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Team Jesus

By Bryan Dench

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

How does the Christian athlete represent Jesus Christ?

I am a very competitive individual, and always have been. Most of us who love sports, and certainly hockey players, have a very strong competitive streak and a desire to succeed and to win. But what about our Christian faith, should that affect the way we compete? Should it affect our behavior? Should the people around us see something different, which, though they may not immediately recognize it as specifically Christian, gives an effective witness for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Well, the first thing we might want to remember is that our very competitive spirit, physical strength, and athletic talent are gifts of God.  "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"  1 Cor. 4:7 To use God's gifts to the best of our ability gives glory to God, as long as we recognize him as the source of our gifts and escape our natural tendencies toward pride.

One way that we show this is to be gracious in victory or defeat, and always to avoid gloating in the face of our opponents. "Don't gloat when your enemy falls, and don't let your heart rejoice when he stumbles," Proverbs 24 ;17  I don't know about you, but I hate to watch sporting events where every time somebody makes a decent play, he pounds his chest, glares at the opponent, talks trash and basically gloats. Let us hope that no Christian athlete would ever do that.  Even the famed sports reporter and commentator Heywood Hale Broun recognized this, saying, "Sports do not build character. They reveal it."

There is no sin in competing hard and trying to win.   It is good to play hard, but fair, and use our talents to our very best ability. As Scripture teaches us, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." Col. 3:23-24  In other words, whether it's playing a sport, doing your homework, working at your job, do it to the best of your ability as if our Lord Jesus Christ were standing right beside you and, above all, you wished to please him.

Would it be an effective Christian witness to cheat or engage in any dishonest actions to gain a competitive advantage? Of course not. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to us for the truth and is the complete embodiment of truth. No one who claims to be his follower should ever I use dishonest means to get an advantage. No coach should ever encourage cheating or skirting the rules. No player should ever deliberately violate the rules.  It made me sick to watch a World Cup soccer match a couple of years ago in which a South American player deliberately batted away a ball going into the net, resulting in a missed PK and a win for the cheater's team.  Some commentators (not just from South America) actually described it as a "smart play" that worked to the cheater's advantage.

When we are competing as athletes, or guiding a team as coaches, we are representatives of Jesus Christ, acting, as it were, as ambassadors for him in everything that we say and do. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  2 Cor. 5:17-21 An effective ambassador would never betray what the ambassador's principle stands for.

May God give us all grace and strength to represent him well while we compete with all we've got!

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you always give the Lord proper credit for your athletic ability?
  2. Are you gracious in both victory and defeat?  If not, how can you become so?
  3. How do you feel when you see athletes and coaches justify skirting the rules in order to gain an advantage?
  4. Do others consider you an Ambassador for Christ when you compete athletically?

About the Author

Bryan Dench grew up a competitive athlete in Massachusetts, lettering in soccer, hockey, and tennis in high school. He played a year of college hockey at Harvard. He has coached hockey (working mainly with goalies) and for many years coached soccer at all levels from youth to high school, possessing a USSF D level coaching license. Bryan has had the privilege of assisting is a coach at the FCA hockey camp in Hagerstown, Maryland, and, Lord willing, hopes to continue to be more and more involved with FCA hockey.

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