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Running the race

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–The high level of athletic skill at the Olympics has been amazing to watch. The divers from China were phenomenal. The American swimmers were beyond compare. The Jamaican runners were unbelievable.

The story of Michael Phelps’ gold medal quest captivated the world. Anyone with a spark of competitive fervor must be amazed at anyone attaining eight gold medals. To say Phelps is on top of his game is a huge understatement.

Paul reminded Christians at the church in Corinth about the need to be on top of their game, too. In fact, he used the Ancient Olympic Games of running and boxing as word-pictures for Christians to grasp his point.

His discussion prior to his sporting analogies was of his willingness to blend into the culture, becoming “all things to all people, so I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). He embraced the Gentiles, his Jewish brothers and the weak.

After this message, he begins his analogies (1 Corinthians 9:19-27) of the Ancient Olympic Games. He tells his readers, run to win the prize. There is great self-discipline exercised by an athlete to be the best in the world; likewise a believer must exercise discipline to be his or her best. If an athlete will discipline himself to compete for a prize that is perishable, Paul says, how much more important is discipline necessary to receive a prize that is eternal?

Paul then says he doesn’t run without a goal in mind, nor does he box an imaginary opponent. He disciplines himself so that after preaching the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ to others, he would not disqualify himself by his actions.

Isn’t that a powerful message for believers today?

Our actions make or break our presentation of the Gospel. What we do speaks louder than our words.

I was in a fast-food restaurant a few days ago and invited the young woman at the register to read my testimony on the website WhatIValueMost.com. She looked at the name of the website on the card and showed it to her co-worker and friend. She told me quickly about her commitment to Christ and that her friend needed God in her life. The friend overheard her and spoke up saying, “Don’t believe her. I watch her every day. She doesn’t live like she is telling you.”

Obviously, there are days we represent Jesus better than other days. Everyone has ups and downs. However, our goal should be to discipline ourselves so that others see a clear picture of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ instead of the picture of a self-absorbed hypocrite.

What are some ways to discipline yourself to be the best representative of Jesus you can be? First, fall in love with the reading of the Bible. If you view the Bible as a love letter from God, instead of merely a rulebook, you will begin the transformation. Second, spend time in prayer. To look like Jesus you must talk to and listen to Jesus. Third, commit to sharing the Good News of Christ regularly. Don’t be a sponge that only absorbs the message of Christ. Ring the bells of hope, calling the world to Christ. Finally, find an accountability partner. Have a fellow believer who honestly wants to help you in your weaknesses and prod you to finish the race. Call one another during the day, encouraging yourselves to see and seize opportunities to share your faith.

The Beijing Olympic Games conclude Sunday. The names of many gold medalists will be forgotten. Other events will dominate the news. However, the Christian’s contest continues. Discipline yourself for the sake of the Gospel. Someone is watching you. Be on top of your game.
Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate on the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism & church growth team.

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  • Keith Manuel