Love, Fear, and College Hoops

A college basketball perspective on love, and fear of the Lord.

Today’s post is based (loosely) on parts of a sermon by Eric Knopf at Epic life about the fear of God. This blog/podcast has two parts. The analogy, and the Kingdom connection.

Part I- The AnalogyFear or Love?  Which team do you play for?

Fraidy Cats on the Court

The Fraidy Institute of Trepidation, also known as F.I.T college, takes great pride in school sports. They are represented in mascot by the timid and skittish domestic animal, the cat. When prospective student-athletes visit Fraidy for recruiting trips, the athletic department treats them like royalty. Showering recruits with attention and kindness, the coach projects a future picture of a college experience rich with belonging, expert mentorship from team captains, and erasing of student loan debt via scholarship money. After the student signs the contract, however, the mentality shifts and the coach begins using  fear as a behavior management technique to improve the team’s performance. And, in the short term, it’s quite effective.

The ever-lingering punishment of “suicide liners” drives the players to arrive at practice 15 minutes early, like clockwork. Echoes of slammed clipboards and humiliating midgame berates, keep team members practicing their free throws daily. The fear of losing educational enrolment—as it rides on the fragile foundation of merit-based scholarship money—lights a haunting fire in the eyes of every Cat on game day. On weekends, fear of coach’s wrath ensures a dutiful, albeit bitter, team-wide abstaining from intoxication and other campus party chaos. The athletic director deems the basketball the most polite in the whole school.

With the intense emotion of fear always on their heels, the cats never lack in performance motivation. Indeed, Fraidy qualifies for the playoffs every season and has earned a reputation for running a systematic and clean game with minimal on-court errors. And yet, just below the surface of the seemingly flawless tight ship, an infestation of problems eats away at the team like termites. By sophomore year, most players find themselves plagued with burnout and stress fracture injuries. On the emotional front, ongoing jealousy corrodes the team spirit. No one celebrates in another’s individual scoring victory as they believe coach can only shine the spotlight on so many players at once. Ultimately, for those who choose to play for Fraidy, fear rules over every aspect of their lives.

Agape Takes Possession

Standing beside Fraidy, in stark contrast, is Agape Pacific University. The athletic department at Agape meets prospective students with a genuine kindness, which only increases after the recruiting trip. The players at Apage Pacific still pursue excellence on the court, however, unlike the cats, their motivation is NOT fueled by the fear of the consequences of failure. Team discipline and exemplary attendance records serve as a mere bonus byproduct of their love of the game, respect for the coach, and commitment to each other.

While other conference teams attempt to get away with as much foul play as possible, Agape Pacific refuses to “play dirty.” Sure, they still make mistakes and chuck their mouth guards into technical foul territories from time to time, but they find no satisfaction in throwing sharp elbows or holding jerseys behind the ref’s back. Quite simply, that would take the joy out of the game; and in regards to Joy, Agape goes big.

     From the shrill whistle of tip off to the blare of the final Buzzer, Agape Pacific takes ownership of the court, electrifying the arena with passion. The team chemistry, love of the game and desire to honor their coach, cancels any fear of making mistakes. Ironically, some of the other teams are afraid of Agape, They say the bright intensity is “too much,” and they can’t take the heat. But Agape does fear such competitors. They press on, with a full court press, and continue bravely with alley-oops, high fives, half court shots, and slam dunks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Agape wins, every time.

Part II: The Kingdom Connection

The “fear of the Lord” is a widely discussed and often misused phrase in today’s church. The book of Proverbs states that the “Fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom. And at the same time, Jesus frequently commands His disciples NOT to fear. When facing this apparent contradiction, we must first recognize the multiple definitions of the Greek noun phobos. According to the New Testament Greek Lexicon, phobos can mean either “fear, dread, and  terror,” or, “reverence for one’s husband.”

These definitions are not interchangeable, and they require a contextual distinction for accurate understanding. Since the majority of Christians have not studied Greek in depth, the word “fear” tends register far more readily with the dread definition. And sadly, while the church does focus on the Grace of God to bring people in, they often use the “Fear of the Lord—with an emphasis on the terror based definition—as a sin prevention and behavior grooming tool. In doing so, the church unintentionally disciples followers into a faith damaging, fear-based relationship with their loving Father. In the words of the original sermon, “it’s impossible to authentically love someone you also fear.”

To finish with a verse, I leave you with 1st John 4:18. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  

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