The 31st Olympic Games opened Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For 16 days, citizens in over 200 nations around the world are glued to their televisions, waiting to see whether their athletes will win gold, silver, and bronze medals.

Hearing the stories behind these athletes is inspiring. Many have committed their entire lives to winning a medal at the Olympic Games. As we watch, we see the stories of their incredible discipline, perseverance, and self-control on the road to the Games. Day in and day out, while the rest of us sleep, work, and socialize, these athletes hit the track, the pool, the court, the gym. All without an audience. They show us the vision, passion, and hope humans can have to reach for their dreams.

Like we do today, the apostle Paul admired how hard athletes train to compete and win at the Games. The Greeks were holding the ancient Olympic Games while much of the Bible was unfolding. The Olympiad was actually one of four major athletic events in Greece. Another was the Isthmian Games, hosted every 2 years by the city of Corinth. Paul knew that city very well. So when he later wrote them a letter, the Games readily came to mind.

The athletes were a great example to Paul of what life with God looks like. In their tireless physical dedication, Paul saw the sacrifices that steadfast spirituality required. He wasn’t telling the Corinthians they could save themselves through a lot of tough training; he was reminding them that many daily pressures and concerns could easily distract them away from God.

Sticking with God requires discipline—sometimes Olympic levels of discipline. But by God’s grace and with God’s help, “he’ll always be there to help you come through it,” as Paul wrote.

Read Paul’s words about the importance of spiritual training, and let this year’s Olympians inspire you in your faithfulness to God.

1 Corinthians 9:24–10:13

You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God’s fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did—“First the people partied, then they threw a dance.” We must not be sexually promiscuous—they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.

These are all warning markers—DANGER!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.

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