An Olympics-themed bible study – “I press on towards the goal to win the prize”

I decided that in our small group this week that it would be good to do a bible study with an Olympics theme. Apologies if you’re sick of all the Team GB mania but I figure, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

There are a surprising number of bible passages that I could have used for an Olympic themed bible study. I asked some friends on Twitter and also did some keyword searches on Bible Gateway and I came up with this (not comprehensive) list:

Ecclesiastes 9:10-12 – ‘the race is not to the swift’

1 Kings 19:2-4 – Elijah runs for his life

Judges 16: 28-31 – The strength of Samson

1 Samuel 17 – David and Goliath

1 Corinthians 9:23-25 – ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?’

2 Timothy 4:6-8 – ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race’

Hebrews 12:1-3 – ‘Let us run with endurance the race set before us’

2 Timothy 2:4-6 – ‘An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.’

The passage I have decided on, however, is Philippians 3:4:14.

Here is the plan for the evening, feel free to adapt it to your own context. At our church we use the structure of the ‘4 Ws’ – welcome, worship, word and witness so that is how I have laid this out here.


Discuss what you liked the most about the London Olympics opening ceremony and why. What was the most inspiring thing for you?


Read Psalm 19 together – spend some time in the quiet reflecting on the daily display of God’s glory we can see all around us.

If you wish you can read this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Spend some time in prayer – sharing just simple sentences of praise and thanksgiving to God.


If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead,  I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. – Phil 3:4b-14

Questions to discuss:

1. What sort of things do you put your confidence in? (v4-6) Are they what the world sees as important?

Paul’s attributes made him a model Jew in every sense, he had every reason to trust that he’d got ‘everything sorted’.

2. Paul uses a strong word in v8 to describe the things he and his world used to pride – rubbish or, in the KJV, ‘dung’! How does it feel to describe those things you put your confidence in as fit for the bin? Can you do that? Why do you think Paul uses such an extreme image?

3. What’s the purpose of dismissing what the world puts confidence in?

4. Why do you think, in verse 10 that Paul mentions the resurrection first and then suffering? Is this a prayer you can pray?

5. The goal that Paul describes in v14 is the finishing line that the athletes in the ancient world had to focus on and reach in order to win the prize – which in those days was a wreath crown like those given in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games:

If the athletes didn’t aim for the mark, they were disqualified and wouldn’t gain the prize of the crown. Paul uses this imagery elsewhere;

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” – 1 Corinthians 9:25

With this in mind, what do you think the goal or mark is? What do you think the prize or crown is?


Watch this film:

This clip was featured in a run down of the ‘top 50 Olympic moments of all time’ on TV this week.

How do you watch this film in the light of the bible passage we’ve looked at tonight?

How is this clip reflective of your own life experience?

How might you encourage a friend with this story?

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