Do you know what these people have in common with Olympic Gold medalist Michael Phelps? Joe Clarke? Michael Jung? Rafaela Silva? Mack Horton? Sukanya Srisurat? And Hoang Xuan Vihn?
Now, if you said each won an Olympic gold medal in Rio you’d be right! But do you know where they are from and what sport they medaled in?
Respectively they are from Great Britain. Germany. Brazil, Australia. Thailand. Vietnam. And the events in which they won the gold? Kayak. Equestrian. Weightlifting. Shooting. Judo. And swimming.
When we think of Olympic gold medalists we think of Katie Ledecky. Gabby Douglas. Usain Bolt. Simone Biles. And, of course, Michael Phelps. We think of Swimming. Gymnastics. Track and Field. And hopefully Basketball.
Yet, the household names have one thing in common with the lesser known athletes. All were going for the gold. They wanted to excel. And be winners.
I think of the unknown Bible people like Urbanus. Stachys. Rufus. Julia. Hermes. Olympas. Herodion. They are all mentioned by Paul in Romans 16. But who knows them? Obscure names. Unheralded Christians. Unsung disciples. But just like Peter, Paul and John, they were going for the gold. They were seeking the goal of heaven. They were enrolled in God’s spiritual Olympics.
The Bible speaks of the Christian life in athletic metaphors of running or boxing. Just like the athlete competes to win the prize, so we are seeking to come out on top at the end of life’s journey. Our gold medal is heaven. In fact, John in the Revelation speaks of heaven as having streets like pure gold.
It reminds me of the story of the rich man who was near death. He was grieved that he was leaving behind all of his riches that he had worked so hard to accumulate. So, he earnestly prayed that he could take it with him. God hears his plea and sends an angel to inform him that he would be allowed to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed the man packs the largest suitcase he can find with pure gold bars.
After he dies and shows up at the gates of heaven, Peter meets him and says “You can’t bring that in here!” The man explains he had permission. And after checking, Peter says “That’s right. But I must inspect the contents of the suitcase.”
As Peter opens the suitcase to see what worldly items the man found too precious to leave behind, he exclaims, “You brought pavement!”
For all of their glory, value and prestige, the Olympic gold medal will pale into just pavement in the next life. And of what value will be our stuff? Our antiques? Collections? Clothes? Cars? Houses? One day it will come our time to leave it all behind. Then what? Will we foolishly think we can take it with us?
So the question comes what are we living for? What is life’s race about? Are we going for the gold that perishes? Or the gold of heaven’s eternal city?
The world is still filled with men and women unknown to the world who are heaven’s gold medal winners. They’re unsung heroes and heroines of faith. Do you have a Stachys in your church Family? A Rufus? A Julia? They’re good people. They’re God’s people. They’re training. Striving. And running the spiritual race. Encourage them. Cheer for them. Join them!
Together we can cross the finish line. We can all receive the prize! We can all be gold medal winners. Using the imagery of the orginal Olympic games, the apostle Paul shares his winning stragedy we can employ today.
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:25-27)
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman