Winning and losing are the natural results of playing the game. Almost all sports have a winner and a loser, it is the way they are set up.
So what does the Bible say about coping with losing? Should Christians be those who recite the old amateur mantra ‘It is not about the winning, but the taking part’? Does ‘turning the other cheek’ mean that we shouldn’t even want to win in the first place? ‘If your opponent scores a goal let him [in Christian charity] score two more’? Fortunately that is not the Bible’s view.
Our word ‘competition’ is rooted in the Latin word competere, which means to strive together, to push one another on. In other words, part of the way that sport works is that through the adversarial system of having a winner and a loser two parties, are pushed to improve attaining ‘faster, higher, stronger’ (as the Olympic motto puts it). To say ‘I do not mind whether I win or lose’ is to undermine the goal of the activity and therefore in some sense to undermine sport as a whole.
The apostle Paul implies this in 2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV) when he argues:
“anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules”.
Notice that Paul openly talks about ‘competition’ (and does not say it is a bad thing) and assumes that victory is a worthy end for the athlete. Therefore the way to cope with loss is definitely not to dial down our expectations and give up on caring about winning and losing.
This will mean that there will always be a sting to losing. It will hurt, and of course the bigger the match, the more acute the loss. In a strange way there is a comfort in recognising that the pain of loss is not necessarily wrong or ‘ungodly’ - it is part and parcel of competition.
Secondly, it is important to recognise that God often grows us more in the valleys than he does on the mountain heights. In other words, loss may help you to grow more like Christ than success will.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28, NIV)
is an often misquoted verse because we do not read on to define the ‘good’ that is being talked about. Paul continues in verse 29:
“For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”.
Being conformed to the image of Christ means to have our character changed, growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). The uncomfortable reality for us is that the Spirit often cultivates these virtues in adversity. Have you thought that God might be more interested in your godliness than your success?
Finally, one of the particular ways that we can cope with losing is by recognising when it causes us excessive sadness. Idolatry is when we take a good thing (like winning) and make it ultimate. In religious terms, it becomes what we worship.
Losing will sting, but if we are excessively sad or low when we lose it may well be that God is exposing our idol. Feelings of worthlessness and anger are sure-fire indicators that winning and losing have become too important.
Remember, as someone trusting in Jesus Christ, winning and losing do not determine your self-worth. Christ has died to redeem you from that way of life and he is risen so that your life is hidden ‘in him’ (Colossians 3:3).
He is your ultimate victory and he is your ultimate glory (Colossians 3:4). Knowing this will not anaesthetise you to the pain of losing, but it will enable you to keep it in perspective.
Pete Nicholas, Inspire Church London
Pete was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2017 and is a rugby player by background who now plays touch rugby. Pete is ordained in the Church of England and Minister in Charge of Inspire Saint James Clerkenwell in London.
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