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Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.COMPETING WITH RADICAL LOVE
This summer, the Olympic Games were supposed to be held in Japan. But just imagine, for a moment, that they were not postponed and you could tune in right now and watch some of the best athletes in the world compete for Olympic gold while adorning the colors of their country.
The Apostle Paul often used this ancient Greek sporting event as an analogy for the Christian life. For example, Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 9, “Run that you may obtain the prize” (v24) and “I keep [my body] under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified (v26).” Paul was so focused on living for Jesus and sharing the gospel that he considered it to be like an Olympic sporting event.
Now, let’s consider “the race of faith” in the context of community. When exalting the gospel of Jesus is truly our “prize”, Christian unity can be easily experienced even across racial, cultural or ethnic divides. Teammates learn to work together and celebrate one another’s victories.
One of the things that I appreciate about the Olympics Games is that there are occasions when competitors display a secular version of this unity and honor the accomplishments of even their rivals. We call this being “sportsmen-like.”
Of course, there are also moments when honor is discarded, harsh words are exchanged and hatred fuels athletes to become bitter enemies.
Hatred is a huge problem when it festers among “teammates,” but it is also a major hindrance which can prevent Christians from sharing the gospel.
Now, we do have a real enemy who is beyond our love. However, it’s not the outspoken atheist or the best-selling false teacher. Nor is it the power-hungry politician, the violent gang leader or the embittered next door neighbor. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood…but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). We ought to abhor Satan and his legions.
But all people who seek to hinder or harm disciples of Jesus, are merely blind athletes competing for a coach who is leading them down a path of eternal destruction. Therefore, God empowers Christians to treat all human “rivals” differently.
The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual strength to reject attitudes of vengeance and show lovingly care for the real needs of our foes. Radical love becomes the competitive edge of our visible faith. We love with honorable actions such as offering food and drink. Revenge is not found within our sport. Therefore, any perceived human enemy that you face is simply a “not-yet-teammate” who doesn’t know that Jesus has already received gold and graciously invites rivals to share in His victory.
May we learn to compete within this life with radical, Jesus-like love. Amen!