Does God Really Care Who Wins or Loses?

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Stop me if you’ve heard it before—Does God really care who wins or loses a football game? He absolutely does. In a sense.

In the first of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, as metaphors for spiritual disciplines, he uses three of the five sports played in the Isthmian games (an olympic-like competition competed in every two years in Corinth honoring Poseidon). At the end of chapter nine, the apostle cites running, wrestling and boxing. Curiously, or not, he leaves out pankration and the musical/poetical competition that apparently fell under the sports’ umbrella in that day and culture. How knew singing was once considered a sport? When you hear pankration, think an ancient form of today’s mixed martial arts. I read somewhere that in pankration just about everything was legal, except eye gouging and maybe biting.


Christian Schnettelker
via Compfight

Paul, though probably not an athlete, and possibly not even a fan of the Isthmian games used them, as a large part of the Corinthian culture, to prove a very important spiritual point: sports have great value, metaphorically. What a good athlete does physically can certainly carry over to his spiritual life.

Of running Paul made the point that while many might run, only one can win. So, he said at the end of verse twenty-four, “So run, that ye may obtain.” Train, then. Run. Get faster. Work hard. Be disciplined…if you’re running for a trophy that will eventually tarnish and its beauty fade away. Some people run for those trophies. Others run for treasures in heaven. At the end of our marathon waits an incorruptible crown. To get there, to reach that finish line as a winner, we’ve got to have a certain level of consistency.

But here’s the glory of it all. Both, those that run for a corruptible crown and those that run for an incorruptible crown, prepare themselves in the same way—with discipline. In verse twenty-five Paul speaks of the second sport. He writes, “And every man that striveth…” That striving references the sport of wrestling. So, Paul says that wrestler wrestles, “…for the mastery is temperate in all things.” You’ve heard about or seen those high school and college wrestlers who teeter precariously between two weight classes? The good ones—the championship wrestlers know the value of discipline in the struggle to maintain their desired weight. This struggle happens more off the mat than it does on the mat. Exercising temperance is exercising discipline.

If you want to be fast, if you want to have endurance, if you want to win the race, you’ve got to run. You’ve got to train. You’ve got to keep moving forward. You’ve got to be consistent.

If you want to pin your opponent, if you want to have the maximum advantage possible as a wrestler, you’ve got to have discipline. You’ve got to practice moderation.

But Paul had a third sport in mind when he wrote verses twenty-six and twenty-seven. Boxing. He said that he fought, but not just as someone who “beats the air.” He wasn’t just shadow boxing. He fought to bring his body under subjection. He figuratively wanted to blacken the eye of his carnal flesh. He wanted to knock the “old man” out. He wanted to brutally beat his ungodly desires into submission. Sin, and desires that come from sin deserve no mercy. If you don’t knock temptation out, it will certainly knock you out.

So, in ninety-something more days when football rolls around again, don’t ask if God cares who wins or loses. Instead, ask what you’re doing spiritually to win. Think about how many punches you’ve thrown sin’s way lately. Like Paul, use sports to help you evaluate the game that really matters.

About the Author

Michael Andrzejewski

Michael Andrzejewski is a missionary in western Europe who loves to share his stories. An introvert by nature, he swims upstream while struggling to pastor cross-culturally. Passionate about both the Gospel and football, he constantly searches for really good sushi.