Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's all Paul's fault!

I love Paul’s writings. You know, the Apostle Paul. He’s the one that the Holy Spirit tapped to write most of the New Testament.

But I do have one bone to pick with him.

In the entire Bible, there’s only one blatant reference to a sport, and Paul’s the guy who did it.

What was the sport?

Running, as in a race at a track meet. Go take a look at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:7, and Hebrews 12:1. There are others.

Frankly, I don’t know what Paul was thinking. I’m sure he never ran in any organized foot race. Sure, he was on the run, in a manner of speaking, after his conversion, but that wasn’t sport.

Maybe he was attempting to make the Gospel culturally relevant by using a popular image of the day. The Greeks and the Romans held various games and running was among them. So was death by lions.

Even if cultural relevance was what he was after, I think he bogeyed here. Because of Paul’s one sports metaphor, too many now see this as a license to “sportify” the whole Gospel message and beyond. One guy even claims that references to horseback riding, javelin throwing, swimming, fishing, fighting, archery, hiking, and other similar activities count as sports references in both Old and New Testaments.

I say, “Foul!”

Other than Paul’s running blunder, these and other references were all made in the context of warfare, earning a living, wandering in the desert, and the like. They weren’t about sports! (An exception might be Ecclesiastes 9:11.)

Why do I complain so? Because I’m not a sports fan and cringe whenever sports metaphors pop up in sermons, pep talks at events for men, or in articles and devotionals.

It’s bad enough that business books and motivational seminars are awash in sports metaphors, we don’t need them cluttering up Scriptural exposition. Leave them in the sports pages of the newspaper where they belong!

Just because something is targeted to Christian men doesn’t mean all men relate to sports.

In my defense, I turn to Christ. The teachings of Jesus are rife with rich metaphors and variegated imagery, none sports prone. Not even a single parable.

If Jesus didn’t need the crutch of sports to make his message relevant, then neither do we. And Paul only used one sport to make a point, and it wasn’t a sport involving a ball, small or large, round or oblong. Frankly I’m not sure Paul would even be comfortable laying hands on a pigskin, so football analogies are completely out of the question.

So please, knock off all the biblical sports jabber.

Telling me it’s the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, there’ve been two strikes, and now is the time to hit a homerun for Jesus is just a swing and miss.

I don’t want to hear about making a touchdown in the end zone of heaven or how a decision for Christ is like a hole in one. These and other sports metaphors don’t bowl me over and strike out with others as well.

Stay out of foul territory by using what’s actually in scripture.

If you feel compelled to employ a biblical sports illustration, stick with running. Don’t go out of bounds beyond Paul’s own metaphor. If you do, you’ll most likely throw an incomplete pass and are at risk of getting sacked by the Holy Spirit.


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