Today is a huge day. Today the United States Men’s National Team plays Germany for a berth to the knockout round of 16 in the World Cup. The pundits tell us the US only needs a tie or better to advance. In fact, even a loss might get us through. For that reason you can go on any social media and read things like, “Let’s get a win, #USMNT–but a tie would be okay, too!”
In one sense, this is true. The US will technically make it through to the next round if they tie. But the truth of the matter is, when a team plays hoping for a tie, they rarely ever do. In fact, if you enter an athletic competition with the mentality that a tie is acceptable, you will lose. Over and over and over again.
The Mind of an Athlete.
I’m not a super-crazed competitive alpha-male type. However, I played competitive soccer through college, and I know how an athlete must think if he has any chance of winning. Satisfaction is never an option. Settling can never become plan B. For the true athlete, a tie is as good as a loss. This is not being ungrateful or overly dramatic. This is the nature of competition at the highest level. If satisfaction with tying begins to creep into a team’s mentality, they will begin to tally up game after game in the loss column.
Wanting to win does not mean you will always win. In fact, the team that refuses to settle with a tie often takes risks trying to win that might cost them a game. When they could sit back on their haunches and protect a 1-1 draw in the last ten minutes of the game, a team that wants to win continues to send men on the attack, leaving the defense open to a counterattack. Fighting to win can open a team up to a greater risk of losing. However, I cannot count how many times I have watched a team fight just to protect a tie only to concede a late score to the team that was hungrier for the win.
Contentment with Mediocrity.
As fans, we often console ourselves with the fact that a tie is better than a loss. As a player, I would disagree. A tie softens the blow of failure, preventing the soreness of a loss from driving a player or team to improve, adapt, and fight harder. I’ve played for teams that were content with a tie. It’s like an epidemic. You keep tying. You hardly ever win. Tying becomes commonplace. The team sinks into mediocrity.
The “Let’s win but a tie is okay, too” mentality about today’s US vs. Germany soccer match is exactly what many of our churches are struggling with. We like the idea of winning, of fighting off sin, of growing in number and in faithfulness, of experiencing victory, but honestly, if we can just stay the same, a tie is satisfactory. We are content with mediocrity.
Paul Fought to Win.
When it comes to the Christian life, Paul does not have a category for a Christian who is content with a tie. I wonder whether Paul was an athlete in his early life–you know, before he became a Pharisee–because he understands the competitive edge that is essential for success. Athletic metaphors pop up in many of Paul’s letters, but listen to how he speaks in 1 Corinthians:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
-1 Corinthians 9:24-27
We have to fight to win in the Christian life. Churches that don’t play to win will lose. Churches that are content to tie will lose. After a lifetime of fighting, striving, and straining for Christ’s Kingdom, Paul’s drive did not diminish. As he ran, he picked up speed. When his legs began to tire, he pushed harder. When he saw the finish line, he didn’t slow down: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Our Opponent Will Not Settle for a Tie.
We are afraid. When we strive for greatness, we have a higher risk of failure. When we go all in, we have the chance of losing it all. When a church risks everything that feels comfortable and pours all of their energy, time, and resources into trying to win their community for the Kingdom of God, there is a fear that they might end in abject failure.
The problem is, choosing to settle for a tie does not fix the problem. In the battle of Kingdoms, it is either kill or be killed. If we are not “wrestling…against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12), we will be overcome by those same enemies.
Fear may convince us to settle for a tie, but our opponent is not so kind. Satan and the powers of darkness are not interested in a truce, a tie, or a cease-fire. He will only be satisfied when you have been utterly defeated, overrun with sin, and made completely useless for the Kingdom.
We cannot settle for a tie. The souls of our friends, family, and our communities cannot be lost. We have been given a Spirit of the Almighty God. We follow the risen and victorious Christ. The perfect love of Christ for us casts out all fear of failure. Our Christ will declare victory over his foes. Let us fight until he returns!
…And Go USMNT!