I suspect that everyone reading this post saw either the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics or at least a few news clips about it. The Olympics originated with the Greeks centuries before Christ. The Isthmian games were conducted at Isthmia, a few miles from Corinth.
Paul used several illustrations relating to athletics in the epistles to the Corinthians.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NASB)
The Greeks had two words for crown. The diadema was the crown of the king. The stephanos was the crown of the victor in the races. This is the term used by Paul in the text above (the word wreath). Here is a photo of a nice sculpture displayed in the Athens National Archaeological Museum showing a young athlete wearing the stephanos. Incidentally, the stephanos was often made of olive branches, or other perishable items.
Young athlete wearing a crown (stephanos). Athens National Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
John also speaks of the stephanos. To the saints at Smyrna (modern Izmir in Turkey) he says,
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10).
Enjoy the Olympics, but think of the more important spiritual lessons.
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