HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME

T. PIERCE BROWN

When I was young, I heard of many coaches telling their teams, “It is not so important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” They probably got the idea from Grantland Rice, famous sports commentator who wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes To write against your name, He marks–not that you won or lost– But how you played the game.”

However in more recent years, a well-known football coach said, “Winning is all that matters.” The fact that his team was known for “dirty” plays indicated that they followed his philosophy. We are persuaded that in sports, politics, and the life of the general public, the latter philosophy is the predominant one. When those in official positions in government can be shown to be womanizers, bribe takers, stealing from the government, dope users and morally bankrupt it is bad enough. But when they can then be re-elected without much difficulty it speaks volumes for our general depraved condition. “Winning is all that matters” seems to be the general political philosophy.

As I meditated on those two apparently diverse and contradictory philosophies, it occurred to me that both might be valid, depending on the subject and context. If one is talking about sports or any earthly activities, and trying to teach boys and girls that principles of fair play, righteous conduct, decency, cooperation and doing your best are more important than the score or winning the election, then the first philosophy is to be recommended. Winning is not all that matters.

However, if one is thinking of spiritual matters, and how good and nice one may be, and yet miss heaven, then one may need to re-think his statement. That is, one may play the game of life in a very marvelous way; though he may speak with the tongues of men or of angels and give all his goods to feed the poor (1 Cor. 13:3); though he may do many wonderful works in the name of Jesus (Mt.7:22), and “play the game” in a very good way, he may hear the Lord say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” From that standpoint, one may be able to say with more accuracy, “Winning is all that matters.”

Part of the reason for this article is to impress upon each of us that even if one “played the game” in such a way as to gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul, he has still lost. Winning is what matters! But a more important reason for the article is to emphasize that most of us have a tendency to get “locked in” on some phrase or idea that sounds good–and may be very good in some respects or in some contexts, and then may express righteous indignation, consternation and alarm when someone presents another phrase or idea that seems to contradict our pet idea.

For example, most of my life I have respected the idea that we “speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent” meaning by that what Peter said in 1 Peter4:11, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” I have also used the expression, “Call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.” I am still committed to that basic concept, which means to me that I teach that all we do in word or deed is to be done by the authority of Christ.

But I recognize that there is not a man in the brotherhood that does not use words and expressions that are not in the Bible to discuss almost anything worth discussing. The worship hour, the church treasury, corporate worship, church building, fellowship hall, song books, communion cups are just a few of hundreds of words we use in discussing various aspects of the work or worship of the church. You have never read an article that was not full of expressions that are not in the Bible. This does not mean that they are wrong or unscriptural. It does mean that persons may become blinded and arrogant when they take a perfectly legitimate expression, even a Biblical quotation, and try to limit the speaking or practice of another (for they never limit their own) by the fact that the exact expression is not found in the Bible. Some of the more blatant cases in past years are those who thought “the cup” was the container and since only one was mentioned, only one could be used. Since there is not found in the Bible any statement that they met in the main auditorium and split into various classes, then “Sunday School” or anything that sounds like it must be wrong.

Debates have been conducted, fellowship broken, churches split, and no doubt souls have been lost as a result of such attitudes and actions. Just this week I read a good article having to do with the idea of the importance of a person doing the best he can. The author ridiculed the idea because he said it suggested that one might go to heaven on his own goodness. He suggested, “When one does the best he can, he is depending on himself. He should forget about doing the best he can and depend on God for grace, forgiveness and power.” To those of us who have taught all our lives that one should do the best he can, and proved it by the Bible, that conclusion might be shocking, or even revolting. It would not be surprising if the author received some vituperous letters, suggesting that he was teaching salvation by grace only, and that the very idea that a person should not do the best he can is false doctrine that would condemn his soul.

Certainly if a person got the idea that to do the best you can involves trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, or that he could go to heaven by his own good works, he should learn better. But he might well be thinking, if he has fallen in a swift stream and cannot swim, that doing the best he can is not to simply try to swim out by his own power. The best thing he can do is to take the proffered gracious helpful hand and allow himself to be pulled out. For a sinner, doing the best he can is accepting the grace of God on the terms by which He offers it. There is nothing better than doing things God’s way.

When we talk about winning, there are two important things of which we need to be aware. First, what is the goal? On a football field, one may assume a team is winning if they seem to control the ball, complete passes, and run all over the field. However, unless one gets the ball across the goal line, he has not scored a point. Furthermore, he must get it across according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5).

Second, one needs to know that what seems to be a dismal failure may be the greatest victory. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, probably even His disciples, and certainly His enemies, might say, “He has failed.”  But instead of this being the greatest failure in the world, He had won the greatest victory.

So, we may play the game of life very badly much of the time, like Saul of Tarsus, but if in the end we make the winning move, we may think, “winning is all that counts.”  But if we assume that since winning is all that counts, we may play the game of life any way we choose, not being concerned with doing our best, and hope that luck or God’s grace will enable us to ultimately win, we make a fatal mistake.

So although we need to realize that doing the best we can might sometimes involve doing nothing at all; it may involve strenuous, sacrificial activity; it may involve depending on someone else to achieve our desired results, we still need to do the best we can.

And although we need to realize that no matter what else we may do, if we fail to win the ultimate battle against Satan, we have lost all that really matters, how we play the game is still very important, for it may determine whether we will win or lose. Just be careful that when you express the idea you have about anything, if someone expresses a contrary idea, you might need to check with him to see if you are speaking of the same kinds of things before you get too excited about his ignorance or his false teaching.

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