The daughter of one of our employees was a contestant recently in the Miss America Beauty Pageant. She placed, but the third runner up for Miss California does not receive a crown. Only the winner is crowned.
As we write this article, the summer Olympics have just finished in London, England. It is an interesting fact that London is the only city to have had three Olympics in its history. The stark reality that all those hundreds of participating athletes had to face is that in the Olympics just the top three winners are given medals, and only one wins the gold.
The Olympics in Paul’s day were also well known; they had been celebrated every four years for hundreds of years, and would be held for many more centuries. Only the winner was recognized, as Paul points out, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” The Olympic winners in Paul’s day were given a crown of leaves to wear, a crown that would wither and fade in time. Like the crown, the memory of who those winners were has also largely faded.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul compares his race to the kingdom with an athlete competing in a race: “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Think of the thousands of athletes that have trained, often for years, just to compete in Olympic Games. They certainly can say that they did not run aimlessly but that they trained their bodies to compete for the prize they sought. Many gold medals were awarded in the various sports, and just like the runners in Paul’s day, only one in each event got the top prize. A few milliseconds often can be the difference between top honors and bitter disappointment.
How different the Olympics are compared to the race that we are engaged in. Every one of us is a participant in the race for eternal life, and it is God’s good pleasure to give all of us the greatest prize ever offered to mankind. We all can be winners. God actually wants each of us to be in His kingdom. He wants us to live forever. The prize will not fade, and we will not be forgotten.
If we are not accepted, it certainly won’t be His fault, nor the fault of His Son who gave his life so that we could be there. As Jesus tells us: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Peter confirms the words of Jesus when he explains, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” As incredible as it may seem, our Lord God, the almighty Creator of heaven and earth, wants us to be saved and live eternally, and has made vast preparations for us to succeed and to be in His kingdom, which He has prepared for those that love Him.
Sadly, those who will be rejected at the return of His Son from heaven will be those who did not actually want to be in the Kingdom: that is, they did not want it badly enough to give it top priority. There will be something in their lives that they have wanted more than the kingdom. If the kingdom is not first in our life, it makes no difference where it ranks because we will not be granted admittance unless it is absolutely first. Certainly we have needs — food, clothing, homes, and other things, but Jesus tell us to seek first the kingdom of God and then all these other things will be added unto us.
Have we considered what takes up our time each day — the things of the world or the things of the kingdom? Jesus did not say that we should not serve both God and mammon. He said that we cannot. It is a sobering exercise to keep a log of our activities and consider the number of minutes we devote each day to serving our God. We make it obvious what we truly love to be doing because that is what we do with our free time. What are we saying about our priorities when we choose our activities?
Serving our God and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, cannot play second fiddle to our other interests, and they know clearly right now where we have ranked serving them in our everyday lives. Let each of us resolve to put the kingdom first in our thinking and in our doing.
How thankful we are that our Heavenly Father and His Son want us in the kingdom. All we have to do is make sure that our goal is the same as theirs and make seeking the kingdom of God first in our lives. We pray that we will hear those longed for words from the lips of our Lord: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Robert J. Lloyd