The Hope of Glory

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The Hope of Glory

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When my youngest daughter was in grade school she had an assignment to assemble a collage illustrating all her areas of interest. That assignment, and the worry over her many other assignments ahead, overwhelmed her.

I volunteered to help with what was, to her, an Olympian-sized task. I found an old Bible with its pages falling out and carefully cut out a well-marked verse that read, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34 Matthew 6:34Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.
American King James Version×
). I offered this simple cut-out as my contribution to her dreaded collage and went about my work.

Arriving home late in the evening, I found my tired daughter sitting beneath the bright lights over the kitchen table with a grin on her face as she proudly displayed the most extravagantly decorated collage I had ever seen. Pasted right in the center was my tiny cut-out with the comforting words of Jesus Christ’s teaching not to worry about tomorrow.

She stayed with it, with the help of spiritual encouragement, and succeeded in spite of what seemed impossible odds.

In the different and more dramatic setting of the recent Olympic Games, the same spirit of determination and perseverance shone out many times. Although the Games are now past, and the details, or even whole events, grow dim in our memory, individuals and their stories still illuminate our minds.

The stellar achievements in individual and team Olympic events inspire us to strive for excellence in all we do. It’s not just us today who find such inspiration in the Games. One biblical author used the athletic challenges as a model for spiritual endeavors.

In the mid-50s, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, 100 miles east of Olympia, comparing the Christian’s struggle to that of a well-conditioned athlete competing for a prize. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it [win!] . . . Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 [24] Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain. [25] And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
American King James Version×
).

The ancient Olympians raced for the glory of Zeus to win a perishable crown of olive branches. The Christian runs his race-lives His life-to the glory of God for an imperishable crown, the gift of eternal life!

Paul was not telling the Corinthians they could earn salvation, but that they should run the race of life with all their might, with all their heart and with all their being for the glory of God, just as the trained athletes of that day gave their all to win for the glory of Zeus.

Once someone sets foot on the path of Christianity, there can be no turning back-only looking ahead, pressing toward the goal, living up to the high calling of the Christian profession.

Paul extended a challenge to his fellow Christians by calling their attention to the Olympic spirit of dedication to purpose, determination to excel and the will to endure in spite of adversity. He spoke to them in the terminology of the Greek classical Games, hoping they would understand just as Christians today must understand: When it comes to pursuing the Christian way of life, it must be through Christ, and it comes only with great dedication.

Ancient Olympics were religious festivals

Unlike the Olympics of today, the Games of the apostle Paul’s time were an integral part of the religion of many to whom he preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Paul fully understood the athletes’ religious dedication to the honor of the gods as well as the people’s fervent dedication to the religious meaning of the Games. His reason for using athletic terms in his Christian message becomes even more clear when we understand the extent to which the Greek world was socially and religiously enmeshed in the observance of these competitions.

The classical-games circuit

Athletes of ancient times were eager to compete in the classical games-not just the Olympics, but the Isthmian, Pythian and Nemean games. Although earlier formal games took place in Greece and Rome, by the mid-sixth century B.C. these four had become the most famous and were known as “the circuit.” Fiercely competitive athletes entered as many games on the circuit as possible to increase their chances of winning and bringing honor to the gods they worshiped.

According to the historian Eusebius, the Isthmian Games took place on the Isthmus of Corinth in the first and third years of each Olympiad from 523 B.C. These events honored Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, and offered a wreath made from pine branches. The Pythian Games occurred every other year beginning in the same year at Delphi in honor of Apollo, the Greek god of music, poetry, prophecy and medicine, offering the winner a wreath of laurel branches. From this award we derive the English phrase “resting on one’s laurels.” The Nemean Games were held other years, at Argolis, beginning in 516 B.C., in honor of the Nemean Zeus. They offered to the victor a wreath fashioned from wild celery.

With so many games in which to participate, ancient athletes trained year-round to stay in top condition, hoping to qualify for all the competitions on the circuit. They expended agonizing effort to excel in their specialties-running, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus and javelin, and many other sports that have featured in the modern Olympics. A Greek word for an athletic contest is agon, from which comes the English word agony. Athletes participating in the games on the circuit agonized in their efforts to win the victor’s reward.

Biblical comparisons to athletics

It should come as no surprise that Paul would make metaphorical reference to athletic games in view of the widespread enthusiasm for such contests in the Greek world.

The Isthmian Games occurred in Corinth in the spring of A.D. 55, around the time that Paul wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians. His references to athletes in the classical games of the day must have resonated with the people of Corinth; they were inspired as we are by the examples of fine Olympic performers.

The people to whom Paul preached knew exactly what he meant when he wrote, “Run in such a way that you may [win],” and “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty . . . But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 [26] I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air: [27] But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
American King James Version×
). He understood the tremendous discipline and training required of a strong athlete who was able to qualify in his event and go on to win the championship.

Paul does not tell Christians they can earn salvation, but he does tell them they can disqualify and miss out on salvation. He himself was concerned that he not become disqualified from lack of diligence in his service to God. No one can earn eternal life, but the Word of God tells us what is expected of those who desire to be in the Kingdom of God. Paul instructed his fellow minister, Timothy, that, “if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5 2 Timothy 2:5And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
American King James Version×
).

Olympic athletes swore before Zeus that they would follow the rules of the Games. Christians are to live “by every word of God” (Luke 4:4 Luke 4:4And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
American King James Version×
), to follow the rules He has established.

Jesus Christ had strong words regarding the performance He expects of Christians. Addressing the church at Laodicea, He gives this admonition: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot . . . So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16 Revelation 3:15-16 [15] I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would you were cold or hot. [16] So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.
American King James Version×
). No victor’s wreath or winner’s medals will go to lukewarm Christians.

Instead, the gift of eternal life will go to the overcomer. Jesus promised to reward the one “who overcomes [prevails], and keeps My works until the end” (Revelation 2:26 Revelation 2:26And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
American King James Version×
). The one who prevails and is victorious, through the strength of Christ, will receive a priceless reward: “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” (Revelation 21:7 Revelation 21:7He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
American King James Version×
).

The Christian race has its own course, its obstacle course of ups and downs, that often presents daily challenges of Olympian magnitude. What constitutes the Christian course? Our race is a contest of the mind involving many tests of faith. We must be selfless, and we must persevere.

Selflessness

The Christian must provide not only for the physical, mental and emotional needs of the family, but for the spiritual as well.

This is difficult enough when two parents are available to “run the race.” But often only one is available to take on the many demands of keeping the family together. A thousand pages would be insufficient to relate the heroic accounts of the many fathers and mothers who have set aside their own needs and desires to provide for their families’ needs and desires. Yet not one of them is sorry for the sacrifice and service rendered to achieve family success and togetherness.

The 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, showcased a poignant example of family sacrifice. Frank Havens, a
28-year-old finalist in the 10,000-meter singles canoe race, won the gold medal, setting a world record. Twenty-eight years earlier, Frank’s father, Bill Havens, was the finest canoe racer in the world and was predicted to win the gold in the Paris Olympics of 1934.

But, on finding that his wife was due to deliver their first child at the time of the Paris Olympics, Bill Havens had given up his place on the American Olympic team, choosing rather to be with his wife.

“It was more important to me,” said the elder Mr. Havens in a recent television broadcast, “to see that my wife got along all right.”

That summer their son Frank was born, but Bill Havens had missed his opportunity for Olympic victory and glory. After Frank won the gold medal in Helsinki, just before the awards ceremony he sent a telegram to his father: “Dear Dad: Thanks for waiting around for me to be born. I’m coming home with the gold medal you should have won. Your loving son, Frank.”

Bill Havens did the right thing by putting his wife and family first-and the reward came in a special and unexpected way. When we sacrifice for the sake of our families, blessings can come in ways we cannot foresee. Loving care of our families certainly qualifies for a place in the Christian course.

Perseverance

Sometimes the unexpected happens and the Christian is confronted with a seemingly insurmountable crisis.

This can be the most difficult time a Christian will face in his or her spiritual race. Many of us have seen circumstances arise in the lives of others that threatened to virtually destroy them and their families. It seems we all must face our own personal trials and tests.

During the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, the Games that year were tragically interrupted by the horrible spectacle of terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes. This deplorable act of violence nearly ended the games, but it was finally decided that Olympiad XX would go on.

One of the most amazing sagas in modern Olympic history occurred that year. The Olympic record-winner of the 5,000-meter run was 23-year-old Lasse Viren of Finland. He was the Finns’ best hope against a strong field of contenders in the 10,000-meter run. I vividly remember watching the race on television. I had followed the news stories on how diligently Mr. Viren had trained for the Games. He was in excellent condition, and I hoped he would win.

However, on the 12th lap of the race a horrified gasp went up from the crowd. The Finn had become entangled in a crowd of runners on one of the turns and had fallen flat on his back inside the track. His cause seemed utterly hopeless. But Lasse Viren decided that his race was not over. He pulled his lanky frame from the ground and got back into the race. Instead of panicking, he slowly worked his way up toward the pack of runners. Lap after grueling lap, he gained ground and momentum.

The network announcer offered remarks about Mr. Viren’s courage and gallant effort, but the determined Finn had something more in mind than mere effort. He had not come to the Olympics to quit, nor had he come to lose. As he slowly narrowed the gap between himself and the other runners, the announcer again gave him credit for a great effort.

Near the end of the race, to the surprise of everyone, Mr. Viren caught up with the pack. The announcer began to take note of the Finn’s chances to place in the contest. Then, to the astonishment of all, with a lap and a half to go, the great Finnish runner unbelievably took full command of the race, shaking free of the other runners, and won the 10,000-meter race by eight yards! Even more astounding, his time of 27:38.4 was a new world record!

As I watched in admiration of the tremendous athletic feat just performed by Lasse Viren, I thought of the powerful words of Proverbs 24: “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again . . .” (verse 16, Revised Standard Version).

The most inspirational aspect of Mr. Viren’s win was how he had won. He did not give up when a sudden crisis arose. He did not panic when it seemed all was lost. He relied on his training, kept his mind on the goal and ran with all his might. That same strategy was what Paul was trying to tell the Corinthians!

Over the years I have seen people fall down again and again, only to rise with the strength to overcome failure. I have seen men and women struggle against disease, impending financial disaster and mental and emotional despair. How does the Christian go on in spite of seemingly hopeless odds?

A Christian can finish the race only through Christ!

Learning to fully rely on the strength of our Savior in times of crisis qualifies as a fourth leg in the Christian circuit. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 Philippians 4:13I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.
American King James Version×
).

The imperishable crown

The Christian race is an exciting challenge, and it does bring its reward. Notice the hopeful words of James, the brother of Jesus: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12 James 1:12Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.
American King James Version×
).

The reward of the Christian race is a crown of life. What kind of life? Eternal life! The apostle John makes clear the kind of life Christians have been promised: “And this is the promise that He has promised us-eternal life” (1 John 2:25 1 John 2:25And this is the promise that he has promised us, even eternal life.
American King James Version×
).

Everlasting life is the crown promised to the Christian. It is not a perishable crown of olive or pine branches or laurel or wild celery; it is the imperishable crown of eternal life, a crown that does not wither and die. The apostle Peter describes this reward: When “the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4 1 Peter 5:4And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away.
American King James Version×
).

The fervent desire to bring glory to Zeus, Apollo and Poseidon drove the ancient athletes to win crowns and wreaths. But the Spirit of the living Jesus Christ empowers the Christian to run the race and win. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” said Paul (Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×
).

“To this end I also labor,” he said, “striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29 Colossians 1:29 Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.
American King James Version×
). The Greek word here translated “striving” means agonizing, competing and struggling.

The final glorious victory

An awe-inspiring transformation is promised to the Christian who runs the race well. The time of this great transformation comes at the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.

Notice Paul’s description of this occurrence: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality . . . Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 [51] Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, [52] In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. [53] For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. [54] So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
American King James Version×
).

To the Christian will go the ultimate victory and the glorious reward of “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor and immortality” (Romans 2:7 Romans 2:7To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life:
American King James Version×
). The Christian race is not an easy one, but the reward is great.

My daughter never forgot the scripture that I cut out for her collage that day. Now, having graduated from college, she still calls upon the words of that small but powerful collage centerpiece in handling the daily challenges of her Christian life. Perhaps the most important race in the Christian course is learning to put God first in our lives and knowing that He is in charge and will see us through to the finish line. 

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