A Voice in the
Wilderness

site navigation

free newsletter

" Gold or Bronze? "


"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives
the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who
competes for the prize controls himself in all things. Now they do it
to obtain a perishable crown, but we an imperishable.  Therefore I run
in this manner: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who
beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection,
lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become
disqualified." (1Cor9:24-27)

Since Paul makes comparisons between the Christian life and the Roman
games (perhaps, even, the "Olympics"?), there is no reason we cannot,
also. Recently we have been reminded of the 'spirits' of the Olympic
games. Back in Paul's day they would have been specifically worshiping
Zeus.  One response to the recent commentary "Carry the Spirit" said
that they don't even follow 'any' of the Olympics. I trust that any
others of like-mind with them won't be offended if we make some
observations here.  Once a person gets past the pagan worship and into
the games themselves, many of the athletic events, themselves, are
fascinating to follow, on a purely athletic and artistic basis.

As this is being written (2-22-02), 'last night' the women's figure 
skating queen, Michelle Kwan was dethroned. The teen-age "kid", Sarah 
Hughes, skated a dazzling flawless performance. Michelle fell at one of 
her spins.  Sarah won Gold.  Michelle did not get the Gold she had 
hoped for. She got Bronze.  At the medal ceremony, Michelle was crying, 
continually dabbing at her nose. She was ON THE PODIUM, and won one of 
the top spots, -above- ALL THE REST of the skaters at the Olympics...  
and beyond that, all the US skaters she had come up through the ranks
to get -to- the Olympics. But in her eyes, having won Bronze, not Gold,
she "lost". She REALLY WANTED that GOLD! Judging by her sorrow, she
might as well have not even been at the Olympics, because she fell.
Anything less than Gold was as 'defeat'!  The rest of her program was
not top-notch, either. She messed up, and she knew it.

Earlier in the games, a Canadian pair skated a flawless performance.  
The Russian pair, while otherwise usually top-notch, had some bobbles
in their performance. But unfair judging gave Gold to Russia, and
Silver to Canada. I haven't heard anybody else make this observation,
but it was my impression while watching, that if a person was watching
body-language on that medal podium, the Russians -knew- they did not
'deserve' the Gold they were being given. I kept hoping during that
medal ceremony that perhaps the Russians would do "the-right-thing" and
before all the world, hand their Gold medals to the Canadians and
exchange for their Silver. But they did not. The Canadians, knowing
their own performance was worthy of Gold, were crying. They had been
'cheated' out of something they rightfully deserved. If you've kept
track of things, you know the Canadians eventually were rewarded their
Gold.

Another sport that I have only this year begun to appreciate... the
short-track speed skating. The other day in the one race, as they were 
rounding the last turn, heading to the finish line, the 1st-place 
Korean extended his skate into the 2nd-place American's "lane". The 
Korean did not follow the 'rules'. He was "disqualified". He didn't get 
-any- medal. Consequently, the American won Gold. If the Korean hadn't,
essentially, illegally 'blocked' the American from passing, he could
have at least had Silver. But he broke the rules, and won -nothing-!

And who can forget the scandal years ago with Tanya Harding! Some from
her 'organization' bludgeoned the knee of her arch-rival. Through legal
manipulations, she was allowed to participate in those Olympics anyway.
But 'justice' caught up with her when her skate laces broke, and after
all the build-up to the moment of competition, in front of the whole
world, she was humiliated to tears. She won -nothing-! Many were the
thoughts that, 'She got what she deserved!'

We can learn some things about the Kingdom of Heaven from these
examples:


Kwan messed up. If she had not fallen, it was assumed she would have 
won Gold. But she fell. The whole world saw it. She knew it. Unlike 
some of the other delegations who complain at the judges, she -knew-
the verdict was just. Even her own lips confessed her failure.

    "..that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become
    guilty before God." (Rom3:19b) "..who show the work of the Law
    written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and
    their thoughts meanwhile accusing or else excusing themselves) in
    the day when God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus
    Christ..." (Rom2:15-16)

Scripture speaks much of "judgment". Many people think that it is such
a "cruel" God, who is so mean and harsh. They don't like such a 'god'.
But, judging is not necessarily for the purpose of 'condemning', but to
ascertain the quality, of "what sort it is". (1Cor3:13) When God
"looked down from the height of His sanctuary.." (Ps102:19) He not only
looks to see if any are righteous (14:2), but He also sees the
"groaning" of those appointed to death. God does not desire the "death
of the wicked". (Eze18:23) Notice again Ps14:2. God is not seeking
people to destroy. What is He looking for? "..To see if there are any 
who understand, who seek God." True worshipers worship God "in spirit 
and truth", and notice, "for the Father -seeks-such- to worship Him." 
(Jn4:23)  When a person stands condemned before God, their own heart 
and conscience will -know- their guilt. God will not need to persuade 
them of it.


When the Canadian pair were not rightfully awarded Gold, while their
organization lodged a complaint, the skaters comported themselves with
graciousness. Yes, they were crying, that they had been cheated. But
they did not take matters into their own hands.

    "..let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause.." (Pr1:11)
    "Wait upon Jehovah; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen
    your heart; wait, I say, upon Jehovah!" (Ps27:14)

I'm not going to pretend to be an 'expert' here. The incident is still 
being investigated, and they say the whole matter will continue at 
least until April. But, allegations of vote fixing, collusions... even 
telephone threats to the Canadian pair after some previous European 
competition they won, in a heavy eastern European accent, telling them 
they would not win at the Olympics. It is all rather seedy and sordid.  
But the psalmist says much about collusions of his enemies. Many of the 
Psalms were written when David was on-the-run from Saul, who was after 
his life to kill him. What was his fault? God had rejected Saul for his 
wickedness, and David was to be his successor. No fault or aspirations 
of David, himself.  God had called David from being a 'simple' shepherd
boy, to become Israel's king. But the journey there was frought with 
dangers and attempts upon David's life. But David learned not to 
"avenge himself". "..let Jehovah avenge me on you. But my hand shall 
not be against you." (1Sam24:12) He learned to "wait..upon Jehovah"; 
because "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Rom12:19) 
"And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself 
will be exalted." (Mt23:12)  They behaved themselves with dignity, and 
at the right time, then, it was said to them, "Friend, go up higher. 
Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table 
with you." (Lk14:10)


The Korean officials have been whining and pouting that Gold should be
awarded to the skater who reaches the finish line first, instead of the
home-arena "favorite". While my eyes saw what looked like the beginings
of a hockey-style body block, the judges (as was replayed on slo-mo
video) saw the Korean's skate intrude into the American's "lane". That
would be like a "foul" in basketball; take a free-throw. In baseball,
the pitcher clips the batter's shoulder; take first base.

    "And he said to those who stood by, Take the mina from him, and
    give it to him who has ten minas.  But they said to him, Master, he
    has ten minas.  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be
    given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be
    taken away from him." (Lk19:24-26)

Was this the same Korean who had fallen and caused a big crash/pile-up 
a few days earlier; including causing a cut on the American's leg?  Had 
his skate 'tripped' the American, there would have been another crash.  
One cannot compete 'fairly' by cheating and harming others. Many have 
the appearance of being on their way to Heaven, but they are trying to 
get there, "some other way". (Jn10:1) They appear to be at the 
head-of-the-pack, but hidden underneath, is subterfuge.  "And also if
anyone competes, he is not crowned unless he competes -lawfully-."
(2Tim2:5) Gotta play by the rules, or you get disqualified.  Oh, but... 
that is so narrow and strict. Look, see? He was in front. He was 
'winning'...  and you want to disqualify him, and give his medal to the 
"home-favorite"?  Yes, take the mina and give it to him with ten.


Oh, and then, to ancient history. Tanya! She manipulated politics and
legalities, and got admitted to the Olympics, even though she (and/or
somebody of her organization) should have been serving prison time for
what they did. But...

    "..then afterward you may return and be blameless before Jehovah
    and before Israel...  But if you do not do so, then take note, you
    have sinned against Jehovah; and BE SURE YOUR SIN WILL FIND YOU
    OUT." (Num32:22-23)

Her treachery caught up to her!


Let's leave specific incidents now, and speak of athletic competition,
in general, and the awarding of medals. How does it all relate to a
person's attaining to the Kingdom of Heaven? Just a few closing
thoughts:

For many of the timed events, winners are calculated by the 
'hundredths' of seconds. That is so close that the ancient ways of 
stopwatches are not accurate enough. A judge's reflexes to "push" the 
clock's button would have much wider margins of error, than the 
tolerances by which some races are finalized... bobsled, super-G, etc. 
What is the difference between Gold and Bronze? Maybe .02 seconds? 

All the competitors are "close" to each other. Even the ones that don't 
qualify for the Olympics. Some 12 years ago when some of the Korea 
Olympic cycling trials were held in the Spokane area, and I was helping 
ferry officials around on the back of the motorcycle, I can tell you 
for a fact that every single one of those cyclists (even the ones who
didn't qualify) could ride circles around me. They ride faster uphill
than I can ride my bicycle downhill.  When tracking those heats down
the curving mountain roads at 60+ mph, they were 'all' going similar
speeds. But only a "few" make it onto each nation's Olympic "team". And
once at the Olympics, out of those "few" from each nation, fewer still,
actually get to stand on the podium. And those who don't make the
podium, even though they can ride circles around me, are considered the
"LOSERS".

And so, the winner of Bronze, standing up there, CRYING because they 
'lost' and didn't win Gold..? They -ARE- "WINNERS". They "WON" a
medal...  which is more than all those other hundreds can say.

Perhaps, however, this will illustrate for us Jesus' words that only
the "few" find their way to eternal life. (Mt7:14) It is a "narrow"
gate and "distressing is the way which leads unto life". All those
other hundreds who were called "Olympians" did not win. In the same
way, not everyone who calls themself a "Christian" is getting into
Heaven, either. Only "few" are finding it!

What is so "distressing" about the way to Life? Aside from the
"affliction" which Jesus promised (Jn16:33), there is the preparation
that athletes rigor themselves with. (Yes, I know I just used a noun as
a verb there; but then, I do a lot of things 'wrong' when I write, to
make certain points.) 'Rigor' includes, "adversity, difficulty,
discipline, discomfort, hardness, severity". While I loath any kind of
'sport' whose sole goal is to bash the opponent's brains in, Paul uses
terminology from boxing: "Therefore I run in this manner: not with
uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I
discipline my body.." (1Cor9:26-27) Some boxers before going into the
ring, bash themselves in their own faces, to 'toughen' themselves for
the bout. The finest Samurai swords were forged with metal being heated
red-hot, and then 'beaten' on the anvil, folded, reheated, and pounded
some more. The heat and pounding would create the finest steel. My
uncle (now dead) who used to be a piano technician, one time said to me
about piano strings, that they were the "pride of the American steel
industry". The absolutely 'finest' quality steel available. How is it
formed? With intense heat of the blast furnace. Fine jewelry is formed
by melting the gold/silver, purging off the dross till the metal is
"pure", and then molded and 'beat' with hammers, till it becomes the
costly jewelry the rich lust after. Diamonds, perhaps the finest jewel 
in existence, formed under the most intense head and pressure. It 
starts out as a "black" coal-like substance, and when it comes out the 
process, is dazzlingly white and brilliant as it refracts the light.

That is what a Christian is. A Christian is one of the "few". A 
Believer when standing on the Podium and hearing Christ's "well done, 
good and faithful servant" (Mt25) has been through the refining fires; 
has been pounded, both from external sources and from self-discipline 
and self-control. (Gal5:23)  And as that beautiful "royal diadem" 
(Is62:3), the beauty that all of creation sees in us is not our own. We
were that black piece of coal. But through Christ's work in us, we
sparkle -His- radiance. In the darkness a diamond is just as dark as 
everything else. But when the light hits it, that's when it sparkles. A 
Believer is one who radiates Jesus Christ.

Now, when a Believer is standing on that Podium, will it be for Gold or 
Bronze? Many will be receiving Bronze, and will be crying because they 
didn't win Gold. Notice that it says, "..and the Lord Jehovah will wipe
away tears from all faces.." (Is25:8) But... they MADE IT! They are not
in the Lake of Fire. They are on the "Podium"... in Heaven!

The Christian life has been likened to building. Is one building with
gold, silver and precious stones, or wood, hay and stubble? What
materials withstand the "distressing" path through the "narrow gate"?
Some are building, they made it -to- the 'games'. But didn't qualify
for anything. Their wood and straw got whisped away in smoke. They only
make it "yet so as through fire"...they do not receive a "reward".
(1Cor3:14-15)

The goal of each Believer should be... "Therefore we also, since we are 
surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [the grand stands of 
spectators in the heavenlies], let us lay aside every weight 
[streamline the attire and equipment for least wind resistance], and 
the sin which so persistently harasses us [shut out the distractions of 
opponents and refrain from training violations], and let us run with 
perseverance [until our mouths start foaming due to the exertion] the 
race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher
of our faith.." (Heb12:1-2a)

Oh, but... I don't need to worry. I -got- saved (la dee da), and am on 
'gospel train', being served by the stewards and relaxing my way to
Heaven! ...?

"Brethren, I do not count myself to have laid hold;  but one thing I 
do, forgetting those things which are behind and stretching forward to 
those things which are ahead, I press toward a goal for the prize of 
the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Php3:13-14)

Amen!

Return to: Commentaries