AN ATHLETE FOR GOD

by Jeff Dominguez

I love the Olympics!

The Modern Olympic Games that is. I understand that the Ancient Olympic Games were pagan in nature and purpose and I appreciate that the Christian Roman Emperor, Theodosius I, ended it in A.D. 393. But what I appreciate more is its revival in 1896 which was not intended to honor the Greek gods but in the name of international unity, peace, and sportsmanship. Since then, the Olympics games have become one of the world’s most prestigious and highly anticipated events. Thousands of athletes from all over the world gather together to compete for the glorious Olympic medals.

Just recently, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was concluded. This Olympics is very precious to us here in the Philippines because, for the first time since our country joined, we finally won our first-ever gold medal. It was achieved by Ms. Hidilyn Diaz who competed in the 55kg Women’s Weightlifting competition. She magnificently lifted 94kg in snatch and 127kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 224kg (which is also an Olympic record). Aside from her, 3 of our boxers also won medals. They are Nesthy Petecio (silver medal, Women’s Featherweight Division), Carlo Paalam (silver medal, Men’s Flyweight Division), and Eumir Marcial (bronze medal, Men’s Middleweight Division). Together, this has been the most successful campaign of the Philippines in the Olympics. This is why the Philippines is in a festive mood nowadays. The success of our athletes in the Olympics truly brought joy and honor to our country.

Hidilyn Diaz saluting the Philippine flag during the awarding ceremony.

Here is the interesting part.

It is a common practice for every participating country in the Olympics to reward their successful athletes. In most countries, including ours, it is even a law. This is why aside from the Olympic medal, the winning athletes also receive glory, fame, popularity, and lots of money. Since this is the most successful Olympics of the Philippines, aside from the financial reward coming from the government, a lot of people from the private sector also rewarded our winning athletes. In the case of Hidilyn Diaz for example, the prize money mandated by the law was PHP 10 million (for winning the gold medal). But the additional prize money that came from the private sector made it grow to at least PHP 35 million! Not only that, but she also received a free car, a free luxurious condominium, 2 houses, and free unlimited air flights for the rest of her life! What a reward!!

Now, let me go to the point of this article.

Aside from these luxurious rewards, there is also one truly inspiring moment. That is when our winning athletes made a courtesy call to our president, Rodrigo Duterte, right after their arrival back here in the Philippines (via video call). The meeting was broadcasted and everyone saw how our athletes stood before our president while he congratulates and salute them and give them additional rewards. Our president also thanked them for giving honor and joy to our country.

Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz in a video courtesy call with President Rodrigo Duterte on July 28, 2021. RTVM screenshot.

While I was watching that very inspiring moment, I reflected on how it would feel to stand before the president and be praised like that in front of the whole nation. I know I would never experience that because I’m nowhere near becoming an athlete. I’m just a normal guy who loves watching them. If Hidilyn Diaz won a gold medal for weightlifting, I can win a gold medal in weight gaining. However, I came to a great realization (and I believe that it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me of this): I AM ALSO AN ATHLETE.

Yes, I am! That’s what the Holy Spirit reminded me of. But I am not a sports athlete (the Holy Spirit agrees that I am hopeless in sports). Rather, He reminded me that I am God’s athlete and I am competing for something bigger than the Olympics: I AM COMPETING FOR THE GLORY OF JESUS CHRIST. And it’s not just me. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their only hope for salvation is also an athlete for Him. But what does it mean exactly to be an Athlete for God?

The concept of being an Athlete for God can be found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. It says:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

In context, its author, Paul, is encouraging the Corinthian church to persevere in their Christian faith. To explain it, he used the analogy of a competitive athlete. According to Paul, the Christian life is like a race (in their cultural context, this is probably Marathon). In any sports competition, athletes must train hard if they want to win. Just like Paul said, only one receives the prize. Therefore, the goal of the competition is to push the athletes to their limits and bring out the best in them (for it is only the best among them who will win). Therefore, athletes sacrifice a lot of time in training and practice. They discipline themselves and work very hard. Unlike normal people who practice sports for recreation, competitive athletes practice for excellence. And here’s the funny part: according to Paul, they do it for a “perishable wreath.” In other words, a temporary earthly reward. While some may argue that the glory of winning is what matters, it is still temporary. For example, we don’t even know everyone who won gold medals from the last 2016 Rio Olympics. So how much more for these athletes from Paul’s time? Our generation doesn’t even know that they’ve existed. Just like what the Book of Ecclesiastes is teaching, everything in this world is meaningless and will be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

The main point is this: GOD WANTS US TO BE SERIOUS IN OUR CHRISTIAN LIFE. When our winning athletes were interviewed, they all claimed that they were doing it for the glory of our nation (and I believe them). In our case, God wants us to do it for His glory. He wants us to consider ourselves as His athletes that represent and competes for Him. In 1 Corinthians 9, the context of persevering like an athlete is about sharing the Gospel.

“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
– 1 Corinthians 9:23

Today, many Christians are complacent. They think that the Christian life is just about attending Sunday services. As long as they attend every Sunday, they are doing fine. No, that’s not it. First and foremost, we are on a mission. Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples” all over the world (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus wants us to share the good news of His salvation and make disciples who will make disciples. Jesus wants the good news about Him to spread like a massive wildfire to the entire planet. To further motivate us, just like with the Olympic athletes, God promised to give us rewards. Many passages in the Bible talk about the heavenly rewards for God’s faithful servants. For example, there is the very popular Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). There’s also this verse from Revelation which explicitly reveals the promise of rewards.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.” – Revelation 22:12 NIV

In the area of discipleship, this passage from 1 Peter 5 teaches that God will reward those who will faithfully take care of God’s flock (the Church). God promised to give them one of the Five Crowns, the Unfading Crown of Glory.

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” – 1 Peter 5:1-4

So let’s summarize it.

Every believer is an Athlete for God and the Christian life is the race. Just as Paul taught, our goal is to finish the race by keeping our faith in Jesus until we meet Him face to face.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7

Unlike the Olympics, there is no gold, silver, and bronze medal here. Everyone who will finish the race will win a reward. The magnitude of the reward will be based upon what we do for God. If we serve God faithfully to the best that we can, we can expect to be handsomely rewarded. But if we are going to be lazy and complacent, then we will receive little to no reward at all. The Parable of the Talents proves this (that one man who received one talent and did nothing) as well as the passage from 1 Corinthians 3:15.

“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw —each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

– 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

This is why Paul is teaching us to discipline ourselves like an athlete. He wants us to imitate their determination and perseverance and apply it to our Christian lives. He wants us to finish the race and work hard for God’s heavenly rewards that will surely last for eternity.

An artist’s depiction of the awarding in Heaven. Credits to the owner of the image.

As I close, I am hoping that this article has made you realize that we are Athletes for God. We are in a race. A race to remain faithful to God until He returns. When I saw that inspiring moment when our president praised our winning athletes in front of the whole nation, I also pondered on how incredibly inspiring it would be when God praises and rewards us in front of His entire Heavenly Kingdom! So let’s persevere! Let’s be serious in our Christian faith. Let’s do our best and serve God faithfully. We may not win luxurious rewards here on earth, but what awaits us in Heaven is way, way better! Let’s live in the way that when we finally meet God, He will honor us with the best praise ever:

“WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!
ENTER INTO THE JOY OF YOUR MASTER!!”

God Bless!! 🙂

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