Can you imagine me pole vaulting, tipple jumping, throwing a javelin, shot putting or running a steeplechase (3k with hurdles and water ditch)? Well, I did all of it when I was in school. As a teen I attended a special school with an extended education in field athletics. We were trained in all disciplines and later picked one. I was a long distance runner. As a teenager I ran 1k well under 3 minutes and I was able to make a mile in 4:05. In the stadium I was training along with and regularly meeting with at least three world record holders and Olympic medalists. I was part of what could be called the Eastern Bloc sport incubator. It was intense, it was fun, it kept me out of trouble and unlike similar institutions in East Germany our sport school did not do any doping (and I am thankful to our teachers and coaches that they kept it that way).
It all changed quickly when we graduated from our youth programs and were taken over by adult coaches and instructors. They treated us like race-horses. Intense training led to injuries, innocently looking pills were offered for treatment. Thankfully, I grew up in a medical family, so we checked out those pills. They were anabolic steroids! It was a no-brainer, I threw my spike shoes to the cupboard, and never looked back. Anyway, I always had and still keep serious reservations about ideology, chauvinism and commercialism of the top competitive sport. Yet, under the intense training program I learned self discipline, focus on distant goals, a sense of honesty, team spirit and fair play.
The Apostle Paul probably had some similar experiences. As a person educated in Hellenistic schools he certainly received at least basic introduction and training in some sports. Then, when he wrote to the Corinthian congregation, most likely around the time of famous local Panhellenic Isthmian games, he was well prepared to use a vivid sport-based similitude (illustration) to make his point. Sport games can offer us marvelous and vivid, positive as well as negative examples for our individual and collective education and spiritual growth!
Come join us this Sunday morning to gain more than entertainment from the Olympic or Isthmian games. We will “wrestle” with ancient and modern sporting similitudes being coached by the apostle Paul. ;-)
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (Dynamic equivalent translation)
Dear Corinthians, allow me to use another illustration -
I assume you all know how it is on the stadium - all the athletes run the race, but only one takes the prize. Run to win!
You know, how much effort and sweat the athletes put into their training! And then they come to your city for Isthmian Games with a hope to win a wreath made of cilantro leaves! Aren't we after something much better?
I do not know how about you, but I am running hard for the finish line, and when I wrestle, I am not punching empty air.
Like athletes who discipline and control their bodies, so am I doing my best to stay fit and on top of the game. I do not want to end up like someone who is telling everyone else what to do, and in the end turns out a nonstarter of the day.