St. Paul Takes a Knee
If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you are aware of the controversy involving NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem before the games. At this point it is not clear to the public what the protest has come to mean. It is not my purpose to clear that up, though I do think there is one former athlete who might have the best solution.
The apostle Paul commonly used the athlete as a metaphor for our struggle with the powers of darkness. He even described himself as a boxer and runner.
When it came right down to how he fought to win, we see that Paul took a knee.
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. — 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 (ESV)
Paul used the metaphor of an athlete to describe to his spiritual son, Timothy, one of the most vital principles of living.
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. — 2 Timothy 2:5 (ESV)
But, when it came right down to how he fought to win, we see him take a knee.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named… — Ephesians 3:14-15 (ESV)
The Battle in the Trenches
He goes on to pray for believers to be empowered with the Spirit in their inner being; that Christ might be real to them; that they would be grounded in an other-worldly kind of love; that they would comprehend the vastness of Christ’s love for them; that they might be filled with the fullness of Christ.
The battle in the trenches (as football coaches often describe the main battle) is in prayer. But not just any prayer. It is a prayer for internal change that can only happen when Jesus Christ displaces selfish obsession in the inner being.
The external conflicts we face will not be fully settled until we see with his eyes and love with his heart. As radical as that might seem, it is the heart of the gospel. We not only believe in the historical Jesus and trust him to get us to heaven, we know the transcendent Jesus by means of the Spirit, and fellowship with him as a person, our Lord and Savior.
Illumination is Vital If We are to Live in Love
Paul knew that he was on a team with the Spirit of God. He could preach, teach, explain and exhort, but only the Spirit can reveal the mysteries of the risen Christ.
Paul was very active in his ministry, but he was not fooled into thinking that the real game was about reason and behavior. He used his remarkable skills to persuade his hearers about the reality of the Messiah, but he knew that convincing the mind was not enough. Until their spiritual eyes are opened, even believers operate on limited perspective. The mind and will can only do so much.
When the inner being is regenerated and empowered by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, things change dramatically. So, Paul prayed. He knew that he was on a team with the Spirit of God. He could preach, teach, explain and exhort, but only the Spirit can reveal the mysteries of the risen Christ.
As a citizen of this country who is grateful for all those who have made great sacrifices for the freedoms we enjoy, I will be standing when the National Anthem is played. When the real game starts however the best place to start is taking a knee.