February is upon us and this month it’s hard not to think of sports. Beginning with the Super Bowl (where did my Broncos go?), and now 16 days of the Olympics. Sports are a wonderful source of great metaphors, and of course, St. Paul was no stranger to the sports metaphor. At least five times in the Scriptures, he uses sports metaphors, racing and even boxing, to encourage fellow believers to run the race to the finish for an imperishable prize, the crown of righteousness that is salvation by faith, trusting in the work done for us by Y’shua.
I couldn’t help think of this as I watched Czech snowboarder Sarka Pancochova last night. As I watched her fall, hitting her head so hard on that track, and watching her lay there for what seemed too long, all I could do is pray and hope she would be well. The camera panned in on her and we all saw her helmet, cracked wide open.
Prior to this, seeing her snowboard in an earlier run, I marveled at the ability she and others have to control their bodies to such a degree as to defy gravity and do such amazing things as they do on these slopes. I remarked how much I would love to experience that rush, but as I watched her lay on that snow, I was brought up short as I thought how risky the race is and what could be at stake. Praise God, after a short time, Sarka got up and then finished her run, unaided, and by God’s grace seems well today. She may have come in fifth, but for her to finish that race was enough!
When Paul talks about the perishable wreath that runners run to gain, he is, I’m sure, alluding to the Olympics, which were going on in Greece during Paul’s time. For Olympic athletes today this perishable wreath might be a medal. But it is more than that. It is representing your country, it is pushing yourself, it is competing for the sheer joy of the sport. And all of these things are wonderful. We so enjoy watching others do things that most of us will never do! But Paul reminds us that, while all these things are good, they are perishable.
The real race is one that we are all running. And this race does have its risks and even, humanly, its cost. Societal pressure, reasonable arguments, and even physical persecution can serve to cause some to stop running, sit back and watch others do what they may never do. And for those of us who run, wearing the helmet of salvation, the world can make us fall, and even to seemingly crack our helmet wide open. But, like Sarka, boarding to the finish with a cracked helmet, we too, by God’s grace, get up, and continue to run. Our joy is to finish the course, and the ministry that God gives us, to testify to the gospel and the grace of God. See you at the finish!