I will be giving the following message (in an abbreviated form) tonight at AWANA during our opening time:
Tonight is sports night. It seems that we’re having sports night because we are approaching a big sporting event in a few weeks from now. Does anyone know what sporting event is that? <Answer: the Super Bowl 53 (LIII)>. The Los Angeles Rams will be playing the New England Patriots on Sunday February 3rd. How many of you want the Rams to win? How many of you want the Patriots to win? How many don’t care who wins? I want the Arizona Cardinals to win 🙂 (oops, they didn’t make it!)
Since we’re having this focus on sports tonight, I wondered if the Bible says anything about sports and started searching. Surprisingly, I found that the New Testament, in particular, has quite a bit to say about sports! There are many places in which it likens the Christian life to a race for a prize. For example, the Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews speak frequently about this:
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me –the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
1 Corinthians 9:24-26
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 4:8
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
2 Timothy 2:5
Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day –and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
While the Bible doesn’t talk about football as we know it today, we can still draw some analogies with this team sport of football and the Christian life.
In the same way that a football player is on a team with a head coach, so is a Christian on a team with a head coach. Our head coach is Jesus. Anyone who rejects the head coach can’t be part of the team. If you want to be on the team — to have the benefits of being on the team — you have to believe in and follow the head coach.
There are rules for those who want to be on the team and there are rules for how the game is played. Those who are unwilling to follow the team rules show that they do not want to be part of the team. However, you don’t need to worry about being “kicked off” the team for breaking the rules a few times, either intentionally or accidentally, as long as you acknowledge your mistake and are truly sorry about it, making up your mind to not break the rules again. Everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect. The Bible says:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10
Likewise, if you break a rule on the field while playing the game, there is a penalty for breaking the rule, but you’re not “kicked off” the team for getting penalized. In the same way, Christians have rules to follow on our team. We all break them periodically (Romans 3:23) and when we do, we repent and ask God for forgiveness, and He gladly forgives us. But like the player who is penalized, there are still natural consequences for our sins. We are not “kicked off” the team — we remain Christians destined for heaven — but God does not undo the consequences of our sin. The Bible says:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Galatians 6:7
Not only do we experience the “natural consequences” of our sin, but God disciplines us (if we are true Christians) in the similar way that a father disciplines a child:
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:5-11
Therefore, we should not consider it strange if we are being disciplined – rather, this is a sign that God loves us!
In football, the team has a playbook that all players need to learn. Some of the players on the team are on the field actively playing each week and some of the players sit on the bench each week. However, they all need to know the playbook, after-all, they might just be pulled off the bench and put in the game at any moment if another player gets injured. In the same way, Christians have a playbook — that is the Bible. We need to know the playbook! That’s what we’re doing here each Wednesday night — we’re learning our playbook, memorizing Bible verses, so that we can use them to guide how we live our lives and our interactions with others. Not only does the Bible guide how we live our lives, but instructs us how to receive the free gift of eternal life:
from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 3:15
Football players are playing a game to win. Most of the NFL players, if you ask them, want that Super Bowl ring – the symbol of the ultimate victory in their sport. Although life is not a “game”, in the same way, Christians are anticipating that we will win in the end. Revelation tells us how all this will end. It says:
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. – Revelation 7:17
Unlike the football player, we can have confidence knowing how our “game” will end. We are playing on the winning team for the Righteous Coach! We will be victorious! So, I encourage you all to:
- Get in “the game” – live out your faith every day. Make sure everyone knows you’re a Christian and show them how Christians live – how we are different.
- Know your playbook – read, memorize and think deeply about the Bible. It is God’s message to people and He uses it to transform and mature us. There is no spiritual growth without the Bible.
- Be prepared for action – the Lord uses those who are prepared to serve Him. He’s given each Christian a spiritual gift which is to be used in His service. Look for and pray for opportunities to serve Him and to glorify Him through your life.
- Most importantly, know your Coach and talk to Him often. Jesus wants to know us – that’s a requirement to get into heaven. He said:
Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!’ – Matthew 7:22-23
You don’t want to hear those words “I never knew you. Away from Me…” Know Jesus, Know Peace, No Jesus, No Peace: