2 Kinds of Outdoing

What should Christians, especially those who are non-sports fans, make of the Olympics?

Everything in the material universe points to something of significance in the non-material realm. By saying so, I am not trying to diminish the significance of the physical universe per se. God has ordained meaning and significance there, too. Jesus ascended bodily to heaven. Meanwhile, the material creation points to things not seen with physical eyes, but with spiritual eyes.

The Bible is bursting with numerous examples of material objects employed as metaphors. Mustard seeds point to faith. Rocks struck in the wilderness point to Jesus who is our sacrificial lamb. Manna points to nourishment that does not come by bread alone. The heavens declare not just condensation, but God’s glory.

Now again, in Beijing, the natural world points to realities beyond itself. Enter the Olympics. Athletes from around the world have gathered to try to outdo each other in speed, strength, height, and accuracy.

For years these athletes have conditioned their bodies, honed their skills, refined their equipment, and prepared for this spectacle of outdoing. Weeks ahead of the games they have relocated to the city of the competition to acclimate their bodies to time zones and atmospheres.

They're doing their utmost to outdo not only the other athletes present and participating for medals this year, but to outdo all human athletes in all of recorded history, contending for the designation “world record”—bragging rights they will strive strenuously to achieve.

But not all will triumph. Few will win gold. Most will be outdone.

Years of sweaty workouts, aching muscles, burning lungs, painful bruises, and bleeding calluses will see them in a breathless puddle of exhaustion and perhaps tears, the well-known agony of defeat.

When it comes to outdoing others, are national pride and personal ambition the only motivations?

No, not when, instead of sprinting, swimming, and pole-vaulting, the competition is loving and honoring.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).

Olympic athletes attempt to outdo each other in order to obtain honor, not give honor. But Christians are not merely to show honor, but outdo one another in showing honor, preferring that honor be given to others.

If God enables you to outdo others in showing honor, the others will receive more honor than you (at least until heaven’s rewards are bestowed).

And if God enables you to succeed in outdoing others in love, the others will be, well, less loving than you, because you're outdoing them. And that’s exactly how love behaves. It loves those who are less loving.

Sam Crabtree is executive pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church and the author of Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God (Crossway, 2011).