Ron Brown Finish Strong

Play to Win

We’ve all seen it. A team will start out playing with great intensity and effort and build up a big lead over its opponent; but with only one quarter left to play, it happens. They start playing it safe and lose their intensity, momentum and confidence. They get soft and safe, just hoping the clock runs out so they can win. Meanwhile the opponent, who is playing to win, gains the intensity, momentum and confidence to take the risks that are necessary to maximize its potential. The team who is now playing to keep from losing blows their lead and is overtaken by the surging team who is playing to win!

In my 28 years in the Lord, I’ve discovered that there are two types of Christians: those who play to win and those who play to keep from losing. There’s a big difference.

Over the years, I’ve watched mainstream-channel television interviews with well-known professing Christians in which they are questioned about their faith. I distinctly recall two different interviews on different shows with two different pastors, both of whom claimed to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

One of the pastors was clearly playing to win. In addressing the line of questioning, this pastor gave a very clear, bold, unpopular-yet-truthful account of Jesus, the cross, the Bible, our sin, the resurrection, grace, forgiveness and purpose. It was the kind of preaching and answering that is the same no matter what the score or who is playing. No matter the hostility or favor of the crowd. No matter the politics or the strings attached. He was playing to win!

However, the other pastor, when interviewed by the TV host, was playing to keep from losing. The host brought up specific sins of the culture that have become debatable in the eyes of the world, even among many  professing believers, yet the pastor being interviewed waffled and would not stand on God’s Word. He was playing to keep from losing.

 “Those who play to win in Christ don’t turn off the truth or the intensity and clarity of the truth ever!”

But here’s the question: Losing what? Membership in his large church? Money? Reputation? Favor?

Is this being too hard on the second pastor? Not when you look at the Apostle Paul’s example. He called out Christians who deserted the truth and challenged his younger pastor mentee Timothy with this:

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NKJV).

Second Timothy is a letter written in the context of suffering and opposition from those who reject the gospel. The suffering and opposition are generally reliable indicators of godliness, intimacy and conformity to Christ (2 Timothy 3:12). Those who play to win in Christ don’t turn off the truth or the intensity and clarity of the truth ever! Those who play to win play bravely and circumstance-free.

Those who play to keep from losing in Christ go strangely silent with hot-button, politically charged issues, even when Scripture is clear on those issues. Those who play to keep from losing have many different speeches they use to change their truth stance in different settings so as to not displease and offend their listeners.
Those who play to keep from losing play cowardly and circumstance-based.

Paul instructs us to exercise sensitivity and grace in presenting our truth stance. The truth of God’s Word, when preached openly, could cost us our reputation and worldly favor. Eventually it cost Paul a lot more than that: it cost him his life. But Paul reminds us in Acts 26:26 that he didn’t preach in corners; he preached without favoritism. He preached openly, and he preached circumstance-free. He preached the solution to sin: Jesus, the cross, His death and His resurrection.

If we want to play it safe to make sure we don’t lose friends or favor, we can play ‘prevent defense,’ tickle ears, water down the truth or keep it light and loose. But before any of us who play to keep from losing hit our heads on our pillows at night, we must reconsider what Jesus said in Luke 17:33: “Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

Hey, I’m as big a coward as you, but I’m tired of playing to keep from losing. Aren’t you? Let’s resolve together, in the name of Jesus, to play one way: to win!

*For more stories about faith and sport, visit, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.