The 2014 Winter Olympiad in Sochi was quite a spectacle. A lot can be learned from athletic competition. Through the inspiration of God, the Scriptures draw on athletics to teach several important spiritual lessons. The fact that “the race is not to the swift” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) illustrates that “time and chance” happen to us all. The admonition to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,” and “run with endurance the race that is set before us ” (Hebrews 12:1) teaches us the need to put forth steady continual effort in order to gain heaven in the end. And the fact that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12) helps us perceive the true might of our spiritual enemy and our need to rely upon God’s strength.
Among the greatest lessons athletics can teach is the need to abide by the rules. The inspired apostle Paul observed that, “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). In the Sochi Olympics, more than one competitor was disqualified because they did not compete according to the rules. Some used performance enhancing drugs, while others merely had a couple of false starts or skied off the course. Whether the infraction was intentional or inadvertent, it caused the athlete to lose their chance for a medal.
The disqualified athlete may have trained as hard or harder than other athletes. He may possess more ability, more skill, and even more luck than the others. But it all counts for nothing if he does not follow the rules.
What a tremendous lesson this is for those who would run the race for the “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give” (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8). A person may be “good” and even confess his love and devotion for Jesus Christ, but if he has not or will not “repent” and “be baptized for the remission of sins,” he is not running according to the rules (Acts 2:38). He may worship God enthusiastically in song, and yet if he adds a mechanical instrument of music, he’s not abiding by the rules (Ephesians 5:19). He may give much to the Lord’s cause, but because he does not give cheerfully or as he has been prospered, he is disqualified.
The Lord has given us a number of rules for our race. Let us ever strive to compete “according to the rules.”