There’s a story about a man by the name of Jesse Owens that I want to share with you and of course make some spiritual application. Jesse was an Olympian who competed at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. This was a very difficult time and very difficult territory for Jesse. Jesse was of the United States and he was African American in a country that staked the claim on a superior race! Although Jesse was accomplished in his athletic abilities and had won four gold medals, the long jump competition proved to be a difficult one for him. At the 1936 Olympics, he was almost out of the long jump shortly after qualifying began. Jesse fouled on his first two jumps. A third foul and he would have been out of the competition. As he walked to the long-jump pit, Owens saw a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range. Jesse felt nervous. He was acutely aware of the Nazis’ desire to prove “Aryan superiority,” especially over his particular race. At this point, the tall German introduced himself as Luz Long. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!” he said to Jesse. Then Long made a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe? Jesse took the advice from his stiffest competition and qualified easily. In the finals that afternoon, Jesse Owens won the gold medal with a jump of 26 feet 5 5/16 inches. The first to congratulate the Olympic record holder was Luz Long. Jesse said, “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have, and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”
I got to thinking about what Jesse called a “24-karat friendship.” There’s certainly value to such a relationship. Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes spoke on such. Notice what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
We live, in my opinion, in the most competitive society! It is greatly feared that such competitiveness has bled into the church. It reminds me of the disciples and how they were found disputing among themselves as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom in Mark 9. It seems that today the same mentality exists, pride instead of humility. People are viewed more as competition rather than one who needs encouragement to accomplish tasks/responsibilities for the glory of the Lord.
It made me ask the following questions: “What am I created for? What did God create me for?” God created me in His own image (cf. Genesis 1:26,27) and that means to be like Him, I must see others through humble eyes stemmed from a heart that is humble. I think we would all agree we need a lot more friends today, especially in the church! We have to remember our humble beginnings. Paul told the Ephesian brethren in Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” In Galatians 6:1-3 Paul told the Galatian brethren, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
It’s easy to look down on others and think of them as inferior. If I do that, I am no better than the Pharisee in Luke 18 who looked down who with great pride on the tax collector and prayed to God saying of how he had surpassed (at least in his own eyes) the sinful tax collector and how thankful he was not like that tax collector.
How many are there today who are broken down in sin, in despair and need to make the jump like that of Jesse Owens but are standing among those who claim to be superior? How intimidating! Then one is willing to reach out and be a friend, to encourage, to help with their jump, to help them excel. Yes, my friends, there is true worth in having such a wonderful friend like that! Solomon said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
It is great to have someone who will be there for you, who you can talk to, and lean upon. Do we have someone that we can do just that with? Let’s also ask ourselves, have we become that friend to others? The Proverb writer says in Proverbs 18:24,“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” I would submit to you that such a friend is one who has the beautiful attributes of Jesus, humble, lowly, loving, patient, kind, willing to share and to bear, to help, to succeed and excel as a faithful disciple of Christ. Also note what James says about showing partiality in James 2:1-10.
Luz Long recognized that he was definitely in a competition and that he was of a country that held the strong belief that his race was the ultimate, superior. Although Luz Long understood such, I think his example shows what we have noted. We were not created by God to be competitive, rather to exhort one another, to encourage, to lift up.
How did God demonstrate this to us? Through His only begotten Son (cf. Hebrews 5:8,9). This same Jesus, who is our High Priest, is said of the Hebrew writer in Hebrews 4 is a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. He understands our struggles as we should also understand the struggles of others. Note what Paul said in Philippians 2:2-5. We are to have the mind of the One who showed us what true humility is. What does Jesus want today? He wants us to humble ourselves to be His friend in obedience to His word and to be friendly to one another, showing love, in one spirit, in one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel (cf. Phi. 1:27).
Together we can make many jumps and strides along the way. I can just see Jesse Owens looking and contemplating how he was going to make that jump, especially in the midst of all of his surroundings. I considered myself during that story and thought back on times where I was there face to face with an obstacle spiritually and contemplated how I was going to make that jump. How thankful I am for the word of God that shows me I have a friend who can sympathize with me and for those friends who encouraged me and helped me make the jump to overcome.
As Jesse Owens said regarding Luz Long, I believe we could say as well today in our relationship with the Lord and our brethren: “We can melt down all the medals and cups (possessions of this world) we have, and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship we have with our Lord and our fellow brethren.”
Something to think about! Have a great week! – DJ 🙂