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Greek Word Study - Contend as Athletes

Odysseus was in no mood for games. Even though his hosts provided food and entertainment, he was weary from the shipwreck and eager to resume his journey. As he watched the runners, jumpers, wrestlers, and archers compete, his patience was wearing thin.

Then his host insulted him. "There is no greater glory than what a man achieves with his hands and his feet," the host said, "but you do not look like a man that is skilled in the contests. You do not look like an athlete." That did it. That made Odysseus mad.

He grabbed a heavy discus stone—bigger than the rest—and hurled it over their heads. The stone sailed far beyond any of the other marks. "I am not unskilled in your contests," Odysseus said. "If any man has the heart, let him make contest of me, whether in boxing or wrestling, yes, or even running." Odysseus could beat them all, because he was indeed an athlete.

The Greek word for "contend as an athlete" was athleo (ath LEH oh). It was used to describe athletes in games and also soldiers in military contests. As well as skill, it implied great effort and struggle.

Paul used a form of this word (synathleo) twice in Philippians. The prefix he added made the word mean "contend as athletes together," that is, to struggle together as a team. In 1:27 the whole church was to contend as a team in the face of persecution. In 4:3 two faithful women were said by Paul to have "contended at my side in the cause of the gospel." Whatever their role was in the work of spreading the gospel, they were valued teammates in Paul's ministry.

Helpmates in the home, teammates in the church--this is what women look like in the Bible.