Are you playing offense or defense?
The game of football can illustrate the point that as believers we often tend to think we are to be playing defense until the Lord returns. We certainly may be called to defend a position, but we are largely called to play offense. I see that in Matthew 16:18:
In Matthew 16:18 (ESV) Jesus says to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
I also see it clearly in the well-known Great Commission:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
I hear in these words of scripture a game plan that is in every way an offensive one. The goal and the purpose are clearly laid out for us. The disciples who were listening were not told, “Occupy until I return.” They are asked to go out and reach all the corners of the earth and share the Good News with all people everywhere. But this commission was not simply passed on to the disciples who were in the physical presence of Jesus before His ascension after he had risen. It is one passed down to us.
He is calling us to be light in the darkness and to speak truth and the hope of the very BEST news we could ever hear or know.
If we are to be His offensive line, perhaps we should revisit the football analogy to keep it real as we look at the characteristics needed to play offense. Yes, we can site the spiritual equipment needed, but can the analogy flesh out the image for us a bit more?
I come from a small Midwest town where high school football is the centerpiece of the community. High school football here has a tradition of having been played for 126 years. Many years brought home state championship – from 1935 to 1954 they won 15 of 20 years, a higher percentage of games won than any high school team in any state. They also birthed players that went on to college and pro football. I confess I love it!
As I researched this question, I learned there are five characteristics needed to be successful if you are called to play offense:
- Work ethic
- Good character
- Athletic ability
What do these mean in the football analogy and do they fit for us as believers?
Intelligence as an offensive lineman in football means they are not only smart about football, but they are able to perform well in the classroom as well. They have a balance of both classroom knowledge and football intelligence. In other words they have knowledge of more than football and they can apply that knowledge on the field they are called to play in because they know how to think through a situation. In the game on the field, things are always changing moment by moment in the game. They also play a variety of different teams who play the game a bit differently from team to team.
On the believers’ team I think this applies. To be effective we need to learn skills in the classroom to appropriately handle scripture and scriptural truths when we are out ‘on the field’. We also need to know something about life and lived experiences to apply what we have known and learned in the area and with the people the Lord brings into our lives or that we are called to go to. How you present the Good News to a big city businessman or woman will likely be different than how you would present it to a mom in Middle America or a teen in the inner city.
Toughness as an offensive lineman includes both physical and mental toughness that are developed through drills, weight room programs, mat work, etc. so they can handle the rigors of the game. Often, they are hit hard and must learn to play through and keep going in the midst of pain. In short, lots of practice to the point of exhaustion is needed to develop toughness.
On the believers’ team I think this applies as well. We need to develop strong beliefs and understanding of scripture and the Christian life that can stand the test of rejection, criticism, and perhaps ridicule. The toughness needs to be strong enough so that we do not give up when challenges inevitably come. Paul gives us lots of examples. He was beaten, stoned, thrown into prison, shipwrecked and so on. Nothing deterred him from his call and assignment to share the Good News everywhere with everyone.
Hard work is the basic foundation of any successful offensive lineman in football, so a good work ethic is essential. A good work ethic includes showing up even earlier than asked and never taking for granted the need for practice even if you won the game last time. It means keeping your equipment and body clean and in good shape. It means staying late if necessary, to get it right.
The work ethic of the team of believers means we aren’t sloppy and our discipline about preparedness and making and keeping commitments are central to modeling Christ.These things in combination help to mold and shape a good character and allow the Holy Spirit to have full access to the gifting and calling that has been placed in us as Christ’s team to go out under the command of the Great Commission taking His light into the darkness, speaking the truth in love.
No, most of us are not donning pads and a helmet to take the gridiron this week, but we are commissioned to take the field of the world. We’re playing offense for Christ as we do.
Are we ready?