Lesson #23: Learning to Strain for the Significant


I’m a fan of the Olympic Games. I love watching it. I dream of competing in it. From an earthly perspective, there’s nothing more enjoyable to spectate than the world’s best athletes in peak condition competing against one another for the most coveted of prizes: the Olympic gold medal. Rio was glorious. Tokyo, I hope will be even more so.

And yet, I realize that the work of the man of God is indeed far more significant than the feat of an Olympic athlete, for the prize obtained by the man of God is far more significant and eternally valuable than any Olympic gold medal, whatever the sport. This prize—the salvation of even one soul—is worth infinitely more than an Olympic gold medal or any other worldly achievement after which a man may strive. For while the world roars upon the Olympic athlete’s victory, heavenly hosts rejoice upon the salvation of one sinner. And if the heavenly celebration is far more significant than any earthly applause, then it necessarily follows that the heavenly prize of a saved soul is of much greater value than the earthly prize of a gold medal. Gold medals perish. Saved souls do not. The reward for the victorious Olympic athlete is temporal and fleeting, but the reward for the minister of the gospel is eternal and imperishable.

The reward for the victorious Olympic athlete is temporal and fleeting, but the reward for the minister of the gospel is eternal and imperishable.

As ministers of the New Covenant, the covenant through which the Spirit of God shines spiritual light and breathes spiritual life into otherwise blind and dead people (2 Cor 4:4-6), you and I must uphold the significance of the gospel ministry. Yes, it is minimized and mocked by the world. But it is prized and commissioned by the Almighty God Himself. The God of the universe has given His Son to the world so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). God is more concerned about men than medals. He is more concerned about eternal souls than earthly achievements. The Son of God came into the world not to encourage earthly achievement, but to save the world from judgment. The most significant of all labors, then, is the labor invested in the eternal salvation of souls. What the man of God does must never be minimized. The labor that fights for what is eternal and imperishable must never be robbed of its dignity.

As ministers of the New Covenant, you and I must exert the strain of which the gospel ministry is worthy. We watch Olympic athletes with great admiration not only for their ability, but also for their discipline and diligence. Every athlete, indeed, exercises self-control in all things (cf. 1 Cor 9:25). So how is it that an Olympic athlete can exercise such high levels of effort in the areas of discipline to achieve a perishable prize, and yet a minister of the gospel permits himself to fall even the slightest into habits of laziness, ungodly impulse, and lackadaisical self-indulgence? Far more must be expected of the one who competes for the salvation of souls—even if it is for just one soul—than for any of the athletes we have witnessed in the most watched of sporting events.

The minister of the gospel must exhibit more endurance than a marathon runner, more courage than an open-water swimmer, more deftness than a gymnast, more grace than a figure skater, more power than a weight-lifter, more concentration than a sprinter, more strategy than a tennis player, more grit than a wrestler, more caution than a martial artist, and more focus than an archer. Whatever strength and skill an Olympic athlete may exhibit, the minister of the gospel should exhibit far more. For they compete for a perishable wreath, but the gospel minister competes for an imperishable one.

Therefore, the strength of the minister for such a ministry comes not from the flesh but from the Spirit of God Himself to accomplish only what the Spirit can accomplish. The Olympic games are coming in a few months, and the athletes are preparing to compete. But the kingdom of God is coming soon, and we must compete. The world will roar at the feats of the former. The angels will rejoice at the accomplishments of the latter. O minister of the gospel, may you rouse those heavenly hosts by straining in the most significant work of the gospel!

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