of athletics when describing the Christian life and service in his first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians had their own “Super Bowl.” It was the Isthmian Games, which they hosted every two years in their city. They were just as enthusiastic about their games as football fans are about the Super Bowl, so using this example drove home a point with the Corinthians. The Apostle Paul told them, “everyone who is competing in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.” (1 Cor. 9:25).
Self-control speaks to the physical training necessary to compete. If asked, I’d bet that most NFL players prefer competing over training. One of the ways they train is in the weight room. This improves strength and endurance. Other ways are by practicing, studying game plans, and keeping to a strict diet to maintain their peak weight. All that training is probably not the favorite part of being an athlete, but it’s necessary to compete.
Christians also compete. Our opponents are powerful spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). If we’re competing, then it makes sense that we have some training to do. Ours is not so much physical, but more spiritual.
1 Timothy 4:7-8
Train yourself in godliness. For bodily training is profitable for a little while, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of the life that is to come.
We train in “godliness” by reading and studying our Bibles to become knowledgeable of God’s game plan. We spend time praying, witnessing to others about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, giving our time and resources to others, and fellowshipping with other Christians. Like physical training, these things can seem repetitious, mundane, and even boring at times, but we need to do them so that we’re in shape and ready to compete.
Being victorious in life and football can be a matter of ounces. What I mean by that is, when it’s late in the fourth quarter and the game is on the line, the players who are able to reach down and find that extra ounce of strength to fight through their opponents’ defense are the ones who win the game. Training in godliness will make us “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20). That strength may not be necessary every moment of every day, but when the occasion arises, we will find the strength that God has given us through Christ Jesus empowering us in our time of need when we are trained and conditioned for competition.
When athletes have trained and are in peak condition, they are eager and want to be in the completion. The same is true for Christians, “for it is God who is working in you both to want to do, and to do, his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13 REV). Scripture also says we are “strengthened with power by his spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). With God’s power working in us, we will be eager and want to compete, knowing that our strength is not limited to our own.
Training takes time, effort, and discipline, but our effort will not go unrewarded. Participants in the Isthmian Games received a garland made of wild celery, which was placed on each event winner’s head as a crown. Super Bowl champs get a nice paycheck, a ring, a t-shirt and ball cap. All those rewards will be gone someday, but God has promised us that the rewards for our efforts will be everlasting (1 Cor. 9:25). Exactly what all those rewards will be is not always clearly stated in Scripture, but I’m sure they‘ll be a lot nicer than a t-shirt and ball cap, since “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9).