Eric Liddell: A Light in Darkness — 7 Traits of Those Who Shine

By Alan Eason Published on May 2, 2015

ALAN EASON — “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16)

In an ever-darkening world, we Christians can sometimes despair. It is disheartening to see what we remember as a more civil world, one with more restraint in ungodliness, begin to fade — and a world with more cursing, bitterness and anger take its place.

Such was the world of the first century Christians. The apostle Paul said they lived in the middle of “a crooked and perverse generation.” Evil was called good and good was mocked and called evil. Everything seemed twisted.

Yet the apostle encouraged those Christians to stay their course. It would be hard. But it would not be fruitless. He stated that some would begin to see in their lives an amazing warmth and attractiveness, and that they would come to be recognized as lights in a very dark place. They would “shine.”

As I thought about this, I remembered one of my favorite stories. It is the story of Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympian who amazed the world with his unparalleled feats of running at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. His story was popularized in the academy-award-winning movie Chariots of Fire in 1981.

Eric Liddell at meet in London

Eric Liddell at the British Empire versus United States of America (Relays) meet held at Stamford Bridge, London on Sat 19 July 1924. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Eric Liddell astounded the world even further with his stand on conscience when he refused to run a qualifying race for the 100 meters race because it had been rescheduled to a Sunday. The 100 meters was his strongest race. His decision made no sense to others, including his own teammates. But as a man who believed he should not compete on the Sabbath, he sincerely believed that it would dishonor God to run it.

He withdrew from the race. The news spread and the world mocked him as a fool. Yet he was able to train for and enter another race, the 400 meters. He won the gold medal, setting a world record that stood until the 1932 Olympics in Berlin. He ran this, his greatest race ever, holding a slip of paper given him shortly before the race, a note with a portion of a Bible verse written on it: “Those who honor me, I will honor.”

Eric Liddell’s “light” was much more than his athletic prowess, however. He would have stood out even if he had never run a race. He was widely known for his modesty, his “chivalry” (as others called it) and his joyful enthusiasm. His college headmaster said this about him: “There was no pride or fuss about him, but he knew what he stood for.”

Friend and foe alike commented on his sportsmanship, his high spirits and his ability to pour his full heart into everything he did, because he fully believed he was living to please God alone. Rather than being seen as a mark of obstinacy, as it was at first, even his misunderstood stand on conscience came to be viewed as a basis for the unbelievable strength of character that all saw in him.

That character manifested itself not only in resolve, but in compassion and forebearance, even in the worst of times. In 1925, one year after his Olympic success, he returned to China as a missionary (he had been born there). He was still there when the Japanese took over that territory in actions leading up to World war II. He would die as a missionary prisoner in a Japanese prison camp.

One of Eric Liddell’s biographers stated: “During the worst period of his imprisonment he was, through his courage and cheerfulness, a tower of strength and sanity to his fellow prisoners. To many sufferers he brought the only comfort that captivity allowed.”

Such are people who are true “Lights of the World.”

Seven characteristics of people of light:

  1. Their environment is often dark, cold and hostile. Yet their attitude is still joyful — “Do all things without murmuring or complaining.”
  2. Their very existence seems odd to most people because it is outside the societal norm — “They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation …” (1 Peter 4:4)
  3. Many others are drawn to them because of their warmth and light. The difference becomes more obvious — “You shine like stars in the world.”
  4. Their energy and power comes from a source outside of their own culture — God.
  5. They live by a different set of rules and obey a higher law — “Holding forth the word of life.”
  6. They sometimes have to stand in opposition to the world order around them, but they do not compromise their convictions — “… Love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
  7. They imitate their Creator, who sent them out as lights — “You are the light of the world.”  (Matthew 5:14).
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