I am an avid football fan. I grew up in a family of avid football fans. I even had legitimate hopes of playing Division I college football until I was sidelined by a neck injury in high school. So at this point in the calendar year I begin to experience minor withdrawals as my favorite sport winds to an end. Nonetheless, some of the most humorous aspects of football for me are the mind-numbingly simple philosophical phrases coaches and players create each year for motivational purposes. There are two things that are humorous to me regarding these phrases. First, they almost always have to be three words or less. More than three words and you begin to infringe on the outer intellectual boundaries of your target audience. There just aren’t that many Rhodes Scholars that buckle chin straps on a regular basis!Second, they seem to propagate from one team to another over the course of the season. So, at the beginning of the year, you might hear a coach or player from Team A recounting fifty times or more their team’s new motivational phrase. After a week or two has passed, Team B will hold a press conference and they too will recite Team A’s motivational phrase, only they’ll claim its their own. From there on the pithy statement seems to spread from team to team. It happens every fall.
This year’s pithy statement of choice among college and professional football teams alike seemed to be “Hold the Rope.” As you can see, they were just able to sneak it in within the three word limit. Now, what exactly does holding a rope have to do with football? There is no rope in the game of football.? There is a chain, but it stays on the sideline and players would be penalized if they grabbed hold of it anyway.? So what does it mean? Well, football is somewhat unique among team sports in that during the course of each play, all 11 players must faithfully execute their particular assignment for the play to be successful. If just 1 of the 11 players on a team fails in his role, the entire play will likely fail. For example, a beautiful 70-yard touchdown run complete with perfect downfield blocking may be instantly negated by a holding penalty on the opposite side of the field. Ten players may have executed their roles perfectly, but one player failed due to laziness or lack of concentration, and thus the whole play failed. So, to athletes around the country, the phrase “Hold the Rope” means do your job, even when you are hot and tired and thirsty and in pain. Regardless of how difficult it might be, regardless of how insignificant one’s role may seem, in order for the entire team to be successful, everyone has to “Hold the Rope”; everyone has to do his job.
Lately I’ve been thinking through my battle against temptation as a believer. As I consider my particular struggles, the familiar passage of 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 has been playing over and over in my head. That passage reads:
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
This small section of Scripture is loaded with hope and truth regarding the struggle against temptation. In fact, as I read it, I sometimes envision Paul as a coach admonishing us to “Hold the Rope”. There are no heady metaphors or abstract typologies to muddy the water in this passage, just three jabbing truths that I can hear and understand even in the midst of the battle. Here are the three truths I see:
1. Temptation thrives on self-reliance. If I think I can handle things solely on my own, I’m a prime target for a fall. I need to be intimately open and vulnerable with other believers and with God.
2. My temptation is not unique in either its mode or intensity. I’m not out trailblazing a new path in temptation that has remained undiscovered for all these years. Even Christ Himself is fully aware of my predicament and can relate personally to the struggles I face. In fact, He endured extraordinary temptation yet without ever once falling into sin. He never failed to “Hold the Rope”.
3. Obedience is always possible because of God’s faithfulness to me as a believer and His absolute sovereignty over all created things. This means I will never find myself in a situation in which sin is the only option, regardless of how intense the battle may become. Therefore, if I continue to battle, because God is faithful not to subject me to more than I can bear, I can be assured of victory over any particular temptation. Likewise, if I do fall into sin, I do so on my own accord because I choose to sin, not because God was unfaithful. I sin when I choose not to “Hold the Rope”.
Let me share with you one of the areas in which I am often prone to fall. Ironically, it is the very area of sin Paul addresses just prior to the passage quoted above; that is, the area of grumbling. Just to give you some insight into Matt Sutton, I’ve never exactly been classified as a world-class party animal. But, if you were to include pity parties in the mix, well, my party animal status might suddenly move up a few notches. In addition, I am currently single and I live alone. Now, often the loneliness I experience on a regular basis can become quite intense and serve as just the right fuel needed for the temptation to grumble and sulk. Thoughts of being stuck in this world alone forever often bounce around in my head. So, according to the passage above, the question before me is how should I respond to the temptation to grumble given my present circumstances?
1. Temptation thrives on self-reliance. Loneliness thrives on being alone. Now, sometimes being alone is an absolutely wonderful thing. However, because of my situation, if loneliness is getting me down, I have to take some action to avoid being alone. I can’t wait for someone to come walking through the front door. That’s just not going to happen. But, one of the hardest things for me to do is to pick up the phone and call any one of a number of wonderful believers the Lord has graciously brought into my life who genuinely care for me. I do want the loneliness issue to be solved, but I want it to be solved on my terms, which are not necessarily the same terms the Lord has currently provided. The challenge for me is accepting His terms and His provision and trusting that they are for my good.
2. I need to be transparent with my church family. There is great comfort in being transparent with other believers. Furthermore, as I study the life of Christ and I begin to see a glimmer of what He endured, I am motivated to press onward. Sharing my struggle with other believers allows them to help shoulder my load a bit, and it often gives me opportunities to encourage them as well. This again, though, is not something that is easy.
3. I have to remember that obedience is always possible. The absolute confinement of this truth, the lack of wiggle room if you will, is helpful. I can choose to have real joy in the midst of my present circumstances even though the discomfort of loneliness may be present at the same time. Furthermore, I can choose to have joy even if my circumstances never change. I can’t allow myself to give into the thought that obedience is currently not possible. That is simply unbiblical, no matter how true it may feel.
As I think about my struggle against all manner of sin, I think of Paul imploring me like a coach to stretch beyond what is comfortable. I think back to my days on the practice field running what seemed to be endless “suicides” while coaches screamed their admonitions. The stakes with sin are infinitely higher than the outcome of a boy’s game, but so to is the encouragement of Scripture higher than that of any human coach.? Can you hear the New Testament writers imploring you to persevere? Stand firm! Hold the Rope!