By: David Bush
I’ll be honest and tell you right up front that this blog is going to disappoint a lot of people. Akin to the kind of disappointment that settles in when you discover there is no Santa Claus, the realization that neither God nor Jesus are our personal fanboy as we or our favorite team pursue athletic excellence will likely come as a shock. A jolt similar to the one we receive when we look beyond out-of-context scriptures to realize God doesn’t love America more than other countries or guarantee followers of Jesus physical wellness, prosperity, or success.
When prominent athletes as polarized as Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick find competitive inspiration from scripture, and apparel companies are founded on the notion that the Apostle Paul was advocating a Christ-empowered path to athletic excellence, we have reached critical mass. Anyone who knows me is aware that I take physical fitness seriously. After all, I’ve founded a ministry devoted to raising the bar in the physical dimension of believer’s lives. But since I take scripture very seriously, I’m compelled to speak out when I see it routinely twisted and abused by many who should know better.
Before you paint your next team banner, give your next post-game victory interview, or design the tattoo that will grace your bicep forever, why not take a few minutes to understand what your favorite rah-rah scripture is really saying.
Let’s start with the grand-daddy of them all – Philippians 4:13. Writing from a Roman jail cell, Paul affirms here that he has learned, through grievous trials, how to find contentment in Christ no matter the state he finds himself in. Rather than using this verse as pre-game motivation to secure God’s destiny of domination, it might more appropriately be used as a reminder to find contentment in Christ even after a punishing loss.
This exhortation to wait on the Lord promises that your strength will be renewed in the
process. Written to encourage the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon, it is difficult to see an application to modern competitive sports. The audience it was written for was humiliated, at the end of their rope individually and collectively, and had no hope outside God’s direct intervention to change their circumstances and save them. In context, the hope they were given was that God would provide a Messiah, not eminent freedom or the strength to complete a Babylonian triathlon.
Romans 8:31 and 8:37 become problematic any time two Christian schools compete against each other. At least when a Christian school is facing a public school we know whose side God’s on.
Paul wrote these words to encourage the church in Rome – and, by extension, all of us – that His ability to transform our lives into conformity with Christ’s character and holiness is greater than all the selfish, fleshly, and worldly influences we encounter throughout our lives. Selfish, fleshly, and worldly ambitions like the need to win every competition and utterly dominate an opponent.
Baltimore Ravens superstar Ray Lewis may be the poster child for fueling your mojo with scripture. He’s spawned an industry of inspirational posters, videos, and t-shirts. In the NFL, where bodies are weapons that are trained to inflict pain upon an opponent, claiming this verse should provide great comfort that you will not end up on the disabled list.
In reality, the prophet Isaiah penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to remind Israel that a day would arrive when they would not live in subjugation to their enemies, but would enjoy a renaissance under the rule of Christ in His millennial kingdom.
Any scripture that combines the words “arm” and “strength” are irresistible to athletes looking for inspirational body art.
This makes Psalm 18:39 perfect for tatting on biceps and triceps as it states, “You have armed me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.”
Just what battle Colin Kaepernick is fighting these days – with this verse famously tattooed on his left arm – is up for discussion. But I’m quite sure that the author, David son of Jesse, was referring to neither football or expanding the parameters of social protest.
1 Corinthians 15:57 is a testament of gratitude to God by the Apostle Paul for giving us victory over sin and death through Christ. It seems clear that many Christian schools feel this verse also can be applied to the gridiron.
I wonder how the coaching staffs of these schools feel when all the credit for a “W” goes to Jesus when they were the ones leading all the practices and calling in all the plays from the sidelines.
Scripture should inspire us. More often than not, however, we should find it inspiring us to move out of the arena of narcissistic and positive self-talk and into the crucible of selfless abandonment to God’s glory. Like the peddlers of the prosperity gospel, we seem constrained to spin scripture to our own benefit no matter the issue at hand. The question we should be asking ourselves in the midst of this inspirational tug-of-war is not whether God is on our side but rather if we are on His.