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"God answers my prayers everywhere except on the golf-course."

Billy Graham

Competing as an athlete

Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules 2 Timothy 2:5

Paul makes a number of references to athletes in his letters. (See 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 2:2, Philippians 2:14-16, 3:13-14, and 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Some people study these passages and hope to find in them Paul’s theology of sport. In our view writing a theology of sport is far from Paul’s purpose.

In 2 Timothy 2:4-6. Paul is no more wanting to teach us about sport than is he constructing a theology of the military or of farming. In Romans 11:23-24 is Paul teaching us how to grow olives! In all of the references to athletes Paul is using a sporting analogy to teach spiritual truth. In none of them is his aim to teach us about sport.

In 2 Timothy 2 he is saying that you need the focus of the soldier, the self-discipline of the athlete and the hard-work of a farmer to be a successful Christian worker.

Paul is encouraging Timothy to devote his life to gospel work, to representing Christ here on earth. In asking Timothy to learn from the athlete, what in particular does he have in mind? What does “competing according to the rules“ mean for Timothy?

At the simplest the athlete must be honest and not cheat; the Christian leader must have a similar standard of integrity. One of the rules of the ancient Olympics was that an athlete had to swear that he had been in training for 10 months in preparation for the games. Timothy is being told that a lot of self-discipline and commitment to the teaching of Jesus is necessary if he is to gain God’s approval as a Christian leader.

A BBC commentator remarked as one of the rowing finals was about to start that it had only taken the British crew 3,200 training sessions to get to the finals (2 a day for 4 years). As sportspeople we understand that success in sport does not come easily but requires endless repetitions. While our salvation is instant and totally by grace, our growth in Christ requires effort and self discipline

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