My rookie year with the
Baltimore Colts seems like it was only yesterday. The first words out of Coach
Don Shula’s mouth were a challenge: “Men, you will be better prepared both
mentally and physically than any team you play this year—the rest is up to
I hung on every word, and immediately felt inspired to
practice and prepare as hard as I could to help the team win. His words of
confidence made me feel like a winner before I had even played my first set of
downs in the National Football League.
In our Coaches Outreach Bible studies this semester we’re
studying the letter of First Corinthians. Some of the first words from Paul’s
pen are similar to those spoken by Coach Shula. They are direct, challenging
words written to a rookie church in Corinth. “Coach Paul” cut it straight with
these cocky first-round draft choices of the first century. Paul begins by
opening these Christian rookies’ eyes to a squint at first. But as the letter
to the Corinthians goes on, his words make sure their eyes are open wide to the
truths they hadn’t seen before!
Like college players who come into
the pro ranks, the new Christians in Corinth thought they had arrived
spiritually, but didn’t know they had forgotten the fundamentals. Coach Paul
starts with the most important one: “Think about the circumstances of your
call,” (v.26). He reminds them that it is God who drafts us. There was and is
nothing special about us that isn’t provided by God Himself. In fact he shows
that God likes to take the sorriest-looking athletes and make them into Super
Bowl contenders: “God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise,
and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong” (v. 27, NET).
When we read those verses we are tempted to think like the
Corinthians, “Hey, come on… give me a little credit. I have some Christian
friends who think I’m pretty special!” But Paul hits them with more fundamental
truth about their lack of worthiness: “God chose what is low and despised in
the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as
something…” (v. 28, NET).
This is what any boot-camp sergeant
knows as “breaking them down.” Paul hits us with the cold smack of reality
that, in this army of believers, everyone starts at the foot of the Cross. Your
previous or present status has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Why? “So
that no one can boast in His presence. He is the reason you have a relationship
with Christ Jesus…” (vv. 29–30, NET).
It’s exiting to know that right now
over nine hundred coaches in our Bible Studies are taking these fundamentals
seriously and building on them. In chapter three Paul writes to the
Corinthians, “I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as
people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for
you were not yet ready…” (vv. 1–2, NET). Even though they work long hours,
coaches are taking time to study our curriculum because they are determined not
to stay in spiritual diapers, but grow mature in their faith. They’re not
relying on baby food, but, thanks to the meat of God’s Word, they are putting
on spiritual muscle. They are strengthening themselves—they are preparing
themselves for service.
Good coaches know what Don Shula said to
me so many years ago, that there is no substitute in sports for good
preparation. This principle is also true in spiritual life. Our coaches
studying 1 Corinthians are thankful they’ve been drafted by God, and know why
they must stay focused on the fundamentals… “Christ Jesus… became for us wisdom
from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it
is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:30–31, NET).
Maxwell (ThM, 1983), former Super Bowl winner, serves as executive director of
Coaches Outreach, a ministry to high school and college coaches. Copyright © 2005, Coaches
Outreach. Used by permission.