One of my favorite Olympic memories is that of gymnast Kerri Strug vaulting in the 1996 Olympics.
She was injured, and had severe pain in her left ankle, but she willed herself to give her all for the American team.
It was of special interest to our household, as, at the time, our daughter was involved in gymnastics, and we had a bit of the Olympic fever about the whole thing.
The result of Kerri’s effort was a great vault, and a gold medal for the American Women Gymnasts. It was an incredible moment.
Kerri’s efforts were very inspiring, and were appropriately praised for quite some time. Watching the video clip got me emotional all over again. She proved herself worthy of the title “Olympic Champion”.
You can watch the video of Kerri’s vault here:
The Apostle Paul sat in a jail in Rome, and wrote these words to his beloved Philippian brethren.
Philippians 1:27, 29
27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…
29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…
“Striving together”. The Greek word is synathleo, a compound word made up of syn- which means “together”, and athelo, which means “to engage in a contest”. We get the words “athlete” and “athletic” from athleo.
It gives us the picture of athletes striving together for a common goal which is bigger than personal recognition. It speaks of a team mentality, as opposed to the “me first” mentality we increasingly see in today’s world of professional athletes.
Kerri was granted the privilege of being on that team. It was a very special position to hold. Kerri was willing to suffer for the team, her parents, her coach and for America, as she wore the Stars and Stripes on her uniform. There was, undoubtedly, a great deal of personal achievement that she had, but it was bigger than just her.
Paul also told the Philppians that, “it had been granted to them to suffer on behalf of Christ”.
The Greek word for the phrase “granted to them” is charizomai, which means “to give graciously”. From that word we get the word charis, which means “grace”. The Philippians had been “graced” with the opportunity to suffer for Jesus.
Let’s connect the dots and come to a conclusion.
Paul exhorted the Philppian believers to live a life worthy of what Christ had died to give them. They were to live their lives in such a way as to resemble what a Christian is. As Kerri lived out the heart of a champion gymnast, so we too, are called to live out what we are: “Christians”. (That is assuming that you, the reader, are indeed a follower of Jesus)
Secondly, we are to have a goal in life that is bigger than ourselves. Have a big picture mentality. The goal is Jesus and His kingdom. It isn’t just you and your personal wants. Make the decision to strive together with other Christians for a goal bigger than yourself. The trouble with many of us is that we strive against each other for personal gain, instead of with each other for Jesus’ honor.
Thirdly, we have been graciously granted the opportunity to suffer for “Team Jesus”. Those young American women were incredibly privileged to be on that that team. Yes, they earned it, but it was still a privilege. Since then, the team no longer exists with that line-up.
We have been graciously granted the privilege of being part of the Body of Christ, which is eternal and has existed for nearly 2000 years. The 1996 Olympics have come and gone. The Kingdom of God is eternal. People earn their way onto an Olympic team. God the Son came to Earth, put on flesh, and died on a cross to grant you the privilege of being in God’s family.
Kerri suffered for an inspiring, but temporary cause. Christians have been “graced” with the privilege to occasionally suffer for that which will never pass away.
We don’t “have to suffer” for Jesus. We have been granted that privilege.
Christians comprise the most privileged people group on Earth. It isn’t because of who we are, but because of who Jesus is. It isn’t because of our temporal personal goals, but because of His eternal purposes.
We, more than any other people group, have the best reason to endure suffering.
The “Voice of The Martyrs” ministry tells us that presently, 500 Christians die each day for their faith. Thousands more suffer daily. They don’t get the earthly recognition that an Olympic athlete does. Their recognition goes far beyond that.
To us it has been granted the opportunity to live, suffer, or even die for the greatest cause mankind will ever know. We are among the most privileged group.
(Editor’s note) For those interested in further thoughts on this, my sermon notes are available on this blog site.