Hand me a saw. I'm going out on a limb here. I think the Apostle Paul would have relished the Olympic Games in Beijing. In fact, he might have even tried to qualify for them.
I believe Paul was an athlete. (He was Greek, after all.) And my guess is he was a runner. He mentions "running" and "racing" a dozen times in his epistles.
He congratulates the Galatians with "Ye did run well."
He coaches the Hebrews by saying "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us."
He tells the Philippians, "Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain."
The Romans get a running tip or two from him.
The Corinthians get a whole gym class:
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain ... I therefore so run, not as uncertainty; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection."
Class dismissed after you do a final lap.
It's obvious Paul had the energy and will to be a distance champion. In fact, I even have an "athletic" theory about that famous "thorn in the flesh" that he said kept him humble. I've wondered if the word "flesh" in his comment tends to make people think too much of physical problems that he had a limp, perhaps. Or even a hump.
But what if the expression simply means he had a trait that troubled him, the way a sliver under the skin can annoy you?
What if the "annoying itch" that vexed Paul was his unbridled desire to win? What if his competitive spirit is what kept him from feeling like a saint? He certainly liked to go one-on-one with Peter at times. He seldom let anyone get the best of him.
That didn't make him a bad person. It just made him human. The man didn't like to lose.
I remember a bishop who loved basketball. Once, in a co-ed game, the wife of a ward member stepped in front of him to block his path. She thought he'd stop. He didn't. He flattened her the way Bill Lambeer used to flatten John Stockton.
Afterward the bishop couldn't apologize enough. And when the ringing finally left her ears, the woman graciously accepted.
Still, the bishop later confessed that his cross in life his "thorn in the flesh" was his competitive spirit. Something inside of him kept pushing him to whip the other guy.
As for Paul and his racing career, toward the end of his life he tells Timothy his life has been one long run: "I finished my course," he says, "I have kept the faith."
Now that course he mentioned might have been a math course or the desert portion of a seven course meal.
But I'm betting he was thinking of a cross country route a marathon course.
Just as I'm betting if Paul were around today, he'd be home in front of the television this morning for at least a few minutes watching those Olympic champions "run with patience," "finish the course" and "obtain the prize."
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