Just Win Baby

Spencer MacCuish —  March 12, 2013 — 3 Comments

We talk about wanting the Gospel to transform every aspect of our lives. However, as I consider my own life and observe the lives of others, I am forced to conclude that we have many spheres left untouched by the transforming work of the Gospel.

downloadFor example: How many of us have truly allowed the Gospel to transform our approach to athletics?

It is of critical importance to first establish preliminary assumptions regarding a believer’s orientation, identity and subsequent purpose:

  1. I am assuming that believers are living in light of the story of God, and not the story of the world.  Included in that assumption is a rejection of syncretism, which means that a Christian is living according to a worldly system, but hiding it underneath a biblical veneer.
  2. Based upon #1, a life lived in submission to the story of God will result in an individual whose primary identity is in Christ, expressed uniquely through the local church.
  3. Based upon #1 and #2, the purpose of a believer’s life is to make God look good, in every circumstance, and endeavor to move the Kingdom of God forward in every possible circumstance.

Also, because believers are living lives in submission to God and his word, the following points are non-negotiable. Believers are called to:

  1. Consider others greater than themselves.
  2. Love one another, including their enemies.
  3. Serve one another.
  4. Encourage one another.

So how does all of this play out in the world of sports?

First, let’s ask what the purpose of athletic competition is. Most people would hastily assume that winning is the goal. To the contrary, I contend that winning is rarely the goal of athletics. If simply winning were the goal, we would do nothing more than schedule a game with horribly inferior opponents and let the onslaught ensue. But very few would find this appealing, because winning is rarely the ultimate goal.

Taking this a bit deeper, many would argue that the true goal of athletics is the opportunity to compete at the highest level possible (and there is an ingrained hope that this competition will result in victory). This can be evidenced by those who have competed well, have lost the event, but have still experienced a degree of fulfillment. Likewise, we see this played out amongst those who have been victorious against a clearly inferior team and left the competition unsatisfied.

But what about the Christ follower: is it enough to simply compete at a high level? Or maybe compete at the highest level possible and express some biblical platitudes? Or should our approach and involvement in an athletic endeavor be the same as the rest of our life, which would mean God known and advancing His Kingdom by living in submission to what God has called us to?

So what does it look like to live in submission to what God has called us to in the world of athletics?

How do you love your opponents? Certainly by playing hard and forcing them to compete at a high level.  But is that all? What if you see an opponent doing something fundamentally wrong? Would it be more loving to offer correction so that they may compete at a higher level or continue to allow them to practice flawed behavior? What would it look like to consider your opponent greater than yourself?

What does submission to authority look like in the midst of competition? Is the official recognized as the authority that God has appointed for that moment?

thCan you knowingly and willfully participate in a play where your primary intent is to cause harm to a fellow image-bearer? Consider the following examples:

  1. A close play at the plate, where the runner violently crushes the catcher.
  2. A safety absolutely crushing a receiver who is crossing the middle of the field.
  3. An open ice check in hockey where the offensive player is not looking.

While these plays may technically be legal, do they fit within our Christian responsibility to love and serve? In essence, do these plays make Jesus happy? If so how?

The Gospel should indeed transform every part of life, and this includes the athletic arena. We should never be satisfied with a bowed knee or a point heavenward before, after, or during a game. The Gospel should direct our conduct on and off the field.

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Spencer MacCuish

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Spencer spent most of the 90’s as summer staff at Hume Lake Christian Camps. He also spent several years as a youth pastor in the Santa Clarita Valley, coaching volleyball, and teaching English and History in the public school system. Spencer has been involved with Eternity Bible College since its inception and is currently serving as the Dean of Students. He and his wife, Tina, have three beautiful daughters.
  • Cam

    “Can you knowingly and willfully participate in a play where your primary intent is to cause harm to a fellow image-bearer? Consider the following examples:

    A close play at the plate, where the runner violently crushes the catcher.
    A safety absolutely crushing a receiver who is crossing the middle of the field.
    An open ice check in hockey where the offensive player is not looking.”

    I meant to quote this before I posted yesterday

    Thanks for the response Preston! I hear you on understanding physical harm is not neccisarily violence. Your examples made since. Wouldn’t it be different in sports though? If I knock a dude off home plate in order to get a run, Im not saving his life from an SUV, disease, etc. Although my main point is to glorify Jesus, the non-Christian on first bases primary reason for playing is to compete. If I don’t compete back, he won’t take me seriously nor my intentions seriously. So what I was getting at is yes, you can both compete, even physically, try to win, and glorify Jesus in a sport at the same time, just like you can make a piece of art that is provocative, innovative, and still glorifying to Jesus.

  • Cam

    I was pretty stoked to read a blog like this on here. I’ve wrestled through this issue a lot, have sports as a huge part of my life growing up. More specifically I was very drawn to full contact sports in highschool (BJJ, kickboxing, etc.). So can you participate in a sport where the primary goal to harm another image bearer? I don’t think that question addresses the real question. It makes it sound like the primary reason behind play is violence for the sake of violence. The primary goal CAN be edification. You can roll with a guy in a bjj match, or kick a guy in Muay Thai and still by the context of Matthew 5, turn the other cheek and love your enemy. For example, MMA is one of the only sports where you frequently train with your competitor, and frequently go over your fights together, marking to them how you were able to submit them and what they could have done to avoid it. I would wonder if what you are referring to is more of the term you use frequently, a heart issue? Is there a difference between malicious bodily harm, and edifying but rough competition? You mentioned good will hunting a while back, although there is violent themes and sexual profanity, it adds to much larger story d redemption and value. Could full contact sports work the same way? Again I am so excited you did this blog post and can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

    • Preston

      Great post, Spencer! And very good question, Cam–one that’s not easily answered. It may help, however, if we recognize that causing physical pain to someone else isn’t necessarily a violent act. If I run and knock someone to the ground, they’ll probably forgive me once they see a speeding SUV blaze on past, even if the poor old lady broke her hip in the process. I did much bodily harm, but my intentions make the act heroic not violent. A doctor and a mugger may both slash my skin with a knife, but only one is an act of violence.

      From what I know about MMA, I think it can be considered a non-violent sport. Much rests on the intentions. I would even argue that the final scene of Warrior–spoiler alert!–was not an act of violence, given the intention of the brother. So two things: 1) we need to define what exactly we me by “violence,” and 2) the heart/intention is definitely an important factor.