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Trophies that Matter

Posted by Dr. Wade Smith on

Pittsburgh Steeler defensive lineman, James Harrison, made news last week by decrying the participation trophies his sons, ages 6 and 8, recently brought home. So offended was Harrison that he took the trophies from his sons and returned them to the league decrying they had not been earned (i.e., their team did not finish first). Harrison posted “I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned. . . that [people] are entitled to something just because they tried their best.” He wants his boys to learn that they are not entitled to a trophy just because they show up on game day. He hopes to teach his boys that even in the midst of hard work and determination, victories do not always result and trophies are not always guaranteed.

Yet, proponents of participation trophies argue that trophies at a young age are less about winning championships and more about encouraging fundamentals, teamwork, good sportsmanship, perseverance (finishing the season), and having fun. It seems that these are also important qualities to teach and celebrate in our children as well.

So, what do you think? Are trophies to be earned or given? Could it be that both approaches are right? Some trophies must be earned, while others must be given. What trophies are you racing after today?

The New Testament speaks of obtaining imperishable trophies (prizes) in contrast to the perishable trophies of this world. In First Corinthians 9:24-27, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to run, train and live life in such a way that we might win the trophy. To win requires discipline and self-control. It means that we “play by the rules” so that we are not disqualified.

And herein lies the Christian paradox: we are all destined to be disqualified. Regardless of our effort and commitment, we are all certain to fall short of winning the race. In spiritual matters, no one earns the trophy.

However, the good news is that this spiritual trophy (salvation) is awarded by faith, not merit. It is a trophy of grace. It cannot be earned. It cannot be bought. It is not deserved. It is simply received through Jesus Christ.

In the Kingdom of God forgiveness, mercy, true love, righteousness and eternal life are all given, not earned. These are the “trophies” of God, reminding us the most valuable things in life are given and not earned.

Unlike the races and competitions of this world, however, the trophies of God signal the beginning, not the end of the race. These trophies are not to be placed on a mantle to collect dust. They are to be embraced and matured. We are forgiven that we might forgive. We are shown mercy that we might be merciful. We are loved, so that we might love others. We are declared righteous, so that we might become righteous. We are given eternal life, so that we might live life abundantly without the fear of death.

As Paul came to the end of life, he wrote to his friend Timothy, “I have finished the race...there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord...will award to me on that day; and...to all who have loved His appearing.”

What trophies are you racing after?