Yup, it’s there. Paul wrote about the Games to the church at Corinth:

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

The ancient Greek Games began earlier than 776 BC, and they were held in the region of Olympia every four years for the next twelve centuries. This was so important to Greek society that time was measured in “olympiads” rather than in years. These competitions were held in honor of Zeus, the god of that area. The tradition was expanded in 680 BC with celebrations of what were know as the “Isthmus Games,” held the year before and the year after the Olympic Games. The location of these competitive events was the port city of Corinth in honor of that region’s deity, Poseidon, the god of the sea. It’s not a coincidence that it was in his letter to the church in that city that Paul wrote the above words about athletic competition. Apparently, Paul himself had attended the Games, and he could assume that his readers in Corinth would be familiar with them as well.

His observations and the lessons he draws from them are all over the place. He begins with a reference to a running race, in which only one medal is awarded; his advice – run to win! Then he discusses the rigorous self-control and training it takes to be a winner. Next he adds a word about the importance of focusing on the goal, the finish line, so that I’m not running “aimlessly.” Suddenly he turns from the competitive sport of running and finds a metaphor in a boxing match, where the most dangerous enemy may not be my opponent, but my own lack of discipline. He even mentions the possibility that my behavior has the potential to end in my being “disqualified.”


Paul’s apparent confusion in jumping from one sport to another makes sense to a modern Olympics TV fan. I’m feeling as if I’m sitting on a couch next to Paul, and we’re watching the channel “NBC Olympics TV Experience,” where we can view six to eight different events at once, on a split screen. Paul points to sprinters lining up to start a race, then to marathon runners straining for the finish line, then to a pair of boxers leaning on each other in near exhaustion. In each event he finds an analogy to the spiritual challenges I’m facing in my life.

Actually, every competitive event in these Olympic Games is full of lessons God wants to teach me, from the background stories of the individual athletes, to the national pride some of them feel in representing their countries, to the good sportsmanship they show in applauding another person who has outlasted or outstretched them. Tonight, as I’m watching the day’s summary of events, I’m going to imagine Paul next to me, whispering in my ear: “Check that out. This guy has worked hard for four years, controlling his diet, following an extreme exercise regimen, giving up a lot of social activities, and he only came in fourth. Why is he still so happy? Because he knows he gave it his very best.”

Thanks, Paul.

— Pastor George Van Alstine