January 8, 2009
The BCS Title Game, Perishable Wreaths and the Gospel of Jesus Christ
by Mike Pohlman, Editor, Christianity.com
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. –1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Tonight the Florida Gators will battle it out with the Oklahoma Sooners in the Bowl Championship Series title game. This game marks the end of an incredible journey these athletes and coaches have been working toward since the close of last season.
Will the speed of the Gators overwhelm the Sooners? Will the Sooners score 60-plus points, as usual? Will the current Heisman holder outplay the former? Even for the casual fan, there is no small amount of intrigue to this game.
I find myself thinking about the almost torturous amount of physical preparation these athletes must have gone through to compete at this level. The cardio work, weight training, speed and skill drills—the pounding their bodies has taken over the last many months shames those of us that grimace in pain after a game of pick-up hoops.
So why do it? Why push your body to such extreme limits?
“They do it to receive a perishable wreath.”
Indeed, the winner of tonight’s BCS title game will take home a trophy, but a trophy that perishes with time. This, of course, does not mean it has no value. It does. But when we consider how hard these athletes and coaches have worked for something transient, we should be motivated to pour out at least equal effort for that which is imperishable.
The Apostle Paul compares athletes—runners to be exact—to those of us trying to live the Christian life. He recognizes the dedication and devotion a world-class runner puts into his craft. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” To compete at the highest level these runners must be consumed. No amount of preparation is too much.
In 1 Timothy 4:8 Paul again brings up physical training. He exhorts his readers to train for godliness. Why? Because unlike physical training, training in godliness “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” We are training for an imperishable “wreath.”
Peter reminds us that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:3-4). The Gospel is the good news that through Christ—his person and work—our eternity is secure.
Therefore we train ourselves in godliness. This is our great pursuit.
Paul gives us a wonderful window into this “training” in Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s life was marked by an all-consuming passion for God in Christ. His pursuit was godliness and he exerted all his energies to attain it. Whatever happened in the past was past. Paul was straining toward the future.
Our Lord would have us bank all our hope not on temporal realities, but eternal: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). Tragically, countless millions of people today have set their hearts on things corruptible.
I will be watching the game tonight with great interest. I’m a fan. But when Florida (you don’t actually think Oklahoma will win, do you?) celebrates at the close, I will let my heart recall the “trophy” I have in Christ. Indeed, the “eternal weight of glory” that surpasses any earthly celebration.
Intersecting Faith & Life: What ways in the New Year are you training in godliness? The start of a new year is a great opportunity to plan for growth in grace. This plan could include exercising your faith in a small group Bible study, joining a church, going through a topical study, evangelistic work or a new service project. Whatever it is let’s make sure we’re “straining forward” like a world-class athlete in 2009 with eyes set on an imperishable wreath!