From the Preacher’s Pen… One of the hardest lessons of our Christian walk and life is to remember its true seriousness. We get tired and want to quit. Nothing exciting happens and we want to quit. It all seems to require that motivation that we so often lack. How can we do this?
Reality is not kind. We face the same difficulty in almost every area of life. While many would like to win the prize or be the best, few are willing to put in the hard work that makes it all happen.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of this serious contest that we are involved with:
Wrestling and Boxing
As you might well expect, the ancient Olympic sports were based on skills used in warfare. Of course, it didn’t take long for the sports to develop to the point that the combatants were no longer soldiers but specialists in their sport. By New Testament times there were three combat sports and they were both highly popular and well developed with specialists in each area.
The apostle Paul was evidently a sports fan and used both sporting fights as well as real warfare as examples of important lessons for those he taught. We can best appreciate those spiritual lessons for us with a bit more appreciation of what he was actually talking about.
Wrestling was the first sport added to the ancient Olympics that did not involve running. It quickly became the most popular organized sport in ancient Greece. You scored a point by making your competitor touch the ground with his back, shoulder or hip. Points were also awarded for forcing them out of the wrestling square or by conceding defeat. Three points were necessary to win. A popular position was to be on top of your opponent and strangle him!
The word for wrestling (palē) is only used once in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:12 says, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Boxing is nearly as old as wrestling and also immensely popular. The boxer wrapped leather thongs around his hands to protect them. There were no rounds and no weight categories so the two men typically hit each other in the head until one could no longer continue. The Romans added metal studs to the leather wrappings and later made the fights to the death! (In 393 AD boxing was abolished as excessively brutal and did not return to popularity until the late 1500s in London.)
Since the rules prevented any kind of fighting other than punching and the most effective way to win was hitting the head, Paul makes the point of boxing, in such a way, as not beating the air in 1 Corinthians 9:26. When we fight the good fight of faith we always go for the win!
Pankration was the ultimate fighting sport of the Olympics and had almost no rules. The Greek term literally means all of your power, strength, might. It was a combination of boxing, wrestling, kicking, holds, locks, chokes. The only things banned were biting and gouging out your opponent’s eyes. Some contests were actually won by breaking bones or disemboweling the opponent!
While the formal word for the pankration is not used in the New Testament, the concept words are employed to remind us of just how vicious and savage is our spiritual warfare.
Paul says, This command [to be faithful] I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight [wage all-out war as a soldier] the good fight [a military campaign or battle] (1 Timothy 1:18). And a little while later he also says, Fight the good fight of faith [literally, strive, fight, struggle, do what is necessary to win the great contest]; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12).
Finally, Paul brings up the subject again in some of his final words as he says, I have fought the good fight [the same words he used in 1 Timothy 6:12], I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-27; Colossians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1-4 and remember how serious this is! Our fight for Christ against Satan and his followers is not a “police action,” it is not a skirmish or a dispute. It is all out war to the eternal death! The devil has declared all-out war on us… and we must do the same to him.
— Lester P. Bagley