Some Things God Wants Us to Learn from Athletics

One of the apostle Paul’s favorite metaphors is that of a competitor in an athletic contest. Paul clearly was familiar with running (Galatians 2:2), boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26), wrestling (Ephesians 6:12), and probably gladiatorial contests (1 Corinthians 4:9; 15:32) and chariot races (Philippians 3:13-14). Consider the following passages, and some practical lessons God would have us learn from sports:1

  • Rigorous training, with delayed gratification, is required for success. “[T]rain yourself for godliness; for 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 4:7-8). Are we dedicated Bible students?
  • Singleness of mind, or focus, is required for success. “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26). Are we distracted by this world?
  • Streamlining is required for success. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Are we harboring sins that will keep us from living effectively for the Lord?
  • Self-control is required for success. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. . . . I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25, 27). Are we controlling our desires so that we can live rightly?
  • Adherence to the rules is required for success. “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24). Do we ignore some biblical passages even though they are binding on us?
  • Perseverance or endurance is required for success. “[L]et us run with endurance the race that is set before us. . . . Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1-3). Are we determined never to give up, in view of the fact that Christ did not give up when He suffered?

The stakes in the Christian race, or the Christian fight, are high (Ephesians 6:12). If we strive faithfully to follow Christ, our reward will not be a trophy or temporary popularity, but an imperishable crown of life in heaven (1 Timothy 4:8). Let us, therefore, examine ourselves today and see whether there are any factors in our lives that would keep us from being successful in the Christian race (2 Corinthians 13:5).


  1. This article is adapted from Ryken, et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1998), 54. 

- 2017