The Agony of Defeat

“So are the paths of all who forget God (Job 8:13a).”

Last week we considered the great example of Simen Hegstad Krueger of Norway who in competing in the Olympic Skiathlon, fell down and lapsed into last place. He did not give up and eventually overtook all of the other 67 athletes to claim the gold medal. This week…the other side of the coin. Scripture often provides such contrasts; the five wise and five foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the destinies of the righteous and ungodly (Psalm 1:1-6), and the wise and foolish home builders (Matthew 7:24-27). And we have similarly contrasting examples and outcomes in successive weeks from the Winter Olympics.

The old television show, The Wide World of Sports used to open with the tag line; “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” The final event of the Winter Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea, the women’s 30km mass start provided a painful example of the latter. Teresa Stadlober of Austria had her best shot at a medal in this cross-country skiing event. Nearly an hour into the frigid marathon she was only 80 seconds behind the front runner and she was leading the rest of the pack for silver medal position.(1) But that is when things took a disastrous turn for her last hopes of reaching the winner’s podium. Suddenly she was all alone. Having approached two paths, she chose to turn down the path on her right and unwittingly exited the race course. By the time she realized her error it was too late. She reversed course and finished the race in 9th place, without a medal that had been within her grasp just moments earlier.

On life’s highway Jesus told of two paths; one is broad and leads to destruction while the other is narrow and leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). In Luke’s recalling of this contrasting statement he quotes Jesus admonishing His hearers to “strive” to that narrow gate (Luke 13:24). The word “strive” is from the Greek word “agonizomai,” which means to struggle, literally to compete for a prize. (2) From this we gain the English word “agony.” But here Jesus is telling us that in order to attain to life we must struggle and contend for the prize.

Some will teach that you only have to believe and that there is no effort on man’s part to attain everlasting life. Notice that in the next breath after teaching on this Jesus follows with, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15, Luke 6:46).” Faith is expressed, not in a man’s words (Matthew 15:8-9), but in the exercise of obedience to God’s Word (Matthew 7:24, Luke 11:28, Hebrews 5:9).

Stadlober’s sad Olympic experience teaches us that there is a way that seems right, but in the end, it leads to ruin (Proverbs 14:12). After detailing so many examples of faithful obedience being rewarded in Hebrews 11, the inspired writer begins what we know as chapter 12 with this; “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and le us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).” We must continue on in our race with endurance, and contending for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Our Forerunner has cleared the trail for us (Hebrews 6:20) so that we are never uncertain of our path if we continue to look to Him (Hebrews 12:2). We will certainly struggle and suffer to attain the everlasting reward (Romans 8:17, 2 Timothy 2:12) but the short-lived agony of our race will nothing compared to the glories of heaven (Romans 8:18). Stay the course Christian and forego the much greater agony of defeat.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).”


Billy Alexander is a member of the church of Christ in Jersey Village in Houston, TX. He and his wife Gwen both work at Hewlett-Packard where they met and have worked more than 25 years each. Billy enjoys teaching Bible several times each week at Jersey Village and Memorial church of Christ. Since 2008, his weekly article "Equipping the Saints" as run in the Jersey Village bulletin.