Against Self-Interest (The Greats Play for Love)

Professional athletes study the game.

They watch game tapes over and over, noting each nuance of those who excel. Then, they take their observations onto the field or the court or the mat, practicing them again and again, so that they might not only replicate the excellence, but also surpass it.

This is the way of those who love what they do. Like Brady. Like Kobe. Dedication. Passion. Study. Work. Practice. Teamwork. Appreciate the crowd but don’t depend on the crowd. Focus.

Have you ever wondered why sports can so easily become an idol? Have you ever wondered why so many of us are drawn to the stands? God is calling to us through our mis-directed obsessions. He is modeling for us through those playing the game that this is the way we should follow Him.

Dedication. Passion. Study. Work. Practice. Teamwork. Appreciate the crowd, but don’t depend on the crowd. Focus.

There’s a story in the gospel of Mark 3:1-6 that touches me deeply because I know it calls out the Pharisee, the religious spectator, in my own soul.

Jesus has begun His ministry and the crowds have swelled around Him because He heals the sick, casts out demons, and preaches repentance. He preaches repentance to every crowd – even those gathered in the synagogue.

And for the Pharisees, the gospel is no good news at all. Jesus’s following is a threat. His teaching is an offense. But the miracles are a problem. What do we do about the miracles? Hmm, maybe they can be useful to our agenda?

In Mark 3, Jesus enters the synagogue. The story starts off like a joke God’s telling over dinner – “My Son, a phalanx of Pharisees, and a man with a withered hand walk into a synagogue.”

It’s a set up.

The man with the withered hand is a plant. We can be such cruel people. Using those in need to test others, to further our own agendas, to demonstrate our personal glory. And here he is. Not a character in a story for a flannel-graph board but a man in need. A man broken. A man with a withered hand.

And it’s the Sabbath.

The Pharisees are faithful to the Sabbath. Allow no work on the Sabbath. Enforce no work on the Sabbath because this is God’s day.

And the work of the Messiah so far has been to heal.

So, Mark tells us the Pharisees watch Jesus.

That’s what some people, spectating people, do with men and women who excel at a thing. They watch them to see if they’ll slip up. They watch for a fall with plans to use that slip to justify their own lethargy, their own mediocrity, the slovenliness of their own souls. To assure themselves that what the great One is doing, can’t actually be done.

“See – he wasn’t that great.” “Ha! I knew she wasn’t all that.” “There, see, that’s why I don’t even bother to try. It was sheer arrogance to think you can pursue football/basketball/tennis/God with such devotion and survive.”

Jesus sees the trap, but He’s the only one in the room who knows the trap isn’t for Him, but for them.

He offers them an opportunity for mercy by inviting them into His story.  He calls the man to Him and asks the crowd, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

It’s a question that requires they go deeper into the law of God and touch God’s heart. It’s a question that calls for bravery, for someone who has been paying attention to God – not the opinion of the crowd. For someone who loves what God is about and who is ready to step onto the field beside Him.

They were silent.


“And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”

He wasn’t running for Messiah. The true greats, and He is the greatest of all, aren’t seeking the approval of the crowd, the fame, the following – it’s love that drives them.

In our times, a leader would have had to poll the apostles before he focused on the broken hand. He would sense the temperature of the room and try to garner support before performing His miracle. He might even have decided it was better to heal the man after the service.

Because, here’s the thing – Jesus knows what’s going on in the Pharisee’s hearts and He knows that if He heals this man right here, right now, He’s signing His own death warrant.

And then He does it.

He has watched the Father and knows every move His Father would make. He knows His Father does not operate from within His own self-interest. He knows His Father isn’t run by numbers or majorities or religious trends. He knows His Father is love, mercy, compassion, healing, restoration, redemption, and righteousness. And so is He.

This was no small work. The Pharisees go out and conspire immediately with the Herodians against Jesus and plot how to destroy Him.

Jesus knows that His act of mercy in demonstrating God’s great heart will cost Him His life, but He’s not here for His own self-interest, but for love.

Where will we stand today? Will we be clever, reserved, measured, and cynical enough to watch those trying to live the Jesus life, thinking they’re fools, waiting for them to slip or fall?

Are we the broken ones standing between Jesus’ and the religious posers just wanting to be healed?


When we receive His healing, will we embrace it fully? Will we join Him on the field, watch His every move, study, work, practice, teamwork, appreciate the crowd but don’t play for the crowd, focus on Him who is the Master of All?

Make your choice. It matters. Because, this is no joke.

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    The Conversation

  1. Kathy Burns says:


  2. Terri says:

    Lori you continue to dig your way right under my skin. And it’s uncomfortable. Now I see myself, standing in any situation, waiting to hear which way the conversation or mood is heading. And pharisaically (if that is even a word) convincing myself that I’ll play the peacemaker, the superior one without an opinion, that can diffuse a situation with my oh so calm and sensible attitude. But I can’t call myself a follower of Christ and stay this way. Really, why do I keep following you? Because, deep down, I know my eternal destination depends on messages like yours.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Lori , not sure but your articles are very light, difficult to read. And this comment board is black…not sure if its my phone. But the last article also looked the same.

  4. Hannah Linder says:

    Great post! I loved how you brought sports in to demonstrate a powerful, spiritual point. Thanks, Lori!