In the late spring of 1994, as I rooted on the Houston Rockets on the way of the first of two “Thank you, Michael Jordan, for trying to play baseball” world championships, most of the world was watching another sport. The World Cup had come to America. (That’s a big soccer tournament, in case you were unaware.) And the American home crowd got a thrill when the Yanks pulled off an upset victory over traditional power Colombia. The 2-1 win was helped along when Colombian defender Andres Escobar scored an “own goal,” giving a point to the Americans and effectively eliminating Colombia from the tournament.
In related news, Andres Escobar was shot and killed in his hometown of Medallin a few days later. Humberto Munoz Castro, who had ties to a local drug cartel, confessed to the crime but refused to implicate anyone else. He wound up serving 11 years of a 43-year term.
This just in: Colombians are serious about their soccer.
Was it national pride? Was it millions of cocaine dollars lost in gambling dens around the world? In any case, losing was not going to tolerated. Messages would be sent. Lessons would be learned.
It goes without saying that I disapprove of such measures — not even in connection to college football. But I am all for taking seriously things that are actually serious. In our own competition for Christ, any reasonable competitor “exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). We see the pleasure that comes from indulging in whatever vice may appeal in the moment; there is enough of the world in all of us to understand the appeal of “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-16). But to borrow from Mrs. Reagan back in the days of my youth, we “just say no.” It is far simpler in principle that it often is in practice, true. But we are fully capable. It’s just a matter of exercising our will power in pursuit of something more important than the joy of the moment.
On the occasion that we fall short of the Lord’s expectations, and our own, we willingly accept discipline — both from God Himself and from His representatives (Hebrews 12:11). We are not masochists; we suffer from ignominy, shame and punishment as much as anyone else. But if we are to be “serious” Christians, that means taking our training seriously. When a brother in Christ approaches us “in the spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1) — and remember, love “believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) — we take our lumps in stride. Working harder and working better are not punishments. They are blessed callings. We wanted to do them whether or not we “needed” to do so.
And when the situation calls for it, we intervene on behalf of those whose efforts are not what they should be. On such occasions we point Galatians 6:1 back at ourselves from the opposite angle, going the extra mile to make sure an erring brother or sister sees our attitude of love and humility. We may hate this aspect of discipline even more than being on the receiving end. But, again, we do it. When a member of the body is dysfunctional, he or she disappoints the Head at the very least; at worst, rebellious attitudes can hinder the efforts of the body as a whole (1 Corinthians 5:6).
No part of this is enjoyable. But, as with the dedicated athlete, satisfaction is found in the knowledge that you are on the right track, that a goal is drawing nearer, that you are more like the person you ought to be. This is serious business; let’s take it seriously.