Synchronized Sinners: Joy Is a Team Sport

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

The Olympic Games is a dignified affair. The athletes who are selected to compete represent the most physically and mentally dedicated, talented, and trained people on the planet. The various events serve to put on display the prowess, agility, strength, and determination required to perform at such an elite level of skill mastery. Which is why it is amusing to consider some of the odder sports to have snuck onto the roster for a time, only to expose their unsuitability for Olympic attention. 

In 1900, the Paris Olympic Games saw the inclusion of equestrian long jump where a horse named Extra Dry made a splash in the news by winning the world’s first and last Olympic long jump for horses with an underwhelming distance of 20 feet. To fully grasp how insignificant that achievement is you need to know that this is nearly 10 feet less than the world record held by a human. 

Another sport to make a short-lived appearance at the Olympic level, in 1906, was pistol dueling. You might think you know why pistol dueling would be short-lived, but I was surprised to learn that the downfall of the sport’s popularity was that the duel occurred between a contestant and a dummy with a target embroidered on its chest. Yes, the dueling opponent couldn’t shoot back. 

But my favorite example is a sport, born in the 1984 LA games, that is so absurd that TV announcers had to rehearse keeping a straight face while commentating. I’m referring to the oxymoronic sport of solo synchronized swimming. I’m not talking about synchronized swimming—a highly technical and challenging event in which eight swimmers perform extraordinary feats in perfect unison. That sport requires teams to practice for 50 hours a week over several months to perfect their synchronization. Every minute movement including their strut up to the poolside, their dive into the water, and their exhausting routine, requires precise synchronization with every teammate.

But solo synchronized swimming is just one lady in a pool, doing the whole routine alone. If she tilts her heard a few degrees too far, or flicks her leg at the wrong angle, no one would know a mistake had been made. 

The event appeared at three Olympic games before someone was brave enough to admit they couldn’t see the Emperor’s new clothes. The solo event makes a mockery of the effort it takes real synchronized swimmers to perfect. 

But maybe the same can be said of your spiritual life. When you claim to have an individual relationship with Jesus apart from any union with a church, you are making a mockery of the design God has implemented for his Body to function in unity for the benefit of every individual and for the church as a whole.

Doing church the way Jesus said to is difficult, because it is populated by sinners. But we need to be synchronized sinners who work in unison to give God glory. And in that synergy we bring him more glory than we could on our own. Over the next three weeks we will see the motive, marks, means and model for unity in the church from Philippians 2:1-8.

4 Parts of Church Unity that Can Synchronize Sinners to Give God Glory

1. Motives for Synchronized Unity

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy… (Phil. 2:1)

What Paul is about to do here is make a very firm and direct command to stop being selfish. But he starts by appealing to what the Philippians have gained from their church. “If” there is any encouragement could be translated as “since” there is encouragement.

As usual, Paul always starts with the indicatives, or truths, before he gets to the command. So Paul starts by saying: “Think about how you’ve been blessed by your church.”

  • Encouragement – paraklesis (coming alongside). This is when you need help. Have you ever been helped by people in the church?
  • Comfort – paramuthion (whispering in your ear). When you are down or worried or sad, this is where the body of Christ comes and speaks words of life and truth into your situation. Have you ever been comforted here? 
  • Participation – koinonia (fellowship, binding together in the Spirit). The sense that you are part of something greater than yourself, a mission that spans ages. Are you part of anything more significant than extending the kingdom and glory of God?
  • Affection – splagchna (feeling in your bowels). The people in your church feel affection for you. You should know that and feel that. Isn’t it nice to have a place that you don’t have to try fit in, like a country club or a gang?
  • Sympathy – oiktirmoi (compassion). This is when people reach out to you and feel your pain with you.

A healthy church is a place where you receive encouragement to persevere in your trials. No one is going to say “Oh get over it!” No, we grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice. Your relationship with Jesus, and the benefits of church you have enjoyed – Paul says – this should motivate you to improve your church’s unity.

2. Marks of Synchronized Unity

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil. 2:2-3)

Paul now follows up with the command for unity – he says:

  • Have the same mind. This doesn’t mean we all need to be alike in our personalities, but we do all need to be united in the gospel. We all need to sing off the same song sheet on important, central areas of doctrine, philosophy of ministry, and beliefs about Jesus, sin, the gospel, and worship. Not the style, but the substance of our faith must be the same. That is why you can never have unbelievers as members of a church—they are not of the same mind.  
  • Have the same Biblical love. Agapē is a willingness to serve and sacrifice for the benefit of others. But it only works if we all love each other. Otherwise, the ones who sacrifice end up carrying the can, and being taken advantage of by the freeloaders. There will always be people who want you to adjust the church to suit them. But Paul says we all need to love each other, so don’t expect everyone to sacrifice for you, while you aren’t sacrificing for them. 
  • Be in full accord – sumpsuchos, or “one-souled.” From what we can tell, Paul made this word up! So we aren’t sure exactly what it means besides what it sounds like: we are so united that we behave as if we have one soul.
  • Be of one mind or “intent on one purpose,” (NASB). This is similar to the first one, same mind. The difference is the emphasis on the goal, the purpose of what we’re doing—our mission. We all need to have one goal as a church: more people worshipping Jesus rightly. 

But the benefits of unity are only for sinners who have submitted to God and trusted in Jesus’ death alone to save them. If you are one of God’s children and want to know how to be a synchronized sinner, check in with us next week Monday when we will look at the means of unity and then Jesus – the model of unity.

Clint Archer bio

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

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There are 2 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

While I agree that solo synchronized swimming is silly, it's worth noting that what they're synchronizing to is the music, which is actually played underwater so they can hear it.  So the judges can actually tell, to a degree, when a mistake is made in the same way one can with the floor exercise with gymnastics.  

Come to think of it, that's probably not a totally bad analogy for unity in the church--you're not responding to one another as much as you are the music from above.  No?

My favorite events in the Olympics that were incredibly dumb come mostly from St. Louis in 1904, where they had great events like roque, tug-o-war, club swinging, rope climbing, and an amazingly horrendous "anthropology days."   I remember reading about the "Meet me in St. Louie, Louie" Games and was astounded that the Olympic movement survived.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


I don't know why they really eliminated the solo sync event... but part of the mark of a really excellent performance in anything is that you make it look easy to people who haven't had the experience themselves.

Anyway, to shift focus to the topic of the post, I always appreciate clear, down-to-earth exposition, and this one is another reminder of how "real world" Scripture is when we just shine a light on what it says.

Joy really isn't a solo event... at least, not normally. Paul's joy alone in prison isn't really solo joy either because, as he points out in more than one place, he had all his relationships with individuals and congregations very much on his mind even there.

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