Don’t just watch the Olympics. Be a part.
The Christian can enjoy the Games with more substance and depth than anyone. Here’s a call to Olympic viewing with spiritual significance.
Our God and his Book give us unmatched capacities to experience the Olympiad — to share in the experience of the Winter Games in Sochi without making a costly and frightful trip to Russia. The only prerequisites are a television and faith in the true Savior of the world.
1. Hear the Voice of God.
The Bible is explicit about the Games. The ancient Olympiad was common knowledge in the first century, just as the modern one is today. For more than a millennium, the Games happened every four years in Greece. Everyone knew about the Olympics. “Everyone who competes in the games,” writes the apostle Paul, “exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Here he encourages the Christian to see through the Games to ultimate reality. The apostle, explains John Piper, took the well-known Olympics and
taught the Christians to transpose them into a different level, and to see in the games a reality very different than everyone else is seeing. He said in effect, “The games are played at this level of reality. They run at this level. They box at this level. They train and practice and deny themselves at this level. They set their sights on gold at this level.
“Now I want you to see all that at another level. I want you to transpose the temporary struggles and triumphs of the Olympic Games onto a different level of reality — the level of spiritual life and eternity and God. When you see the athletes run, see another kind of running. When you see them boxing, see another kind of boxing. When you see them training and denying themselves, see another kind of training and self-denial. When you see them smiling with a gold medal around their neck, see another kind of prize.”
Piper boils it down to this counsel for Olympic watching: “Every time you turn the television set on, I want you to hear God talking to you through the games. . . . You will see the path of discipline and pain that athletes are willing to pursue for one gold medal and an hour in the glory of human praise. I urge you as you watch to transpose what you see from games into ultimate reality” (“Olympic Spirituality”).
2. See the Grandeur of God.
There’s a bigness to the Olympiad that captivates us. It comes with a kind of transcendence that taps into a profound longing in the human soul. On display are the world’s best athletes, and most impressive humans, from most of the globe’s geopolitical nations. The world’s eye fixed on a single object as is rarely the case outside of war. From our limited vantage, few things seem to bring out humanity’s oneness, and feel as globally significant in such a good way, as the Olympic Games.
But as great as the Olympics are, Christians know there is something infinitely greater — Someone infinitely greater. The grandeur of the Games points us to an even greater grandeur. The taste of transcendence can help us see there’s a personal Bigness and Magnitude that doesn’t come and go for a couple weeks every couple years, but is here for our everlasting enjoyment — together with people from every tribe and tongue and nation.
As big as the Olympics feel, as momentous as the gold-medal run may seem at the time, make the effort to pan out with the camera of your mind’s eye to the aerial view. See the smallness of the arena compared to the city of Sochi, then dwarfed by all of Mother Russia, and only a speck compared to the globe. Then consider the smallness of our little terrestrial ball — infinitely tiny — against the massiveness of the universe, and that relativized by the grandeur and value of God.
3. Fight the Fight of Faith.
Olympic glory is for the young, but the Christian “race” is for young and old. While the gold in figure skating and cross-country skiing are only for the planet’s fittest, the spiritual fight of faith is for the healthiest and sickliest, for the physically strong and the weak.
So how is it that an aging or ailing Christian — barely able to walk, much less compete in the giant slalom or on the luge — can have the wherewithal to run? Because the Christian “fight of faith” is not against lost health, but lost hope.
Paul says to protégé Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12), and testifies at the end of his race, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). The Olympics can remind us that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). True saving faith, sustained and empowered by the Holy Spirit, perseveres through as many obstacles as any Olympian, and more.
4. Appreciate the Greatness of Jesus.
Finally, as we honor humanity’s best achievements and brilliance in Sochi — and it’s right to honor such — God means for us to see his achievements and brilliance behind it, and give the greater honor to him. Especially in regards to his Son, the God-man.
Jesus is not just the fellow human of every worldclass athlete, but also their creator. Hebrews 3:3 says, “Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses — as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” Here’s the Olympic connection:
It would be as if the decathlon contestants were gathered together one night bragging about who of them was the greatest, and Jesus was one of the decathlon contestants. And one said, “I threw the javelin farther than anyone else. I’m the greatest.” Another said, “I put the shot farther than anyone else. I’m the greatest.” Another said, “I jumped higher than anyone else. I’m the greatest.” And eventually they all look toward Jesus in his burgundy sweat suit sitting calmly in the corner, and someone says, “What about you?” And Jesus says, “I made all of you. So I’m the greatest.”
Jesus is worthy of as much more glory than every gold medal winner of the Olympics as the builder of a house is worthy of more glory than the house. He made the house. He made Moses. He made the minds and hearts and legs and arms of the Olympic athletes. So Jesus is the greatest. (Piper, Jesus: Worthy of More Glory Than Moses)