By Cecil Willis
Don Schollander was voted the beat athlete in the world when he was only 18 years of age. He competed in two Olympics, set 37 American records and 22 world records in swimming. He was voted into the swimming Hall of Fame when but 19 years old. How did a young man accomplish all of this? Not without extreme effort, to be sure.
Schollander tells what it takes to make a champion: “In top competition a whole new ingredient enters swimming — pain. You learn the pain in practice and you will know it in every race. It begins as you approach the limit of your endurance, coming on gradually, hitting your stomach first. Your arms grow heavy and your legs tighten — the thighs, the knees. You sink lower in the water as if someone were pushing down on your back. You can’t hold yourself up; your perception changes. The sounds of the pool blend and become a roar in your ears. The water takes on a pinkish tinge. Your stomach feels as though its going to fall out; every kick hurts like . . . — and suddenly you hear a shrill, internal scream. Then you have a choice. You can back off, or you can force yourself to drive to the finish, knowing that the pain will become excruciating. Right there, the great competitors separate from the rest, for its those last few meters that count. Most swimmers back away. If you push through the pain barrier into real agony, you’re a champion” (Reader’s Digest, June, 1971, p. 224)
The champion competitor in sporting events goes through pure agony in order to win a corruptible crown. Nearly every worthwhile thing in life is accomplished at the expense of extreme effort. So it is with running the race set before the Christian. Paul said, “And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things” (I Cor. 9:25). The Greek word translated “striveth” (agonizomai) is a word which we have anglicized to make our English word “agony.” The Christian must exert himself to the point of pure agony, if be would win the spiritual crown. Agonizomai means “to contend,” “to strive,” or to “labor fervently.”
The same original word occurs in Lk. 13:24 where Jesus said, “Strive to enter in by the narrow door.” The Goodspeed translation renders agonizomai in Lk. 13: 24, “You must strain every nerve. . .” The Phillips translation expresses the thought like this: “You must do your utmost to get in.”
Different translations sometime constitute the beat commentaries on a passage of scripture. The Williams translation on I Cor. 9:25 indicate that the person who enters an athletic contest “practices rigid self-control in training.” Beck’s translation words the thought thusly: “Anyone who enters a contest goes into strict training.”
The same original Greek word occurs in I Tim. 6:12 where Paul told Timothy “Fight the good fight of faith.” The word translated “fight” is our word agonizomai. Weymouth renders 1 Tim. 6:12, “Struggle your hardest in the good contest for faith.” The same Greek word occurs in Col. 1:29, “striving according to his working. . . .” Weymouth renders Col. 1: 29, “To this end … I exert all my strength.” The Amplified ‘translation renders this passage: “For this I labor (unto weariness).” Phillips adds, “With all the strength that God gives me,” Beck says “struggling like an athlete,” while the Amplified translation renders it, “striving with all the superhuman energy which He so mightily enkindles and works within me.”
All of these passages indicate the amount of effort which must be expended by the Christian, if he is to please his Master. A piddling, indifferent, half-hearted Christian is detestable in the Lord’s sight. “For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1: 7, 8).
What kind of an effort are you making in the name of the Lord? Are you “laboring fervently,” “straining ever nerve,” “practicing self-control,” “in strict training,” “struggling your hardest,” “laboring unto weariness,” “struggling like an athlete,” “striving with superhuman energy,” with all the strength which God gives you??? If not, you are merely playing at being a Christian. Like the champion athlete, the Christian must exert himself until he reaches the state of pure agony in service to God. And indeed, when we “have done all the things that are commanded . . .,” we are still “unprofitable servants” (Lk. 17: 10).
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 21, pp. 3-4
March 30, 1972