Spectator or Participant

by Wayne Greeson

The “Urban Dictionary” gives a satirical definition to the basketball term “sixth man” as:

“A superfan who believes that his fervent support of a team will have a direct influence on the outcome of a game said team may be involved in.”

Superfan to curious journalist: “Why am I stripped to my boxers and painted red? Because fans are as important to the game as each individual player on the court! People like me give those players the confidence and determination to win! Without people like me, they’re nothing! They may as well not come! People like me are practically the sixth man!”

The term “sixth man” in basketball really refers to a player who is not a starter but comes off the bench much more often than other reserves, often being the first player to be substituted in. There is a vast difference between a fan who sits in the stands as a spectator watching and an actual player who participates on the court playing basketball. No matter how fervently a spectator believes he will influence a game, only the actual participants directly influence the outcome of the game.

Jonah delivered God’s message of condemnation, judgment and destruction to Nineveh. The people of Nineveh responded in repentance. When God relented from destroying Nineveh, Jonah got angry with God and asked God to take his life. When God refused, “…Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:5).

Jonah left the city, built a small shelter fro the sun and sat there to watch what God would do with the city. Jonah moved from an active participant in God’s plan to an idle spectator outside of God’s plan.

Jonah simply sat and watched whether God would destroy Nineveh. He did this despite that God had told him He “repented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). Jonah’s spectatorship was a futile and defiant act to God’s clearly stated purpose. There was nothing for Jonah to see, yet still he sat and watched.

Moses condemned the tribes of Gad and Reuben for sitting as spectators instead of being participants in the conquest of Canaan. “And Moses said to the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben: ‘Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here? Now why will you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them?’” (Numbers 32:6-7).

The prophetess Deborah again condemned Reuben for sitting “among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks,” while “Zebulun is a people who jeopardized their lives to the point of death, Naphtali also, on the heights of the battlefield” (Judges 5:16, 18).

The Lord condemned the Edomites for “violence against your brother Jacob.” Their violence was their failure to actively help their Jewish brothers. They stood “on the other side” as spectators watching as Jerusalem was sacked and plundered by invaders. The Lord said to them, “Even you were as one of them” (Obadiah 10-12).

God doesn’t want spectators, He wants participants, those who will rise up to carry out His will and do His work. Jesus described the difference between spectators and participants in his parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was viciously robbed, stripped of his clothing, severely wounded and left lying on the side of the road. A priest traveling down that road “saw him, and passed by on the other side.” A Levite “came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” Both of these men were merely spectators, seeing the wounded man but doing nothing for him.

Thankfully for the injured man, a participant came down the road. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:30-34).

A spectator “sees his brother in need” and does nothing. A participant not only “sees his brother in need” but opens up his heart to him and helps him as he is able (1 John 3:17).

Jonah was willing to sit in the shade of his shelter as a spectator “even to death” (4:9), rather than to rise up to work and rejoice in the Lord’s work.

No longer sit idly watching God’s work as a spectator. Ananias urged you to become a participant in the work of the Lord. “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord,” (Acts 22:16).

—via Connersville Church of Christ (Connersville, IN)

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