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Sabbath and the Olympics

Sabbath and the Olympics
Eric Liddell was the son of Scottish missionaries. They raised him to be a devout Christian, and he always tried to put God first and glorify the Lord in all that he did. Indeed, as the world watches the Olympics this week, it's worth stopping for a moment and reflecting on Liddell's thrilling tale of faithful service in the face of Olympic-sized temptation.

Liddell, a popular athlete of his time, earned the right to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. His best event, and the one everyone assumed he'd win easily, was the 100-meter sprint. However, he discovered that the qualifying heat for his race was on a Sunday—the day he believed to be the Sabbath.

Disappointed yet bound by his faith, Liddell made the hard decision not to run, even though his victory in the most popular foot race in the world would have made him an even bigger national hero. (After all, the winner of this race is known as "the world's fastest man.") As a result of his choice, the national press maligned him daily in their newspapers. He was mocked and ridiculed openly in public. He received strong pressure from the British Olympic committee to reverse his decision not to run.

However, four years of committed athletic training would not change Eric’s higher commitment to keep the Fourth Commandment. He believed that honoring God was vastly more important than a footrace. Though others could not understand the firmness and "inflexibility" of his faith, he stuck with his convictions. There is more to life than winning a physical race.

God, however, did not forget Liddell's act of faith. You see, a fellow teammate agreed to yield his spot in the 400-meter sprint. Liddell, known as a short-track sprinter, wasn't expected to even medal in a race four times longer than his best event—but amazingly, he won the gold! “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Eric Liddell’s commitment to keep the Sabbath against tremendous peer pressure is inspiring and challenging to a world that is quick to excuse and set aside God’s commandments when they are inconvenient to our own pursuits. Even though Liddell confused Sunday with the true biblical Sabbath, he stands as an example of someone who placed honor to the Lord before honor for himself.

Though Liddell walked away from the Paris Olympics with a gold medal in his hand, he died for his faith at age 43 in a Japanese concentration camp in China. The gold of this earth will someday turn to dust, but the glories of heaven will last forever. Will you stand up for God’s commandments and someday worship the Creator from Sabbath to Sabbath throughout eternity? (See Isaiah 66:23.)

To learn more about Bible characters who were pressured to disobey God’s commandments, listen to Pastor Doug share “Bowing to Babylon.”