Preparing for Glory

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 27

This week the words “hope and glory” flashed across my television screen. I was not watching a religious show, but a broadcast of the 2012 Olympics. Above the words was the face of a man in rapturous ecstasy. He had just won a gold medal.

I know the feeling. I experienced it for the first time after having won a yo-yo competition in the mid seventies. I was a mere kid, and that night I went to bed feeling intoxicated. The feeling could best be described as a mixture of bliss and immortality.

But it did not last. And so I had to follow it up with other victories. When victory evaded me I learned to resurrect the feeling by siding with others who were winning, such as a boxer or rugby team. The stadium atmosphere in the face of victory was equally glorious – an experience of joyful communion and collective invincibility.

It took me years to realize that these feelings were religious ones. Like a prophetic dream, they revealed a deep longing within to fight and conquer the enemy, to finish a race, to receive a “crown” (literally a “prize of honour in the public games”).

At the end of his life, Paul used these words again, this time with hindsight: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7).

In the final analysis, the Olympic Games presents us with a parable that can only be decoded in Jesus Christ, and with a startling contrast between the shadow and the real. As Paul said above: “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Strict Training…

The verses above are important as they present one of the clearest contrasts in Scripture between true and false glory (See related posts here and here). Also, they explain why human beings are so obsessed with winning. In the absence of God we try and satisfy the demands of our spiritual instincts by fabricating lookalikes of the divine.

The greatest of human instincts, such as desire and love and fear, are manifestations of our yearning for God. Idolatry is not nearly as crude a thing as we have been led to believe. No, human beings are usually most idolatrous when most sophisticated. The act of substituting God with self is what human history is all about, and we have become extremely good at it.

It is this single-minded focus that Paul addresses in the passage above. If we miss this, we miss Paul’s central point. Whilst the passage in 1 Corinthians 9 presents a striking contrast between two types of running and fighting, and also between two “crowns”, the most important contrast drawn by Paul is between two types of preparation: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training… They do it to… but we do it to.”

It is not only the nature of the competition or the ceremony afterwards that is different in Paul’s analogy. It is the life before. The Christian fights a different enemy, runs a different race, has a different goal, experiences a different hope and anticipates a different glory. As a result, the Christian has a different training program. This is Paul’s point.

What does this program look like? “I beat my body and make it my slave”, Paul says. I subject my human appetites, desires and needs to the heavenly calling.

There is much to be said about this, and I do not wish to do so with this post. The best commentary on these verses, in my view, comes from Watchman Nee. If you are not familiar with his book The Character of God’s Workman, and especially with the section that deals with this issue (chapter 3), I would advice you strongly to read it. Simply click here for chapter 3.

Blessings to all fellow runners and fighters.

(This post appeared in abbreviated form in Bloemnews.)


5 thoughts on “Preparing for Glory

  1. david bolton August 10, 2012 / 10:25 am

    Thanks, Tobie, for expressing so well the kind of thoughts that have been running around inside my head (no pun intended) since the Olympics began. Watching the athletes compete always brings the verses you quoted to mind, along with thoughts from the book of Ecclesiastes concerning the emptiness of the pursuits of “life under the sun.” Granted, the Olympians accomplishments are incredible from a human perspective, and they are enjoyable to watch, but all the training and sacrifice that goes into their “pursuit of glory” is so fleetingly rewarded that I can’t help but feel sorry for them. And for those who don’t win the “gold”, there is always some level of disappointment and heartbreak. Sometimes it’s just a little hop after a landing, too much of a splash on entry, a one hundredth of a second missed in the turn, that makes all the self-denial, sacrifice, and pain of years of training amount to nothing, or next to nothing.
    We as Christians, on the other hand, have a hope of glory that is sure, everlasting, unspeakably glorious, and will not be disappointed. May we run the race with perseverance for the crown that will not fade away!
    Thanks, Tobie, for the post! Blessings.

  2. naturalchurch August 10, 2012 / 10:39 am

    Thanks for the comment, David. Your words highlight an aspect that I have not even considered. To win on this planet, someone else is required to lose. The winner’s joy is directly correlated with the disappointment of the rest. But this is not the case with the eternal crown. We do not receive it at another’s expense. On the contrary, the more we assist others to run and win, the greater our reward will be!

    • david bolton August 10, 2012 / 9:55 pm

      Amen. So true.
      Let’s go for the “gold”, brother! 🙂

  3. Carla Swanepoel August 14, 2012 / 9:48 am

    The terrible struggle of culture is ignited by the demand that what is great should be eternal; for everything else that continues to live cries out.NO! The customary, the small, the common fills every nook and cranny of the world like an oppressive atmosphere we are all condemned to breathe, smoldering around what is great; hindering, choking, suffocating, deadening, smothering, dimming, deluding, it throws itself onto the road the great must travel on the way to immortality. The road goes through human brains! Through the brains of pitiful, short-lived creatures who, given over to their cramped needs, rise again and again to the same afflictions and, with great effort, manage to fend off ruin for a short time. They want to live, to live a bit – at any price. F Nietzsche- On truth and untruth.

    Php_3:14 (KJV) I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
    Heb_12:1 (KJV) Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

    Although my race only started 28 years ago I have been where Heraclitus, Nietzsche (was) and almost every “consumer” paradigm is. And the only thing I could make( out and which is a daily struggle) is that :

    Joh_14:6 (KJV) Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
    1Jn_4:8 (KJV) He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
    Rev_22:13 (KJV) I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

    If you take these verses into the race, it makes more sense why we are doing it.


    • naturalchurch August 14, 2012 / 11:28 am

      Hi Carla. Thanks for the comment. It’s so nice to hear from you! Would love to catch up.

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