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2 Timothy 2:1-5 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 3Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. 5Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.”

For the last couple of weeks, the 2010 FIFA World Cup has been going on. Teams from around the world are competing to be called the champions of the world. If you’ve watched any matches, you might have found yourself frustrated by some of the calls the officials have made. Several teams have been robbed of goals or handed fouls unfairly because an official wasn’t able to clearly see what had happened in the game. However, the rules of the game state that the decision an official makes is final. Even if the replays show that his call was incorrect, the result of his decision isn’t overturned. This may seem frustrating, but it also avoids a lot of hassle and haggling later on. Imagine if all the decisions the officials made were arguable – months might be spent after the tournament had ended, with teams on both sides fighting for changes to be made in the scores!!! It would be a nightmare.

The reason it’s annoying that official decisions can’t be overturned is that the officials are only human. They make mistakes. Their sight isn’t always perfect, and sometimes their inability to think clearly or fast enough affects the results of a match. The problem, then, is not with the rules. The rules of the game themselves are just fine – if the game was regulated by the officials as perfectly as the rules are organized, no one would have reason to be angry!

In today’s verses, Paul compares the experience of living the Christian life to being an athlete. Just like the men who are competing in the World Cup, we’ve been given a set of guidelines which reduce the chaos of our lives and enable us to succeed and excel. And just like those athletes, it’s very important that we follow those rules, so that we can be victorious.

We do, however, have one thing that is an improvement over the situation at the World Cup. The One who will be judging us, the One who will determine the ultimate result of our heart’s hard work during this life, IS perfect. Unlike the officials whose faulty humanity negatively affects the outcome of soccer matches, God’s promise to us is that if we follow His instruction and His rule to the best of our ability, trusting in Him and His grace, then we WILL be victorious in the end.

Once we’ve done that – given all our effort and energy to be victorious, we will be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8