Two men, whom we will call Frank and Jim, are playing pool in a bar. Just as Frank takes aim for the 6 ball in the side pocket, an onlooker suggests that he shoot for a corner pocket instead. Frank takes the suggestion and flawlessly makes the shot. However, a foul is called, and Frank loses his next turn.
According to official billiards rules, you cannot take advice mid-match. Check the rule books. It is there.
As Paul writes his last letter to his student Timothy, he makes a third metaphor of the Christian walk. This time, he says, “An athlete who takes part in a contest must obey all the rules in order to win.”
Most of us have played sports before, rather it was a pick-up game of volleyball or a serious soccer match. Competitors must put forth effort in order to win. Professional athletes have a tremendous amount of self-discipline to perform at their best. As Kia has shown, their goal is not just participation; it is victory.
Athletes keep their goal of victory in mind every time they wake up early for extra practice and every time they fall into bed exhausted with sore muscles.
Paul says that the athlete must strive according to the rules. Does this mean that Christians must keep the Ten Commandments in order to enter heaven? Of course not! Another translation puts it this way: “If anyone takes part in an athletic contest, he gets no prize unless he obeys the rules.”
An athlete cannot receive the benefits of his dedication if he does not follow the rules of his sport. In the same way, God has commanded us to do certain things as his children (witness, encourage others, pray, etc.) . Doing these things earns us heavenly rewards.
The athlete’s goal is a perishable crown, an earthly championship trophy.
Our ultimate goal is an imperishable crown in the presence of our Lord.