“. . . if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” – 2 Timothy 2:5
When I was about eight years old, just big enough to play little league baseball, I got assigned to, what turned out to be, the best team in the league in our age division (no thanks to my contribution). Being the team to beat that year, and everyone out to get us, there was this one particular game when the assigned home-plate umpire failed to show, upon which a plea went out among the spectators for someone to volunteer. Finally, a man sitting in the opposing team’s bleachers raised his hand. Except, by about the third inning it became obvious he was intent on throwing the game, calling balls strikes and strikes balls, calling players out when they were safe, and safe when they were out, all to the advantage of the opposing team who, in the end, did in fact win.
His actions were so blatant that everyone knew what he was doing – coaches on both sides, players, and spectators – yet no one intervened. Cheating is hard to take any time, but at our tender age we could hardly imagine such a thing. After all, it was totally contrary to what had been drilled into us by our parents, teachers, coaches, and Sunday School teachers throughout our young lives, to be honest and follow the rules. But on that fateful day we lost our innocence as far as that was concerned.
We all have stories like that, don’t we? And we all struggle with how people get away with dishonesty and breaking the rules, in sports and in life. How did the guy living in the big mansion get by with swindling others? How about a classmate who made the honor roll or won a scholarship after cheating on the exams? Or what about the athletes who have gotten away with using steroids?
So much for the old adage that “winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.” Right? That is, unless you reconsider the definition of a winner, which is what my teammates and I learned from that little league game; for whatever behind-the-scenes conversations among the adults there may have been, we were instructed by our parents and coaches to not dwell on the incident and simply move forward in preparing to play the next game. Theirs was a lesson in grace and forgiveness, making us the real winners, recipients of a lesson-of-a-lifetime, and a true “victor’s crown.”