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Football, Christmas or Jesus – which can really unite us?

As I write I have just finished watching another match of the Football (aka Soccer) World Cup. The real Football World Cup! (Cheeky, I know, but I couldn’t resist).

For this World Cup, FIFA has run an advertising campaign around the theme, football unites. If the campaign is to be believed, football unites the world in passion, love, peace, hope, and joy. But is this true? Is football really the answer to the world’s divisions?

And as a Christian writer I suspect you are already waiting for me to say, ‘of course it isn’t, the answer is Jesus!’ And ultimately, I think this is true, but I also don’t think it is quite that simple.

Consider for a moment these words spoken by Jesus, which are recorded in the Luke 12:51

Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!

Luke 12:51

Maybe FIFA and not Jesus is the answer! What on earth does Jesus mean by these words? And how does this fit with the Christmas message that Jesus brings peace and goodwill to all? Maybe it isn’t Jesus that unites us together at Christmas. Maybe it is the food, trees, presents, and lights.

What’s the answer?

Well, let’s be honest, given the protests and boycotts that have been associated with this year’s World Cup in Qatar because of their history of human rights abuse, the advertising campaign is really a smokescreen to the truth. Football, like any sport does bring people together, but it is far from the answer to the world’s division.

The answer to division untimely needs to deal with the cause. And the cause lies in us. In James 4:1-2 we read 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

James 4:1-2

Which is why Christmas can’t ultimately unite us either. Even with its wonderful food, trees, presents and lights. It doesn’t deal with the cause.

Which brings us back to Jesus. But what about his statement that he came to divide?

The message, that the cause of division lies in us is not an easy message for people to hear. So often in the conflict coaching and mediation work that we do, one of the hardest elements people struggle with is seeing their own contribution. Our human pride doesn’t want us to see our wrongs. Confronted with this message, we all face a choice: humble acceptance or rejection. Jesus knew this. It’s why he says he came to divide. He calls us all out. He asks us to accept our contribution to conflict in the relationships around us and in our relationship with him. Some accept this while other reject it.   

For those who accept this message, Jesus offers genuine hope, peace, joy and love that can truly unite us even in difference. We see a wonderful future picture of this diverse unity recorded in the book of Revelation in Chapter 7:9-10, where the writer sees

a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:9-10

Racial, cultural and social differences are laid down as the crowd visioned here gathers as one. They wear a uniform of sorts – white robes – and they are together. They are celebrating. The palm branches may seem strange to us, but in the 1st century this was how you welcomed cheered and celebrated the joy of the King.

The world is desperate for peace. We all want an answer to how we can live together well. Jesus offers us this answer and a vision of what it looks like. The question remains though, will we accept Jesus’ solution or not?

If you would like to learn more about how Jesus brings peace and can help unite us together and build cultures of peace in our communities, and families why not make it a New Year’s resolution to be trained in biblical peacemaking? You can find out more out biblical peacemaking training and upcoming training dates here.

Questions for reflection:

1.     Reflecting on James 4:1-2, what strong desires do you have that causes tension in relationships around you (be honest – God knows the truth!)?

2.     With your desires in mind, how can Proverbs 3:5-6 help you in how to manage them?

Written by Wayne Forward

Wayne Forward serves as the CEO of PeaceWise. Wayne has a diverse work background spanning mental health nursing and Christian ministry in both churches and the not-for-profit space. He has held a variety of leadership and training roles. He has formal studies in nursing, theology, coaching & training. Wayne has seen the devastation that interpersonal conflict can cause. Wayne has committed his heart to equipping the people of God to live out the message of reconciliation. He is married with 3 children.

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