Dr. Gordon H. Clark wrote:
I Timothy 4:8: For bodily gymnastics is useful for little; but piety is useful for everything, having a promise of life both now and hereafter.
"... the Pauline reference to sports in I Corinthians 9:25. In that passage Paul contrasts the athletic laurel crown, which withers in a few days, with the incorruptible crown that Christians are to receive. ....Paul is contrasting the stupidity of the athletes in training so strenuously for a prize worth nothing, and the wisdom of Christians whose values are sound. Today, of course, they do not give the Olympians a few laurel leaves. They give gold medals at the present  price of some $400 an ounce. Even so, the gold is not of sufficient worth to justify months and years of training.* Even aside from the drugs they take to pep them up, and the medication used to desex the women contestants and turn them into masculine freaks, the athletes have chosen the wrong values and lead wasted lives. Godliness or piety, on the other hand, is profitable in relation to every aspect of life, both now and forever." (p.78; The Pastoral Epistles; that is I & II Timothy and Titus; inquire)
[* While this is true, Clark's purpose overlooks the bigger picture (which itself is irrelevant, when one understands it). In comparison, the "bigger picture" itself is dwarfed by the "Greater Big Picture". However, by understanding some details of the smaller "big picture" of man's experience, in light of the Ultimate Big Picture of Eternity, perspective forces itself upon the mind.
Olympians today are feted and groomed, well cared for, treated like celebrities and those who win are treated like rock stars. They (the winners) are offered lucrative advertising contracts, endorsement contracts, and some may even become professional athletes, and some may be offered business positions, consultant fees, speaking fees, interview fees, or even jobs at universities or as trainers themselves, positions as sports announcers, cameo appearances in movies or tv shows, book deals. However, the winners are a very tiny fraction of the whole—and even the very best athlete can have an "off day" or trip; and the years of training and expense, lost from one bad performance when one does not make the cut to pass on to the next level or place in the finals.
While only a small percentage become such celebrities (having their picture on a box of Wheaties, or some magazine cover) or may become professionals and though often that glory is time-specific and fades, a select few do make a career of it. I imagine that even the Greek athletes, as the Roman Gladiators, were feted and treated like royalty, but it was a fickle fame and one only continued to be hailed for as long as the irrational and egocentric public or politicians had use for them; then I am sure they were cast aside as old shoes (or, in the case of the gladiators, they were simply put up against a superior opponent who would surely slay them; and if no other human was a match, a hungry, abused lion could always be prepared).
Regardless, Clark's main point is indeed profound, and pursuing glory in sports in Paul's day or in ours is sort of like gambling your life away, working long and hard, for years—even decades—but spending everything that you make to buy a lottery ticket. Only a few will win (and the event being rigged is never out of the question). Thus, such success most often will be short lived; and most importantly, athletic success cannot extend your life and cannot do anything for you in the life hereafter.
Also, the laurel that was used was the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), which is an aromatic semi-waxy evergreen; the champion's wreath or crown was also later made from spineless butcher's broom (Ruscus hypoglossum) or cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus*). So I believe the notion of withering in a few days is an exaggeration if one considers "real time" in this life; since semi-waxy evergreen leaves last much longer in appearance than for a few days. Once severed from the tree, of course, they are not truly living, but dying, and in time they will become brittle and fade and fall off the stem that was severed from the tree to make the crown; but evergreen leaves (and needles) will last in their green appearance for far longer than common deciduous leaves. Of course if left out in the sun they will dry more quickly, but if kept inside, like on a shelf on display or on a nail on the wall, they will last much longer)
* However, as all members of the cherry family, the leaves of this cherry laurel are toxic, as are the pits in any great number. Cherry leaves, when they are in the wilting stage, give off cyanide gas and livestock should not be allowed to eat the leaves in that stage. Of this species in general, the fruit, seed, and leaves, can cause terrible abdominal disturbance if consumed in any form; the whole plant contains cyanogenic glycosides and amygdalin (both of which also kill cancer). A product called "Laurel water", which is a distillation made from the plant, contains prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) and other toxic compounds. A large percentage of temperate fruit trees (apple, pear, plum, peach, apricot, nectarine, almond, quince, hawthorn, mayhaw, cherry) and even brambles (blackberry, raspberry, etc.) or other fruits like strawberries are members of what is called the "Greater Rose" (Rosaceae) Family (as are roses themselves, some of which, produce "hips", small fruits high in vitamin c, the largest fruits produced by what are called the dog rose, which has small flowers very similar to the flowers of all the fruits mentioned above, and are not like the cultivated roses with large multi-layered petals, though the more familiar fragrant, large-flowered roses also are in the Greater Rose family).
But the comparison is still valid and the length of time for which a laurel crown lasts in light of endless eternity, of course, makes the time of the laurel crown fade into nothingness. Also, the laurel crown, while indeed coveted and deliciously scented, was basically worthless unless you were going to make spaghetti sauce, or use as a seasoning / spice for fish, or pickles. It was nothing compared to a royal crown made of gold and bedecked with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Thus is the comparison stark when one realizes the comparison between a laurel "crown" and a true royal crown—and even greater in comparison to the Crown of Life—the crown that no man can take from you and thus the crown—the doctrine, the faith established upon that doctrine is to be guarded zealously: "hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Revelation 3:11). The crown that will be awarded to the elect on the Day of Judgment (which we will lay at His Feet as a sign of allegiance and recognition that any goodness originates in Him) will not be built upon wood, hay, or stubble, but gold, silver, and precious stones that will be tried with fire. Those "Christians" who based the "wonderful things" that they do in Christ's Name, if those things are not what God's Word and Sound Doctrine established, but things that the "world" thinks are "good works" (the very opposite of what we were commanded), those "Christians" will hear, "depart from Me ye that work iniquity [lawlessness] I never knew you". True Faith based upon True Doctrine produces True Works—obedience to what God commanded; not those things that cause one to be a friend of the world; the world's notions being diametrically opposed to the things of God—antichrist notions, paraded about as "glorifying Christ". God commands His people to be separate and holy; not "blend in" with the world to imitate the world's practices and philosophies. To be a friend of the world is to be the enemy of God. If one wants to know what God hates and forbids, but is too lazy to read the Bible, or is so-dull minded that he cannot understand it—all he has to do is look and see what the world loves and celebrates. If one wants to know what God loves and commands, but is too lazy to read the Bible, or is so-dull minded that he cannot understand it—all he has to do is look and see what the world hates and demonizes and considers the worst evil of which a person could be "guilty". ("Woe unto them who call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light and bitterness for sweet.")
Even as the fading of once-green and aromatic leaves, a parallel can be drawn in the fading evanescence of this life in general or in bodily mastery in sports in specific: in light of the fact that injuries can take it all away in a moment, that even without injuries, strength and stamina and speed* fade quickly in the brief window of opportunity when one is in the prime of his life, then the greater periods of middle, then old age overtakes youth, with its aches, pains, and debilities which one cannot outrace or overpower or evade with finesse; and then the vast endlessness of Eternity engulfs the individual with a course and a climate that never changes; and thus everything that preceded it is remembered as a speck of dust, and worthless, unless it coincided with being on the right course, by God's Grace, living in obedience to all that He commanded demonstrating that because that life was regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and purchased by Christ, one had right to take and eat of the Tree of Life forever.
* I like to say that as I get older, I have learned that I can actually run faster than I used to, because it takes longer for my breath to catch up with me. But I cannot jump like I used to, and I certainly don't bounce when I fall, like I used to. I've found push-ups are 10x harder, and I conclude that earth's gravity has increased many-fold over the past 28 years, but the scientists are not telling us. Similarly, I am not gaining weight, the drier is just set too hot and is shrinking all the clothes. One man's perspective is another man's delusion.
Bracketed notes mine. R.A.B.]
Here also is a good sermon at a new Anglican church site, of a group of churches in the U.K. that are the neo-separatists who have come out from among the Great Harlot that they share not in her Judgment and to hold fast to what is true.
these quotations go well with the above audio sermon.
From my yet, unpublished, 6x9 650pp., Teach us to Pray,
Help Thou My Unbelief, Lord Save Me (which I have refined
and rewritten, polished, proof-read 20 times while awaiting deliverance).
English Bible teacher Arthur Wallis in his superb book
In The Day of Thy Power (1956) also insightfully declared:
(297pp., pb., 15.00 + P&H)
“It is a well-established fact that when the Spirit of God is working
powerfully, the spiritual results are usually deep and abiding.
Souls saved or blessed in powerful revivals are, on the whole, more
likely to continue steadfastly than is the case at other times. There
is more connection between the manifestation of God’s power
and spiritual steadfastness than some have realized. The history of
Israel in the time of the Judges illustrates this very vividly. ‘And
the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days
of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work
of the LORD, that he had wrought for Israel.... And there arose
another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet
the work which he had wrought for Israel. And the children of
Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, and served
the Baalim’* (Judg. 2:7,10-11).
[* plural of Baal; meaning, “lord, master”. Note mine. R.A.B.]
“It would not be good for these displays of God’s power to be other than occasional.
It would not make for spiritual health that the Lord’s people should live on them.
Nevertheless, in times of spiritual declension, there is perhaps nothing more calculated
to stay the rot, wean the heart from earth while attracting it to heaven, and produce
spiritual steadfastness than to experience such a mighty work of God. Again and again
spiritual situations and conditions that seemed beyond recovery have been transformed
by such a working of the Spirit. One recalls the pithy definition of revival as “the inrush
of the Spirit into a body that threatens to become a corpse”! If counteracting spiritual
decline was the only purpose achieved by God in such seasons, His method would be
abundantly justified. It is, after all, but the sound military principle that the best method
of defense is attack.” (pp.52,53)
[That is why Scripture tells us of the true Church, that “the gates
of Hell shall not prevail against it”—for that establishes the fact
that the true Church of God should be on the offensive and Hell
on the defensive. Armies do not carry their gates into battle with
them; their gates “prevail not” when they are under siege and
assault by God’s people. R.A.B.]
Wallis’ book details many of these amazing revivals that sprang forth
spontaneously of the Holy Spirit—after years of dedicated prayer by
faithful saints, such as the Moravian* missionaries who spread across Europe,
who divided up the 24-hours of the day and had vigilant prayer being offered
up to God for His people every hour, day and night for 100 years!
[* What came, in time, to be called the Moravian Church was the outpouring
of the Bohemian (or Czech) Reformation. See also: The Moravians* (1913).
For more details on true revival in general, see also: Historical Collections Relating
to Remarkable Periods of the Success of the Gospel* (1845); P&H; The History of
Revivals of Religion* (1951); The Power of Prayer: The New York Revival of 1858*
(1858) Samuel Prime, 237pp., pb,. retypset, notes by R.A. Balaicius; excellent; shows
moving of God’s Spirit upon His people when they truly seek Him; 16.50 + P&H;
and Stories of Great Revivals with Contributions on Revival Work* (1906). However,
the Moravian church eventually succumbed to liberalism even as the Lutheran church
did to Pietism and semi-Catholicism.
* which I reprint; inquire.]
“They considered that, as in the ancient [Hebrew] temple the fire
on the altar never ceased to burn [unto God], so in the Church,
which is now the Temple of God, the prayers of the saints ought
always to ascend to the Lord.” (p.16, The History of Revivals of
Religion) [Brackets mine. R.A.B.]
William Law (1686-1761), English cleric, divine, theologian,
and author, in his, The Power of the Spirit,* offers some very terse,
but true words, in regard to the righteousness and obedience of
* —originally titled: An Affectionate Address to the Clergy (1761);
which Andrew Murray reprinted under the present title (1896), which
was subsequently edited and reprinted by Dave Hunt (1971), 189pp., pb., 12.00 + P&H.
“[The average Christian possesses] ... blind believism which imagines
faith to consist of a mere idea rightly affirmed with the lips, but
knows nothing of a real faith that possesses within the heart. So
men imagine that to believe in Jesus Christ is something that can
be done apart from obeying Him, because they do not know Him
as the Lord who reigns and lives within. As well imagine that a
command is only to be believed but not obeyed, or that a tree is not
known by its fruit. ‘I will show you my faith by my works,’ said
the apostle; and if this is the only way faith can be shown, then any
faith which is not thus one with its works is no faith at all.
“James said, ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith
without works is dead also.’ Most pointedly this Scripture makes
clear that devoutness and piety do not consist in a mere right
understanding of these things that a man may profess without the
fruits thereof, for works cannot be separated from its faith, or
James could show his faith alone without its works. He only is
the devout man who lives no longer to his own will or the way
and spirit of the world, but to the will of God alone. He who
considers God in everything, serves God in everything, who makes
every moment of his daily life a real part of God’s will on earth
by doing everything in the name of Christ; he alone can be called
the pious man. For if a man say he has faith, but does not
evidence a life that produces the works of God, James tells us most
emphatically that ‘faith alone’ cannot save him.* (pp. 180-181.)
[* ie. such a fruitless faith is counterfeit; not real (false life). R.A.B.]
“....So it is that for lack of this basic intention to surrender all
to Christ, the church today is an open fraud of mere lip profession
to that faith and divine love that once burned as a fire from
heaven in those who ‘turned the world upside down.’
“If you will but stop to ask yourself why your brand of Christianity
is hardly recognizable as related to that which primitive
Christians knew, your own heart will tell you that it is primarily
because you never thoroughly intended to live as they lived and to
die as they died. You sing of your devotion to the same Lord, and
profess to believe the same New Testament doctrines as the early
disciples. You have the same promises from the Lord of the fulness
of the Spirit, the divine nature, and all that pertains to life and
godliness. You would never hope to get to heaven through a faith
any different than theirs, but you have believed Satan’s lie that it is
possible to have the same faith as the first Christians without manifesting
the same works as they. And if you are honest you will
admit that this lie has been gladly received because you have not
really had the heart intention to walk as Jesus walked.* Did you but
have this intention to please God in all your actions, as being the
happiest and best choice for life in this world, you would then find
yourself as unwilling to deny Christ with your life as you are now
unwilling to deny Him with your lips. And would you but add to
this intention a simple faith in the promises of God in Christ, you
would find yourself living in the same denial of self and as contrary
to the world as fishermen apostles did in their day.” (pp.,182-183.)
[* Wow. Amen! So many professed believers today are like the rich
young ruler who went away sad, not wanting to sacrifice what he
deemed more important in life, in order to truly follow Christ. R.A.B.]
“....the question is not whether gospel perfection can be fully attained,
but whether you come as near it as a sincere intention and
careful diligence can carry you through faith in Christ. .... Can you
really call yourself a follower of Christ without at least intending to
follow Him all the way? .... Can a man who has this saving faith
then fail to manifest those works which the Scripture so plainly tells
us are the direct consequence of the new creation? .... that man who
does not so much as intend to manifest in all his ways these works
which God has ordained for him has denied the very faith which he
otherwise professes. .... Works without faith is the dead and unacceptable
offering of the sinful flesh; and faith without works is a
fraud, a false profession of that which is dead because it does not
have the life of God in it; and this is proven by the lack of fruit of
the Spirit. God holds out to our faith the blessing and power of the
Holy Spirit as our all in all, filling us with the life of Christ, causing
us to overflow with rivers of living water.” (pp.186,188,189)