The coach’s counsel

by Barry Newton

A shrill whistle signaled another time-out. As the players gathered around their coach, wireless microphones and telephoto zoom lens transport us into their huddle. The intensity of another NBA Championship Playoff struggle draws us in.

Whether it be an NBA game or one being played out in a high school gymnasium, the fundamental situation facing each coach remains the same. An opposing force desires to defeat his team while an equally dangerous force, self-centeredness, could tear his team apart from within. And so, during a critical time out or the half-time break, the coach lays out a clear strategy to motivate his players to overcome their rivals while simultaneously galvanizing their unity.

Enter Paul. We may not think of him as a basketball coach, but his message in Philippians comes straight from the huddle.

Like a basketball team, the Philippian church faced opposition from without (Philippians 1:28,30) and the dangers of relational tensions within (Philippians 4:2). Comparable to an impassioned coach encircled by his players, Paul unleashed a strategy providing inspirational, directional, and solidaristic guidance.

Paul rallied their unity around a common cause that for a Christian should supercede any force capable of tearing them apart. What could be so powerful and valuable that would overshadow squabbles and differing opinions thereby cementing an unshakeable bond of unity? Be true to our team’s goal – the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27)!

Striving together for the faith of the gospel should be more important to God’s people than any petty matter of personal preference or hurt feelings. Paul encouraged them from his own personal experience. Although others had sought to stir up problems for him in prison by proclaiming Christ, what mattered most to Paul was the gospel advancing (Philippians 1:12-18).

Having refocused their energy upon the proper goal, Paul let them in on a secret.  A united church proclaiming Christ and refusing to be intimidated by their rivals would cause their opponents to realize their defeat was approaching (Philippians 1:27-28).  God’s people would be victorious even though assaulted.

Coach Paul throughout Philippians provided clear motivational models of how to be champions. Paul outlined the most poignant example of someone shunning a self-centered focus under the rubric of the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:4-8).  To possess the mind of Christ would undermine selfish ambition while empowering an obedient love striving for the faith of the gospel.

Whether a church is beleaguered or not, we would do well to join the huddle and listen to coach Paul. God’s people would benefit by valuing striving together with one mind to further the gospel.  The gospel by its very nature involves seeking the wellbeing of people.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They have two boys attending university.

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