The Apostle Paul and Olympic Glory

During the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field, hundreds of athletes converge in a variety of disciplines hoping to punch their ticket to glory by making the U.S. Olympic team. Hours of hard work, days of dreaming and visualizing, weeks of intense discipline for this one opportunity. The Apostle Paul paints a similar pattern of hard work, visualizing and discipline to win the ultimate prize – eternal life with Christ Jesus in heaven.

Paul describes the Christian life as a constant straining forward toward the goal of eternal life that Christ gives us through grace. Throughout his life, Paul experienced “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,” but knew he had not yet “attained” perfection. He pressed on toward living a holy and God-pleasing life, yet with the firm realization that he will never become perfect until we reach heaven.

By “pressing on” we grow and mature in our faith — living for Christ instead of living for ourselves.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:12-14)

The Greek word Paul uses for “press on” can also be used to mean “to aspire, to seek out something or to pursue.” The word is most often used in the New Testament to mean “persecution.” Paul will use this word to describe how he persecuted the church. Now, with the same zeal Paul had before, he is now using to perfect himself in Christ. In both cases, Paul was striving to serve God. However, the former was resulting in nothing (no profit, rubbish), while the latter was resulting in everything (surpassing greatness).

Let’s take another look at this word in the context of sports.

Typically, success in sports depends on one’s ability, their level of conditioning, and mental toughness. A successful athlete needs to be ready both physically and mentally.  Overconfidence, the lack of proper physical training, or lack of mental toughness when things get difficult have caused many athletes to suffer defeat in a race or competition they could have won. The same can be said for our spiritual lives.

We are reminded to “work out” or “exercise” our salvation. A believer who gets lazy, overconfident. or does not exercise their faith, can run the risk of losing God’s blessings or derail them from serving God. Our competition is tough, crafty. and a major deceiver. He will do anything to distract us. He will taunt us, cheat or discourage us, because he knows that he can’t win any other way. The goal of the evil one is to use the world to draw us away from God because only then, can he win.

Paul’s motivation is to take hold of (seize) in the same way Christ Jesus had reached out and seized him on the road to Damascus. Paul had seized the call of Jesus to serve him and to receive the promise of eternal life. God gives a call to serve for every believer. In that call, the Lord provides the means to carry out the task. To take hold or to seize is to put forth all of our energies as one would prepare and train for a competition.

There is no limit to the spiritual growth we can receive. Even the Apostle Paul recognized he hadn’t fully taken hold of it. He didn’t look back on past accomplishments or failures to hold him back. “Forgetting what is behind” does not imply to remove something completely from our mind, but the constant necessity of pushing something out of our mind. It is like running a race against other opponents. They are definitely on your mind, but you need to focus on your own race. Having competitors helps us to strive harder.  Knowing the ability of our opponents, remembering past successes, even failures, can be helpful.

The finish line is the goal. Typically, the first person across the line receives a prize. For a Christian, the goal and the prize is the same thing. The goal is to end our lives as believers and the prize is eternal life in heaven, each made possible through Jesus Christ. Paul is encouraging us to keep that goal and prize in mind as we “strain” (stretch out toward) to finish the race of the Christian life.

When I was in college, I ran the 400 meter hurdles. I loved that race with plenty of zeal. To be an intermediate hurdler, you have to be a little nuts. It is a very difficult race and each finish will bring a new measure of pain. The race consists of ten hurdles evenly distributed around a four hundred meter track. It is extremely important for a hurdler to focus on one hurdle at a time. The worst thing a hurdler could do was to look back. Not only would looking back slow you down in a race, but you might crash into the next hurdle! Your focus was always ahead, one hurdle at a time, and conquer the pain of the last 100 meters to finish the race. A good intermediate hurdler set apart from the others is able to combine speed, conditioning and plenty of guts to “press on” toward the finish line.

Life presents many hurdles for each of us.  Pain, disappointment, even tragedy are placed in our path. Our competition is tough, sneaky and very deceptive. We don’t look back on the “What if’s?” or the “Why’s” for that would only cause us to stumble. Nor, can we hope to cross the finish line soon, thinking it will be easy or without pain, for that would be discouraging. But, we focus on the race ahead, one hurdle at a time, knowing it will be a challenge and even painful. Healing and overcoming pain and disappointment in life is a process that takes one hurdle at a time.

It reminds me of how our Lord orchestrated all events leading up to the death of Jesus Christ, his one and only son. The end, Christ’s death and resurrection, was the final victory on behalf of us. He has made it possible for us to finish the race and receive the prize, eternal life in heaven. The race of our Christian life is difficult, challenging, even painful. And we know this! This is no surprise.

In the moments before starting a 400 meter intermediate hurdle race, I looked forward to the challenge, but also knew it was going to be painful finish. Sometimes, the difference between winning and losing was the person’s ability to “dig in” during those final few meters. Paul knew that a Christian needed to “strain” and “press on” toward that finish line. No matter what difficulties lie ahead, our focus is to finish the race. We can race with confidence, because the Lord will only allow us to run in a race that we can win. We won’t race against world-class athletes, or those who won’t give us much competition. He will use circumstances in our life, grant us tough competitions, so that we need to strain toward that finish line. The only difference is that Christ’s death and resurrection guaranteed that we will receive the crown of glory.  We will be declared the victor when we cross the finish line.

6 Comments on “The Apostle Paul and Olympic Glory

  1. Lost Bible Books
    In the Protestant church only the 66 books approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885, which today is known as the Authorized King James Bible, are allowed.

    Fourteen other books, which were included in the original King James Bible, and 22 other books which were mentioned or quoted in the King James Bible, are not included today.

    There was no specific list or accounting of all the books that made up the Bible until the commission of the first Bible by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century AD.

    It is believed there were up to 600 books, taken out by the formation of Catholicism by Constantine; even one lost book is a great loss.

    Also many do not know that the Apocryphal books were actually included in the King James translation until they were officially taken out by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885.

    I will now give you the names of some of the other Holy books, mentioned in the Bible.

    Book of Jasher. = Joshua 10:13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher?

    2 Samuel 1:18 (Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)

    Book of Enoch. = Jude 1:14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,

    Book of Samuel the seer, = Book of Nathan the prophet, = Book of Gad the seer.

    1 Chronicles 29:29 Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer,

    There are many more Holy Scripture books named, which can be found mentioned in the Bible. As Paul said “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” 2 Timothy 3:16 :: King James

    My conclusion is that if these books mentioned by God’s people in the Bible, was good enough for them to read and to study, and to accept that it is the word of God, then I to accept that these other books mentioned in the Bible is the word of God. And to reject them would be a grave loss to me. But we do know that if man has any involvement in writing God’s Word, he makes mistakes and sometimes changes the Word of God, therefore we must always seek the Holy Spirits teaching when we are reading holy scriptures today, for the Holy Spirit will always lead us into all truth as Jesus said.


  2. Thank you, Billy, for your comments and contributions to the post.

    It seems that you are on a crusade to expand the canon of Scripture to include many other books.

    To me, the purpose of the Holy Scriptures is to lead people to Jesus Christ in order to receive salvation by faith. All that is necessary to know for salvation is already recorded for us. Since this message is so incredibly important, I agree with you that all of God’s Word is considered inspired by God — even though written by human hand.

    So, in my opinion, we don’t need to add to what we already have received. That doesn’t mean that the other books not included in the canon of Holy Scripture is bad — it’s just not necessary.

    Thanks again for contribution.

  3. Dear merganzerman, Well God must have thought that these books were important to have them written in the first place. Yes, the purpose of the scriptures is to point people to Jesus. Now because some church men decided to throw away so many of the Holy Scriptures and decided on such a small number for us to look at now, and called that collection by the name Bible, well I question their authourity on such a thing. Who are they? The letter of Jude quotes from the book of Enoch, and so do many men in the Bible quote from these left out books. Well, I consider the men in the Bible as our true church fathers, and it was good enough for them to quote from these Holy books, and they walked with Jesus.

    No, I feel that the church has been fooled, and it needs to open it’s eyes and see that our God uses every word which proceeds from His mouth, which is written down by His prophets to bring people to Christ Jesus. Let us not put a limit on God by putting a limit on His holy scriptures, Billy.

  4. Hey Billy:

    It has been several years, but I believe the men who put the canon together had some very valid reasons. I have read the other gospels and books that were not included in the canon and understood why these books were not included.

    It seems your comment centers around the lack of trust placed on a group of very fallible men who put the final canon together. I can appreciate that. As throughout church history, the Lord’s hand leads and guides men and groups of men to carry out His will. Even though mistakes were made, and there were lots of them, God still uses it for His purposes. So, with this same confidence that God is in charge of all things, it was the Lord that lead this group of men to put together the Bible as we know it. So, it is not that I trust the men, but I trust the hand of God in leading these men. And, for the most part, the Bible as we know it, is accomlishing its objective.

    Thanks again for the comment, Billy. Blessings to you in England!

  5. Well that is like praying to the Lord and saying I am closing my eyes Lord, and I am crossing this busy road, I trust the drivers wont knock me down. You see from this illustration that the Lord will tell us to open our eyes and use the senses that He has given us while we live on this earth.

    Even the Bible that we read today has been tampered with, that is why we need the Holy Ghost to receive discernment when we are raeding. All I am saying is, read the Lord’s other Holy scriptures and let the Lord bring didcernment to you when you are reading these as well. God bless, Billy.

  6. I respectfully disagree with you, Billy.

    Thanks for your comments.

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