Bible Study

But Where Are the Witnesses?

For the times you feel you’re at the Olympics, but racing alone

Michael F. Younker
But Where Are the Witnesses?
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program SPC Robert Cheseret finishes 12th in the men's 5,000 meter final with a time of 13 minutes, 50.39 seconds on June 28 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Nike's Galen Rupp won the race in a meet record 12:22.67, eclipsing the mark of 12:22.89 set here by Steve Prefontaine on July 9, 1972. American record-holder Bernard Lagat, Cheseret's older brother, earned his fourth Olympic berth with a second-place finish in 13:22.82. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs

Sure, circumstances required a “delay,” but the games must go on!

Working With Delay

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic postponing the 2020 Summer Olympics for a year, the planning committee for the games in Tokyo, Japan, decided that the years of dedicated training by thousands of Olympians should not be cast aside. Thus, despite still facing challenges related to the pandemic, on July 23, 2021, the Olympic Games finally commenced.

One of the outstanding compromises that the planners felt forced to make was to greatly restrict the live audience for the various races and competitions. This meant that athletes would not be able to appreciate the cheers and jeers that often contribute to the adrenaline rush needed to fuel one’s best performance on sport’s biggest stage. 

Indeed, without a crowd, it’s hard to distinguish winning from losing—with no one there to watch, who cares? Of course, despite reports of somewhat lower TV audiences as well, it would still be true that they would be watched by millions of people around the world, and the judges would faithfully mark their times and scores. Thus, although this year’s Olympians may not enjoy a large audience that they can see for themselves, they still know that the world is watching and recording their race for the annals of history. A record is still a record, even if “unseen” by any live audience!

Adventists and Delay

Seventh-day Adventists are no strangers to either “delay” or running “unseen” races. Since 1844, we have been awaiting the end of history’s race, and the conclusion of the great controversy between Christ and Satan (Gen. 3; Job 1:6-12; Rev. 12:4-9). Unlike the Olympics, where only specially trained individuals can compete, the great controversy automatically enlists us all as participants. But we do have one great advantage: we need not worry about competing for merely first, second, or third place in order to be considered victorious and worthy of standing on the dais. Every one of us can emerge a victor if we so choose.

The apostle Paul refers to the above realities when he encourages believers in Christ to consider themselves running an apparently unseen race for the ultimate prize. In reference to the Olympic Games of his own time, Paul writes, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?” (1 Cor. 9:24, NKJV).1 But then he adds for his readers, “Run in such a way that you [all] may obtain it” (verse 24, NKJV). For “everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (verse 25, NKJV).

Elsewhere, on several occasions, Paul again relates his analogy of the Olympic races to the journey of working out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12). Although we may not always have cheering fans we can appreciate—indeed, we may often have just the opposite with only jeering observers—we can know that unseen angels are watching and supporting our striving to match the winning marks of those who have gone before us. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1, NKJV). “For we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9, NKJV). As such, we should not let anything distract us from “running a good race” (Gal. 5:7, NIV).2

The good news is that we may run the race with both confidence and humility! Although admonished to be wary of living our lives such that “after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:27, NIV), we may, at the end, testify like Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7, NIV).

Know then, as you watch the Games, that you are a participant in your own race. And remember that we “fix our eyes not on what is seen,” but on the prize that is “unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18, NIV).

Caption: 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, USA. [PC: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports] 

1 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ? 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 Bible texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Michael F. Younker