2 Timothy 2:3–7
The fifty-seventh Super Bowl of 2023, held in Arizona, was as exciting as it gets. The euphoria and rapturous applause of the audience when Jalen Hurts, the Eagles’ quarterback, made the first touchdown of the game was unforgettable. As I watched Jalen sprint to the end zone at lightning speed, I could not help but think of some similarities between the football game and the game of them all, the game of life.
The apostle Paul calls the life of a Christian a “race set before us” (Heb. 12:1). In 1 Timothy 4:7, he encourages us to exercise godliness like an athlete who devotes himself to perfecting his game. In Ephesians 6:10–20, the apostle Paul paints Christians as soldiers at war with the demonic forces, clothed in the “whole armor of God,” that they may stand against the devil’s wiles.
I anchor the analogy between the 2023 Super Bowl and the game of life on 2 Timothy 2:3–7. In these verses, Paul compares the life of a Christian to a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer to inform us of five principles critical to making a touchdown in the game of life. While these principles are not explicitly stated in the chosen text, they are inferred by the characteristics of a good soldier, a devoted athlete, and a hardworking farmer mentioned in the text. In the 2023 Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs exercised these five principles, though only one won the trophy. It is no different in the game of life. The Bible says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:24).
What are the five principles essential to winning the game of life? First, we must play the game of life committedly. Paul wrote, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (2 Tim. 2:4). A soldier is committed to winning the war and pleasing his commanding officer. Both teams playing in the Super Bowl were committed to winning the game and pleasing their owners. Nothing can take the place of single-mindedness in achieving a goal. Our Lord and Savior Jesus was committed to His redemptive mission—to free us from the slave market of sin. The prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah as one who set His face like a flint to accomplish His redemptive mission. Nothing deterred Him from achieving His goal (Isa. 50:7; Luke 9:51). If you and I are going to make the touchdown in the race of life, we must run with a single-minded commitment and not allow the enticements of this world to entangle us.
Second, we must play the game of life strategically. A good soldier employs both defensive and offensive tactics in fighting a battle. He protects himself with the necessary protective armor and uses an armamentarium that can inflict a devastating blow to the enemy. Similarly, a team playing in the Super Bowl employs defensive and offensive methods to make a touchdown. In the game of life, we, too, must use both defensive and offensive strategies. Our defensive armory includes being girded with divine truth, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, protecting our feet with the gospel of peace, having the assurance of our salvation, and guarding our hearts with faith (Eph. 6:13–17a). With these armories, we can quench the fiery darts aimed at us by the enemy of our soul. Our offensive weapons are the word of God, our sword, and the powers of heaven we invoke through prayer (Eph. 6:17b–18). Just as a team playing in the Super Bowl makes it a point to know the opposing team’s strategies, we must know our enemy’s tactics described in God’s word (1 Peter 5:8).
Third, we must play the game of life obediently. Our text says, “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). Every sport, including football, is played by its respective rules. If a team violates the rules, a penalty may be imposed, and the team stands to lose the game. Similarly, we must play the game of life by the rules given in God’s word, the Bible.
God’s word is our authority on matters of faith and conduct. The Bible says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Ps. 119:9). Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). We are called to run the race of life looking to Jesus, the pioneer of our faith. When Jesus was on earth, He kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10). If ever Jesus had a chance to resist the will of the Father, it was in the Garden of Gethsemane. But He did not. With indescribable anguish, He prayed, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42).
The supreme rule by which we play the game of life is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30–31). All of God’s commands flow out of these two. Most encouraging is that the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, will empower us to obey this overarching rule of the game of life.
Four, we must play the game of life enduringly. Paul wrote, “The farmer who works hard deserves the first part of the harvest” (2 Tim. 2:6, ERV). Hardworking farmers who patiently till the soil, sow the seed, apply appropriate fertilizers, and wait for the rainfall will likely have a bountiful harvest (James 5:7–8). In the fifty-seventh Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs showed remarkable patience when lagging behind the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, injured his ankle in the late second quarter of the game, he did not miss any playing time. He endured his injury and led his team to a touchdown at the beginning of the third quarter. In the game of life, we must play with endurance. The reason is that we will suffer hardships, loss, and pain in the game of life (1 Thess. 3:3). But the good news is that we can count on God to give us the strength to bear our afflictions (1 Cor. 10:12). The Bible teaches that those who endure to the end will be saved (2 Tim. 4:5; Mark 13:13). Not only that, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12).
Our model for exercising endurance in the game of life is Jesus Christ. Jesus went to the cross, endured pain and suffering, and died ignominiously. He did all that for the joy that awaited Him; He foresaw the untold millions who would benefit from His atoning death and resurrection from the grave for our justification. His endurance resulted in His triumph, for He was seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to think of all the hostility Jesus endured from sinful people. Why? So we don’t become weary and give up the game of life (Heb. 12:3).
Finally, we must play the game of life expectantly. Just as a soldier expects to win the battle, an athlete a prize, and a farmer a bumper crop, we must play the game of life to receive a prize. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs played in the Super Bowl expecting to receive the trophy, but only one team got it. Paul asks: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:24). We must play the game of life expecting to win the “crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8). If we play the game of life with temperance, forgetting our past defeats and triumphs, keeping our eyes on Jesus, and pressing forward to the finish line, we stand to receive the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
The Vince Lombardi Trophy won by the Kansas City Chiefs is made of sterling silver. Yet, humidity, salty air, perspiration, household bleach, and chemicals can tarnish this coveted trophy. But the crown we receive for reaching the end zone and making the touchdown in the game of life is imperishable (1 Cor. 9:25). So, run with your eyes on Jesus to reach the finish line and obtain your prize.