It is not only the games of children that God uses to illustrate spiritual reality. He also chose to use the games of adults to communicate His heart. Some Bible commentators have suggested that archery, skillful precision in the use of the sling, and hunting were some of the sports that were casually mentioned in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, the Isthmian and Olympian games of ancient Greece, Rome, Corinth and Ephesus were often cited by the Holy Spirit as illustrations of spiritual realities. We read of spectators and umpires and athletes. References are made contrasting perishable crowns with imperishable crowns. The Apostle Paul described himself as a combatant who was more than a shadow boxer just beating the air. The sport of wrestling was applied to spiritual warfare. John the Baptist was described as fulfilling his course and the testimony of the great Apostle was that he had fought a good fight and had finished his course. What exercise was to the athlete, chastening and discipline was to the Christian.
By far, the most emphasized sport chosen to illustrate spiritual truth was the foot race. Paul reminded the Galatian Christians that they had run well at the beginning and encouraged them to continue to run by the very same principle of grace that started them on their way. The writer of the Book of Hebrews, using the foot race as the illustration, invites the Christian athlete to stay focused on Christ and to lay aside every weight that would slow him down.
John Bunyan will forever be remembered for giving the Church The Pilgrim’s Progress. Among his other writings is a wonderful book titled Heavenly Footmen. In this treatise, Bunyan offers 10 quaint suggestions on how Christians ought to run the race of life. “Mistrust thy own strength and throw it away,” he writes; “strip thyself of those things that may hang upon thee to the hindering of thee in the way.” He continues, “A man would be in danger of losing, though he run, if he fill his pocket with stones, hang heavy garments on his shoulders and great lumpish shoes on his feet.” His ninth suggestion is to “beg of God that He would do these two things for thee; first enlighten thine understanding; and, secondly, inflame thy will.”
I believe the full development of the foot race as an illustration of the Christian experience is given by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Philippians. He knew the Christian life was not a short dash of yards, but it was a race that had to be run by God’s grace until the ribbon was broken by the imminent return of Christ or by the any moment fact of death. He was determined to run, forgetting everything that hindered the race, whether it was a past victory or a past defeat.
“According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20) Paul did not naturally have what it takes to run and win the race; he had what he called “earnest expectation and hope.” In himself, Paul was as chickenhearted as we are. But he was able to run with confidence because He knew God would give him all he needed as he needed it. He expected God to come through. He had hope, so his arms were not limp and his legs were not palsied.
Proverbs 10:23 calls “wisdom” a sport. Let’s make wisdom our favorite sport. Let us run wisely, knowing that, although the race seems long and we seem so ill-prepared to finish the course, we have earnest expectation and hope that we will not run in vain.
I HAVE EARNEST EXPECTATION
for the storms I still must face;
I have not the least endurance
for the last lap of the race!
But I do not fear the future!
What I have, I’ll share with you,
I have earnest expectation
that the Lord will see me through!
I have earnest expectation; I can any trial bear,
I have hope of grace sufficient, anytime and anywhere.
As my day, the Lord has promised,
so my strength shall surely be
I have earnest expectation that the Lord will rescue me!
Not before the sore temptation
will the way to flee appear,
He will walk upon the water when the tempest is severe.
Grace is not like earthly treasure,
which a man can keep in store.
God dispenses grace from Heaven
when you need it — not before!
Why then, should my heart be anxious?
Why torment myself with care?
I have earnest expectation!
When I need Him, He’ll be there!
Every saint can share a story,
how by grace, they have prevailed.
They all sing this testimony,
“Jesus Christ has never failed!”