Friday, February 06, 2015

The sport of Christian ministry

athlete crowned - ancient Greek games
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 9:15-27

TO CHEW ON: "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown." 1 Corinthians 9:25

Paul here alludes to the Greek games, which he may well have attended. They were accompanied by as much pomp and ritual as our Olympic Games are today. Smith's Bible Dictionary gives some facts about these games:
  • There were two classes of events:
The pancratium consisted of boxing and wrestling events.
The pentathlon consisted of leaping, running, quoiting, hurling the spear, and wrestling.
  • The competitors trained long and hard. Their training included an enforced diet. For the Olympic Games the training lasted 10 months. During the final months athletes trained under the supervision of appointed officers.
  • Huge crowds came to watch the spectacle of the athletes competing.
  • The judge, who had a spotless reputation, was tasked with deciding any disputes and awarding the prize.
  • The prize consisted of a crown—leaves of wild olive at the Olympic Games, pine or ivy at the Isthmian Games. - Smith's Bible Dictionary, accessed through

Paul here compares his work as a minister of the gospel to being a competitor in these games.

He has the determined mindset of a competitor.
No easygoing "whatever" attitude. He is determined to win - 1 Corinthians 9:24.

He lives like a competitor. 
He has just taken considerable space showing why he could ask for their money support but doesn't (1 Corinthians 9:1-18) and how he subjugates his desires and preferences to be able to relate to any kind of person (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Here he comes out and states clearly: "… I discipline my body and bring it into subjection…" - 1 Corinthians 9:27.

His goal is to win the prize:
The "imperishable crown" versus the plant-based crown of the winning athlete - 1 Corinthians 9:25.

I ask do I, do we view our ministry as seriously as Paul did?

Do we have his determination to finish well—to win?

Is our mindset that of an athlete?
One of my favorite sports to watch is curling—a sport that may look easy but is actually physically demanding in the precision and strength departments. To prepare, competitors spend hours in the gym building up muscles and stamina for sweeping, hours at the rink practicing shots, many weekends at bonspiels pitting their skills and smarts against each other.

How would such dedication translate to one's life as a Christian? It could mean spending more time in the Bible, reading it, studying it, and memorizing it. It could mean learning and practicing how to explain and teach the gospel to others. It could mean spending more time in fasting and prayer…

Do we "compete" with the reward in mind?
Nothing beats the victorious high-fives and hugs of a triumphant rink, their proud march to the podium, and their glowing smiles as they receive the cup and medals.

Do we live with our prize in mind? Do we ever imagine the presentation ceremony, when we'll be crowned with a prize, perhaps...
  • the Imperishable Crown of 1 Corinthians 9:25?
  • the Crown of Righteousness of 2 Timothy 4:8?
  • The Crown of Life, of James 1:12?
  • The Crown of Glory of 1 Peter 5:4 and Revelation 2:10?

PRAYER: Dear God, Paul shows me I need to get as serious about life and ministry for You as a competing athlete is about sport. Help me to translate this seriousness into everyday life. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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