I love sports. To be more specific, I love college sports. Little gets me more amped than watching the University of Michigan compete. And with Michigan ready to fight for a spot in the Final Four this March Madness, it is an exciting time to be a Wolverine. Another great part of being a Michigan fan is the storied rivalry we have with Ohio State. It should go without saying that it is particularly gratifying when Michigan beats Ohio State. School pride and passion in the rivalry is not only why I love college sports, but what makes OSU/UM one of the most treasured rivalries in all of sports sports. But while I love the competition when it matters, I hate it off the court.
I am a Michigan fan that just so happens to live in Ohio, which can make it difficult to maintain a calm temper. So much of my experience in the rivalry has been harsh words justified as “bragging rights” or as “part of the game.” Given OSU success in major sports over the past years, I lot of the negativity has been directed at Michigan fans, but I’ve seen plenty of it tonight coming off an OSU loss in the Elite Eight. But I fail to see where the Bible’s command to speak “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29) is nullified by competition and rivalry.
Jesus himself said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44). While there is a distinction to be made between rivals and enemies, applicably they are the same in this context. Just take a look at the definitions:
Rivals: a person who is competing for the same object or goal as another, or who tries to equal or outdo another; competitor.
Enemy: a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another an adversary or opponent.
Maybe I am being dramatic, but a lot of what I have seen in sports sounds a lot more like enemies than rivals. So then, why not love our enemies? Why not speak in a way that is good for those who listen? Why not take the opportunity to congratulate our rivals in their wins, and console them in their losses? I’m sure there is room for playful teasing, but let’s not let it override practical sharing the love of Christ by putting away pride and bragging. Becoming more Christ-like is a process, and it involves submitting everything that we are. Only when we submit the small parts of our lives to Him, such as competition, will our entire person being conformed to Him.