Like much of the world, we’ve been watching the Olympics at home these past couple of weeks. One of the great appeals of the Olympics, and of any sports for that matter, is that we can vicariously exult in the triumphs of others. We Americans are spoiled in that, thanks to the truckloads of medals won by Team USA (95 at last count), we can do this on a daily basis. Because they are fellow-countrymen, the victories of Phelps, Ledecky, Biles and company become our victories. We can glory in their glory.
At the same time everyone watching the Olympics thinks at some point, “Wouldn’t it be great to be the one standing on the podium, wearing the gold, hearing the cheers of the crowds, with the cameras and attention and praise of the world focused on me because I am the best. Ah, to be an Olympic champion!” Who wouldn’t enjoy that moment of glory?
For the extremely few who combine the blessings of talent and opportunity with the drive and devotion necessary to become an elite athlete, that moment of Olympic glory is a possibility. But even only a minority of these get to experience what it’s like to stand on the victor’s podium. As for the rest of us, Olympic dreams are pipe dreams. The best we can obtain is the derivative glory of another.
But for the Christian, God promises a glory that is far better than Olympic gold. That is the glory of eternal life with Jesus Christ when he returns and ushers in the new heavens and earth. Unlike the glory the world gives its champions, the Christian’s glory is centered not on himself but on Christ. In the world to come, all praise and worship and adoration will go to Christ. Nevertheless, the Bible says that we will be “glorified with him” (Romans 8:17) By God’s grace, we will enjoy the glory of (his, and therefore our) victory over sin, death, and hell. As Jesus was raised from the dead, so we too will be raised up in glory (1 Cor. 15:43). And, we will reign with Christ forevermore (2 Timothy 2:12).
For an Olympic champion, the way to glory is discipline, hard work, devotion, and self-sacrifice. And he or she must begin with talent and skill. What is the way to the Christian’s glory?
First, it is the way of faith. Our hope for life, forgiveness, and resurrection is not in our own goodness or effort or hard work, but in the finished work of Jesus Christ. For those who trust in Christ as their Savior, he is their “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Next, it is the way of humility. Too often (but thankfully, not always) those upon whom we heap praise and honor for their athletic triumphs become proud and full of hubris. They soon glory in themselves. But the Scripture says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). And Jesus said, “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43, 44). Do you desire eternal glory with Christ? Then become a servant of others, take the lower place, be content to be a nobody. Humble service and anonymity is this life is the way to glory in the life to come.
The way to glory is also the way of suffering. Specifically, suffering for the sake of Christ. This means bearing the reproach of a world that does not know nor love Christ. Paul says in Romans that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (8:17).
Olympic glory comes and goes. Who will remember the names of this summer’s gold-medal winners a hundred years from now? And even the gold, silver, and bronze of their medals will not outlast this present world. But if your hope is in Christ, God has promised you a glory that will endure forever. The true “champions” are those who, out of love for Christ, devote themselves day by day to obeying him in ways that are unheralded and sometimes even unnoticed. Those bound for glory in the life to come are those who in this life – out of faith in Jesus – commit themselves to the ordinary and often mundane work of loving and serving others wherever God has placed them.
You may never stand on the podium at the Olympics. But if your hope is in Christ, on the day of his return you will experience a glory that is infinitely greater than that. And in some wonderful way, it’ll all be for the glory of Christ himself.
Soli Deo Gloria!