In 2016, the Rio Olympics were marred by allegations of cheating and drug abuse by the Russian Athletics Federation. When a Russian athlete competed, they were greeted by booing and taunting from the onlookers and crowds in the stadiums. That kind of response from fans, while it might be commonplace at football, hockey, and soccer arenas, has never been a part of the modern athletics culture. The tolerance for cheating in Olympic sports is incredibly low.
Cheating Is Not New
Cheating in sports is not a new thing. From the earliest documented history of the Olympic Games, we can track the problem of athletes not competing according to the rules. Records show details of athletes caught using bribery, match-fixing, and even food poisoning to gain an edge over their opponents.
On the way up to the ancient stadium in Greece, the entrance to the event was lined with golden statues of Zeus and other gods. These statues were placed not as a tribute to the gods but to remind athletes not to cheat. If you were caught cheating, the athlete would have to take a public flogging followed by paying the hefty bill for one of these statues to be erected in your honor as a cheat. At the bottom of the statue, your name as a would-be immortalized, known forever as one who didn’t compete according to the rules.
In a culture where getting ahead is culturally accepted, an athlete, a true athlete, is a man of integrity. They live in a state of being whole and undivided. In other words, we are the same person on the track as we are off it.
With that image in mind, we can understand what the Apostle Paul was getting at when he spoke to Timothy, his young apprentice, calling him to the life of an athlete in 2 Timothy 2:5 – “And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules.”
He was not encouraging him to take up a competitive sport, but rather using this well-known imagery of the importance of integrity, Timothy was being called to be the one who is the same in public as he is in private, and the same in private as he is in public.
With our integrity, brothers, we need to remember, it is a one time deal! Once it is gone, it is gone. Many of us know this. Our wives don’t look at us in the same way anymore. Our children treat us differently. Once we get busted, we might as well be an athlete caught cheating in the ancient games of Corinth or Athens. We not only get a public flogging, but our names are immortalized as being men with no integrity.
With our integrity, brothers, we need to remember, it is a one time deal! Once it is gone, it is gone.
Top 5 Steps to Integrity
Brothers, make your integrity of utmost importance on your faith journey. It is something that we need to take very seriously. Like good athletes, let us compete according to the rules. Let us live an undivided life. Work hard to be the same man on the track as you are away from it.
Here are my top five practical steps to building a life of integrity based on the metaphor of an athlete:
Get a coach: choose to be mentored by someone who has run a little further and lived a little longer into the challenge of becoming a man of God.
Train with others: find some brothers who are on a journey, committed to growing in godliness and integrity, and ask to practice accountability with them.
Be disciplined: Don’t make your training in godliness a sporadic thing. Like an athlete make your training the thing that shapes everything else in your life. If late-night TV and internet usage cause you to sin and have a secret life, then do yourself a favor and go to bed before you are tired and lose focus and forget that you are an athlete in a race.
Celebrate growth: As you practice integrity, you will begin to feel less spiritually divided. Instead of managing two parts of one life, you will begin to feel more and more whole. Celebrate those small victories and share them with others to encourage them.
- The Christian race is all of life for all of life. Pace yourself, face yourself, and grace yourself.
- Pace yourself by being patient with your spiritual transformation, God likes to work slowly and deeply.
- Face yourself by being honest about who you are and where you are on the journey or in the process. One of the hardest things to do is experience transformation in the projected image we have of ourselves. Get real so that you can get to work!
- Finally, grace yourself. Give yourself lots and lots of grace. Most of us are only learning to pay attention to this area in our lives as maturing adults. We have made lots of mistakes, have lots of bad habits, and lots of regrets. You are loved by God. His grace is sufficient, and his strength is made perfect in our weakness.
With all of that being said, fix your eyes on the prize and get to training and competing!