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Volume 17, Issue 2: Doctrine 101

Winning is Christian

Patch Blakey

As a young boy, as well as throughout high school and college, when I participated in sports, the objective from the perspective of all participants was always to win. When we chose teams in first grade to play kickball during recess, the team captains would get to choose sides, and the biggest concern was always who got to choose first so that they could pick the one player that would hopefully ensure victory. Sometimes, some of us were left out because we weren't as aggressive or skillful as the other boys.

After I became a Christian, it seemed that there was a not-so-subtle shift in focus. Winning was no longer the primary objective in playing sports; "character building" was the new nexus for the saints. Now, I don't want to disparage character building, because we are to be Christ-like (Eph. 4:13 ). But may I ask, "Whatever happened to winning?" Is winning antithetical to character building?
Some Christians don't think winning is important because most of us don't win in whatever our athletic endeavor. We are not all Olympic gold medalists. Admittedly, the increasing trend in popular athletics, from the "parks and rec" level of competition to professional sports, to win at any and all costs is shameful, and that is not what I'm advocating. Unethical means of seeking the winning advantage are certainly not Christ-like (Lev. 19:11).
Other Christians think that we are to be meek and mild like the paschal lamb. However, they tend to forget the other half of the metaphor: the Paschal Lamb is also the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5). The lion and the lamb laid down together in Christ when He was buried following His crucifixion. They also both arose when He ascended on high and was given all authority in Heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18).
So then, what is our biblical example? Is it one of being "born to lose," or are we called to win? What do we mean when we teach our children, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game?" Although no doubt intended to counter the idea of "win at all costs," does this idea adequately communicate what the Bible teaches?
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain," (1 Cor. 9:24). Paul is saying, play to win, work to win, work very hard to win. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like Paul is saying that the objective is to win. It's also noteworthy that he uses an athletic example to make his point, as though there's an obvious connection.
How about John's comment in the book of Revelation, speaking of Jesus as the Lamb? "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful," (Rev. 17:14). The analogy has shifted from sports to warfare, but look who's winning; look who the conquering hero is. The Lamb shall overcome those who make war with Him. That sure sounds pretty victorious. Jesus had an objective: He was going out conquering and to conquer (Rev. 6:2).
So when Paul writes to the Philippians, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus," (Phil. 2:5), what sort of image does it conjure up in our thoughts? Christ the "loser" who died as a wimp on the cross, or Christ who suffered and died to conquer sin, and rose again to conquer death?
But what are we parents supposed to tell our children when they compete and lose? "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain," (1 Cor. 9:24). We need to tell them that they must work harder, developing the kind of Christian character that is truly Christ-like; they must strive to be winners.
Children who grow up thinking it's okay to lose will be easy prey for unscrupulous bullies. They will be prone to take the route of least resistance and inclined to be quitters. They will also be more likely to passively wait for the return of Christ rather than to proactively make the earth a more heavenly place to live (Mt. 6:10). Is this the kind of stuff that heroes are made of?
No! Heroism is overcoming in adversity, not whining through it. If we teach our children that their hero can be the Pillsbury Doughboy, we shouldn't be surprised when they grow up to look and compete like him. Douglas Wilson and Doug Jones said it well in their book Angels in the Architecture: "The church today is a stranger to victories because we refuse to sing anthems to the king of all victories. We do not want a God of battles; we want sympathy for our surrenders."1 We need to impart a winning attitude which produces a vision of victory.
If we are not training our children to win, we are not developing Christ-like character in them. The difference between godly winners and ungodly whiners is a wide chasm. Even those mentioned in Hebrews 11:36-40 strove for a godly objective, even if they did not obtain it. They did receive a good report because of their faith. They had a winning attitude. They followed Christ, the Conqueror.

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