by Shannon Caughey
The teaching of Jesus is often challenging and radically counter-cultural. This is certainly the case with what Jesus lays out for his followers in Matthew 5:43-45a – “43 You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”
As we start a new year, we’re considering what’s foundational for success – not only in coaching but in all of life. It’s good to focus from the beginning on what Jesus makes clear about this. In the previous two devotions, we reflected on what Jesus says are the most important commands: loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Now we see that Jesus pushes this even further. Not only are we to love our neighbors, we’re to even love our enemies. What does this mean, especially for the context of coaching?
The norm in this world is to attack and hope for the demise of those deemed “enemies,” whether in the political arena or other areas. In sports, coaches often encourage their players to see the opponent as “the enemy.” Sometimes coaches even tell their players not to help an opponent up or engage in friendly conversation with “the enemy.” It’s also easy to view others within the coaching context as enemies: that opposing coach who comes across as arrogant, or that official who always seems to make critical calls against our team, or that parent who makes life difficult for us.
Jesus says that when we love those who feel like enemies, we act as true children of our Father in heaven. Why? Because we’re reflecting the character of God. Out of love, God gave his Son for us even though we had made ourselves his enemies because of our sin (Romans 5:10). On the cross, Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for us – enemies of God – to reconcile us to God and restore us to the life we were created for: life in relationship with God.
When we experience the sacrificial love of our heavenly Father through Jesus his Son, it transforms how we treat those who are “enemies.” We pray for them to experience God’s kindness and goodness. We respond to them with love rather than animosity. We’re willing to act with generosity and self-sacrifice for the sake of their good. We don’t wait for them to behave in ways that feel more palatable to us before we do any of this. We take the initiative to move toward them with God’s love.
This doesn’t mean we can’t engage in fierce competition in sports, giving our all in an effort to beat our opponent. It does mean, though, that we treat opposing players and coaches with respect and grace. Rather than vilifying them, we recognize what is ultimately true: every person is created in God’s image and loved by him. As we love our “enemies,” we point them to Christ and we model for our own team what the love of Jesus is like.
Coach, with the start of this new year, renew your focus on what the Lord says is foundational for true success in what matters most. Love the Lord with all that you are. Love the people around you well. And make the effort to love those you find difficult to love. Love them in ways that reflect God’s love for you.
For reflection: Who in your life and coaching context feels like an “enemy”? Ask the Lord to show you the next steps he wants you to take to love these people in ways that reflect his love.