The Christian is an Athlete
The Apostle Paul uses several analogies when addressing Timothy, the young evangelist. The first was the Christian as a soldier. The second analogy is that of the athlete. You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. (2 Timothy 2:1-7 NKJV)
Athletes, like soldiers, must practice discipline. Devotion to purpose requires conditioning of both mind and body. In worldly competition, there can only be one winner. This truth motivates most competitors to do their best. Sometimes the desire to win tempts the athlete to cheat to “win”. However, only those who comply with the rules are eligible to receive the 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. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV)
Hardship is also the hallmark of the athlete. The saying “No pain, no gain” has merit. Remarkably, the muscles of the human body must suffer damage to grow stronger. Regular exercise establishes a pattern of microtears in muscle which then thicken and strengthen the muscles as they heal. Spiritual exercise is more essential than physical exercise. Losing at spiritual competition has eternal consequences. But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV)
The Apostle Paul knew that his race was nearing its end. Timothy however, still had a long way to go. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:5-8 NKJV)
Spectators are vital to the morale of the athlete. The cheering of a crowd can renew the spirit and provide great incentive to finish. The greatest incentive comes from within the athlete. For the Christian, that purpose is showing appreciation to Jesus for making the eternal reward possible. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NKJV)
Run. Endure. Win!