Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christian Athletes and Philippians 4:13

If you were to read the media guides for any number of professional and collegiate teams or even look to the apparel that athletes wear on game day, there is a certain verse that gets frequent attention -- Philippians 4:13. A simple verse, it says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." But when used by athletes is the verse being taken out of context and used inappropriately? A look at the context of the passage should tell us something.

The book of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul to the church of Philippi while he was in jail. This letter outlines his hope in Christ and the fact that true joy can be found in the midst of even difficult circumstances. An examination of the broader passage surrounding chapter 4, verse 13 indicates what Paul was referring to:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.
Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.
Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Though many athletes may look to this verse for personal inspiration in regard to their athletic achievements, it means so much more. Paul had known the realities of times of comfort and times of inconvenience. Through all these things he had found contentment in whatever circumstances he was facing. While it is okay for Christian athletes to seek to apply this verse to their lives, it is troubling to see how it often gets limited to mean the ability to hit home runs or score touchdowns. The "all things" that Paul was referring to was not pertaining to competitive sports. He was referring to the joy that believers in Christ could find in the midst of hard times and, furthermore, the blessings of giving and receiving within the family of God.

When rightly applied it would mean athletes can thank God in their on-camera interview following a loss, just as they do after a win. It would mean that they could also kneel in prayer after dropping a touchdown pass and not just when they caught it. And I hope more athletes follow the example of Tim Tebow (pictured above) and others by using the platform that sports has given them to positively influence the lives of other. Christ does not give us strength merely for us to get rich and famous. He does it for His sake. Beyond the field of athletics, this verse can provide great comfort for all believers. No matter whether our circumstances are easy or difficult, we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.

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