Soccer, Sports and Scripture
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Whatever one may think of the euphoria, flags and vuvuzellas associated with the world cup soccer extravaganza in South Africa, one can only admire the training and team work of teams that made the world cup and excelled in it. Success never comes by accident. It is the result of dedication, hard work, strict physical training, careful coaching, clear direction and team work.
No one person can win a match on his own. To win a soccer match, you need a good goal keeper, a strong defence, fast wing men, an effective and aggressive centre-forward team and strikers, and determined players who work together to score goals.
Following the Rules of the Game
It is essential that you know the rules of the game and adhere to them. You cannot win at any sport if you do not observe the rules. Hand balls, fowls and off sides can cost your team the match. Defending your own goal and attacking the opponents goal are both vital. To succeed in sports you need to know your opponents, know your own team, know the rules, know your skills, know your strategy and tactics.
Dedication and Discipline
It also requires intense physical training, and emotional, mental and spiritual training. Those who succeed in any Olympic sports, world cup soccer, international ice-skating, gymnastics, or any other sports discipline, need to sacrifice almost everything else in order to dedicate themselves to training and preparing for the competition. To be successful you need to listen to your coach. You need to maintain a healthy diet. Sustain enough sleep. Maintain a good attitude. Harden your body and discipline your mind.
Humility and Teachability
It is also vital to be humble and teachable. How often have we not seen some sports team or competitors threatening what they intend to do to the opposition and boasting of their triumph - only to be humiliated on the field. Pride goes before a fall. Let your actions speak. If anyone is to praise you, let it not be yourself!
The Soccer War
In 1969 Honduras and El Salvador went to war over the frustration of having been denied participation in the FIFA World Cup because of a frustrating draw. The resulting soccer war involved a full scale invasion of Honduras by the forces of El Salvador using tanks and aerial bombardment. Although the conflict only lasted 100 hours, there were over 3,000 casualties and it took urgent intervention by the Organisation of American States to bring about a cease fire, and ten years of intense negotiations to finally settle on a peace treaty.
Some soccer players have received death threats from angry fans frustrated at their performance, or the lack of it, on the playing field! On occasion soccer players have even been murdered, such as one high profile South American, who accidentally scored an owngoal!
A Substitute for War
To some people sports is a substitute for war, the ultimate competition. To them sports is no game, its deadly serious. Of course, many fans go completely overboard into gross idolatry.
It is worth noting that the word ‘fan’ is an abbreviation of fanatic. We need to keep spirit, mind and body balanced and Biblical.
The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9, reminds us that while many participate in a competition, only one receives a prize. The Scripture urges us to run in such a way that we may obtain the prize.
Everyone who competes needs to deny themselves, discipline their body, bring it into subjection and focus their energy. The Apostle Paul writes: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
To aim for the goal is a Biblical concept. To score goals one needs strategy, tactics, team work, foot work, defence, attack and striking. Those who keep the ball and try to do everything themselves will doubtless be intercepted and frustrated. A good soccer player needs to pass and be where they are meant to be, when they are meant to be there.
When the opponents evade the defence and threaten the goal of the team it is up to the goalkeeper to skillfully dive to save the ball from being kicked into their net. Without regard to injury, bruises, or grazes, a good goalkeeper will carefully position himself and leap to catch the ball. When he does so the crowd leaps to their feet and shouts: “Saved!”
Who to Blame?
After any match there are those who are exalted over their team’s victory and others who are disappointed over their team’s defeat. You will notice that there is almost always someone to blame for whatever went wrong. The goalkeeper was not in a good position. The defence failed to intercept the opponent’s strikers. Someone fumbled the ball when they had a shot. The referee wasn’t fair. Or perhaps even the coach is to blame for something.
The Greatest Injustice Ever
It is easy to blame others and to fail to take personal responsibility. However, we should point out to soccer fans that the illegal trial and torturous death of Jesus Christ on the Cross was the greatest injustice ever committed.
The Great Day
We need to compare the World Cup with the Day of Judgment. What will the ultimate Referee declare of you on that Day? Have you ignored God’s yellow cards? Will you be receiving a red card?
Are You Part of the Winning Team?
There will be prizes, commendations and rewards on the Day of Judgment. Are you part of the winning team?
The Scriptures tell us: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and finisher of our Faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Dr. Peter Hammond