At the most recent Summer Olympics (Tokyo in 2021), some 12,000 athletes competed for about 1,000 medals. Just 10% of the competitors took home medals.

One award that isn’t given is a Participation Medal. An award for just showing up. Every athlete I know would rather quit their sport than take home a participation trophy.

David McCullough said, “If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.”

Athletes compete to win. Anything short of winning is a consolation prize.

Christians are exhorted to compete like Olympians (see Hebrews 12.1; 1 Corinthians 9.24-27; Philippians 2.16; 3.14; Galatians 2.2; 5.7; 2 Timothy 4.7). One passage even refers to ancient Olympic-style games. 1 Corinthians 9.24-27 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

The apostle is taking about running a spiritual race, and he gives us four things to remember about running the race.

  1. PLAN TO WINYou won’t win a gold medal by accident, and you won’t get to heaven by accident. Be deliberate. Have a sense of purpose. Know the objective.
  2. DEVELOP SELF-CONTROLSometimes, self-control is the ability to tell yourself no. For athletes, it means saying no to an unhealthy diet. For Christians, it means saying no to distraction, temptation, and sin. Sometimes, self-control is the ability to develop good habits. For athletes it means getting up early and having a rigorous training routine. For Christians, it means a routine of prayer, Bible study, worship, and service to others.
  3. WPLAY BY THE RULESPaul warns against being disqualified. It’s one thing for an athlete to be defeated by a better athlete. It’s another thing when an athlete beats himself by breaking the rules, or by not preparing adequately. For Christians, it’s why we have the Bible: we can know the rules; we can know what to do and what not to do in our lives.
  4. WERE PROMISED A PRIZEPaul contrasted perishable and imperishable wreaths. In the ancient Olympic games, the winner received a crown woven from olive branches or evergreen or oak leaves. Over time, they would dry out and decay. Christians are competing for the crown of life: eternal life in the presence of an eternal God.

I’m not an athlete, but I am a child of God. I’ll never win a gold medal, but I’ve been promised a crown of life. I need to run, and I need to run hard. So do you. Run to win!