Officials, administrators and referees are appointed to ensure that the rules are upheld. All sports have a body that has overall responsibility for the running of that sport.
These rules exist to make sure that all who compete know what is expected of them: what they can do and what they are not allowed to do. This ensures no misunderstanding and that all compete fairly, having the same opportunity. There is a phrase that is much used today when people talk about ‘a level playing field’. That provides a good summary of what the rules are intended to do, for it would be quite unfair in a competitive field game if one side was playing uphill and the other side had the advantage of playing downhill.
Every aspect of the race, game, jump or throw is covered in the rules, not only when the sport is taking place, but also,
- how it should start,
- what should be worn, and
- how it should finish
The list of rules and regulations can go on and on. If a competitor breaks those rules and tries to gain an unfair advantage, officials are there to decide what penalty should be applied. This generally depends on how seriously the rules have been abused. Once the athlete starts to compete, the rules become second nature to them. It’s not a matter of rigidly following them, but of developing a life of dedicated service to achieve the goal. For example, if there are prohibited substances, including some medication, then the athlete will choose food and medicine accordingly. These become life-long habits.
The Spiritual Athlete
As with the natural so with the spiritual athlete – up to a point anyway! The rules of a spiritual athlete are God’s rules contained in the Bible, the Word of God. We, as spiritual athletes, must develop the pattern of behaviour prescribed in the Bible if we are to be rewarded. The apostle Paul wrote these words of advice about God’s rule book, when writing to a young disciple:
From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15–17).
All that we need to be complete and thoroughly equipped is provided for us by God in His Word. The goal that God offers is everlasting life in God’s future kingdom which is to be established on earth. This is explained in more detail elsewhere in this magazine but this is how the Bible – the “Holy Scriptures”, as Paul calls them – can make us wise unto this salvation offered by God. It explains what God is doing to bring about a new society on earth and tells us what sort of spiritual attitude we need to cultivate. Here is the apostle’s comment on his own mental state:
I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
The Starting Line
In both quotations referred to above the apostle Paul refers to the importance of Jesus Christ.
- In 2 Timothy 3, verse 15, the salvation offered to us is through faith in Jesus Christ.
- In Philippians 3, verse 14, the call of God is in Christ Jesus.
Here we find the ‘starting line rule’. Our race must commence with a faith in Jesus Christ. We can only be saved by believing in Jesus and accepting his teachings.
The Bible tells us that we acknowledge our faith in Jesus Christ by being baptised. Every reference in the Bible to baptism is where someone is at an age to understand what they are doing by being baptised. It is a deliberate act and signifies that we knowingly start the race of our lives, trying to follow the example of Jesus in all that we do. The apostle Peter, at the end of the third chapter of his first letter, describes baptism as the answer of a good conscience toward God. It is the right way to start our race and Jesus showed us it is the right thing to do when he was himself baptised.
References to athletes and athletic endeavour are not merely topical, because of the Olympic Games. This is a Bible theme, which itself reminds us that competitive games have been around for a long time, in one form or another. Here’s the apostle Paul again:
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:4–5).
What is really interesting is that some of the rules of the race in Christ are different from those that apply to an athlete competing in worldly races. We must run according to God’s rules in the Bible, or risk disqualification.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2).
Once again we see Jesus as our example in the way we run our race. Notice also that we are to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul gives us a list of what we should
avoid, classing these things as “the works of the flesh”, and then he provides a list of better qualities that we should aim to practice. These positive rules are described as “the fruit of the spirit”.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:19–23).
This “fruit of the Spirit” introduces a totally different concept. It’s not all about competition and beating the other athlete. God’s rules mean that we should be seeking God’s righteousness, doing what is right and pleasing in His sight. Rather than beat the other athlete, we are to help each other on the road towards the glorious goal of a place in God’s coming Kingdom. Ours should be a life of genuine dedication to God, seeking first His kingdom.
During the ministry of Jesus, a lawyer approached Jesus and asked him, which is the greatest commandment in the law? The response by Jesus gives us a succinct summary of the rules that apply to the spiritual athlete.
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
So if we are to compete in the race of life according to God’s rules we must start by reading God’s Word, the Bible. If we accept its teaching and we want to follow Jesus Christ in our lives, the start of our race is baptism. That is how we start a new life in a relationship with Almighty God, made possible by the saving work of the Lord Jesus. It is a wonderful comfort for us to know that God, who sets the rules, wants us all to succeed. As Jesus said:
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
God has a purpose with the earth He created which involves all those who really want to be part of the future He has planned. For, when Jesus returns to rule as King, he will raise his faithful followers who are now asleep in death and he will give to all those who are judged faithful the wonderful gift of everlasting life in a perfect world.
In that way God will be glorified and His way will be shown to be the right way for all mankind. A loving God asks for our loving response, so that we can spend eternity together.