So, have you stayed up too late lately watching television? I bet most of you would have to say “yes,” after all the Winter Olympics come only once every four years. (We’re thankful for the DVR so we can only watch what we want and when we want!). It is always fun to watch the Olympics, especially to root for those from your own country, and to see all the drama that takes place and observe the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” that is inevitable, and the surprise that takes place when someone not expected to win makes it to the podium to receive a medal.
The origin of the early games is obscure, but the date of the first festival held at Olympia is traditionally 776 B.C. Thereafter, the Olympian festival was held quadrennially. The festivities which were closely related with religious rites, included not only athletic contests but competition in oratory, music, poetry, and other art forms. Besides the Olympic games, there were three sports festivals: the Pythian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games (held in Corinth).
The games were originally only one day long. Competitors reported at daybreak and were administered the Olympic oath, to the effect that they were of pure Hellenic blood, had never committed wrong, had trained faithfully, and would not resort to any underhanded act in competition. Then they were stripped and anointed with oil. Women did not compete and were not even permitted as spectators. The games were increased to a five-day meet at the 77th festival. Prizes awarded to the victors of the events in the Olympic Games were crowns usually made of olive and palm branches. The victors were treated as heroes on their return home; statues were often erected in their behalf and they were given a place of honor at public events.
The Apostle Paul drew on the Corinthian’s knowledge of the Isthmian games (held every two years in Corinth) in his letter to the believers there. As he wrote to challenge them to have self discipline in their Christian walk, he said: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” ( ICor. 9:25-27). Paul reminds us that Christian service is like the Olympic athlete training and competing for the prize. The Christians at Corinth knew what agonizing pain was required to win the races and Paul used this example to illustrate his single-minded striving for the work of ministry. The Greek word for “competes” (“strives” in KJV) in verse 25 is agonizomai from which we get our word “agonize.” He also uses the word in Col. 1:28,29: “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” The Isthmian games survived until the fourth century of the modern era.
Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) is given credit for reviving the Olympic Games, and out of deference to Greece, the land of the ancient Olympic Games, the first modern games were held in Athens in 1896 with nine countries participating. The Winter Olympics began in 1924 at ChamonixFrance, being held every four years and in-between the summer games.
Here are some of my observations and lessons learned from watching the Olympic Games, especially the just-concluded 22nd Winter Olympics:
1) Success depends on amazing discipline and commitment.
— In order to have a chance to stand on the podium and receive a medal, one must put in thousands of hours of disciplined practice, often giving up the normal activities of a young person. Our gold medalists in ice dancing, White and Davis, had been dancing together for 17 years, putting in some 29,000 hours of practice. Wow, that is commitment to a goal!
— The majority of the winners had competed many times before finally achieving the success they had at the Olympics. They had to endure lots of failure, but never gave up. They put in the time at great sacrifice, doing all they could to stay healthy and in top physical condition as they honed their skills
(Just as Paul challenged us to do in I Cor. 9:25-27).
2) Success isn’t limited to those who make the podium and receive a medal.
— While only three are awarded medals at the Olympic Games, everyone who trains hard, keeps the rules, and competes to the best of his/her ability, is a “winner.” One scene that was very moving in the games in Sochi, Russia took place in cross country when a Russian skier fell and broke a ski. He attempted to continue, but his ski totally fell apart. He tried to limp on in on one ski, until a coach provided him with a new ski to finish the race, though he had no chance of winning.
— Some who competed undoubtedly knew they had little if any chance of medaling, but still put in the time and training and competed as hard as they were able. They too are “winners.”
— The Bible doesn’t say “It is required of a servant they he be successful.” It says, ““…it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (faithful)” I Cor. 4:2).
3) Some competitors are at the end of their career, some at the peak, others at the beginning.
— Mikaela Shiffrin, age 18, became the youngest person to win gold in the women’s slalom. She had to recover from a near crash to do so. Her career looks very bright. She hopes to compete in more events in the next Olympics.
— Bodie Miller, age 36 and probably in his final Olympics, managed to get a bronze in the Super G.
— Yevgeny Plushenko, Russian figure skater with a storied career, after a sterling performance in the team competition to help earn a gold medal for Russia, withdrew from the men’s competition with back problems.
— Shaun White (snow boarder) and Shani Davis (speed skater) who were favorites because of their past success, failed to medal.
4) Not all judging is fair.
— One of the things that has been true at every Olympics–summer and winter–is that not everyone is judged fairly in events such as figure skating where there is subjective evaluation of the competitors. Judges are human and biased and cannot judge totally fairly.
— We can be very grateful that when we stand before our “Judge,” Jesus Christ, His judgment will be totally fair. He knows every act and thought and even the motives of our hearts. “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (I Cor. 4:5).
5) Some nations have specialty areas in which they excel.
— It was pretty amazing to watch the domination of several countries in particular events. The Netherlands, for example, had 24 medals, 23 of which were in speed skating (no other nation won more than three!) and the other in short track. The previous record in a single event was 14 by Austria in alpine skiing in 2006. The Netherlands had four podium sweeps.
— Norway continued their dominance of cross-country skiing and biathlon, with 17 of their 26 medals coming in those venues.
— Twelve of the United States’ 28 medals came from the extreme sports of free style skiing and snowboarding.
— Canada grabbed all four golds in curling and hockey.
— In the Christian life, God has equipped each believer with special abilities (spiritual gifts) to be used to serve the Body of Christ and to glorify Him. We need to find our “niche” and stick with it.
6) The Olympics provide a platform of witness for the athletes who are Christians.
— A number of the athletes in the Olympics not only represented their countries, but also represented the Lord Jesus Christ. Their being placed in the view of the world-wide audience gave them a great opportunity to be “salt and light” (Mt. 5:13-16). They were the “city set on a hill” (v. 14).
— David Wise won a gold in men’s ski half-pipe for the United States. He used his “platform” of opportunity to emphasize his values as a Christian. Just before heading down the slope into the half-pipe, he dropped a heart-shaped rock into his pocket–a rock given to him by his daughter Lexi. As he was interviewed he said, “I can go and ski my heart out , but it doesn’t define who I am. Being a good usband and father is more important.” He went on to say that one of his goals is to become a pastor.
I’m sure God has provided you with some “platform” of influence too. Are you using it to witness for Him?