But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; Matthew 5:44, KJV
Love your rival. It’s a biblical concept. Many opponents are arch enemies, fierce foes, and robust rivals. But if you study sports history close enough, you will find the fiercest of foes and the roughest of rivals eventually become the best of friends. Just ask Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The respect that rivals have for each other is actually “love.” Fierce rivals at the highest level may not like each other, but they certainly recognize and respect each other; they acknowledge and admire the ability of a worthy opponent.
Bird is better for dueling with Magic; Duke is better for running with North Carolina; Auburn is better for arching Alabama; the Yankees are better for wrestling with the Red Sox, and the list goes on and on. And we are better for wrestling with principalities, and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, and for battling with spiritual wickedness in high places.
So love your rival. Sports can teach us how to love our enemies. In fact, some of sports greatest rivalries teach us that we NEED our rivals. Without them, our testimony would not be tried and tested, our faith would be false and phony and our piety would lack substantiation and corroboration. In short, we cannot do without our enemies.
Come to realize that you must love your rival. Come to realize that we are emboldened and empowered, enthused and energized, elevated and educated by our rivals, and by the rubbing and the ribbing and the roughing up we get from our interaction with them. And we need to thank them for it. We are both emptied and enlarged by our rivals. So, don’t look at your rivals as stumbling blocks, look at them as stepping-stones; stepping-stones to increased spiritual agility and advanced sacred ability.
“Love Thy Rival” is actually a book by an author I hope to meet one day. “In his first book, the best-selling ‘God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC,’ humorist Chad Gibbs explored his own struggles to balance faith in God with passion for pigskin. In his second book, ‘Love Thy Rival,’ Gibbs is back asking how Christian fans can love their enemies, when we can’t even love rival fans.
From the cross-country culture war of Lakers vs Celtics, to the cross-state hate-fest of Alabama vs. Auburn, Gibbs spent one year attending the most intense rivalry games in sports (Yankees vs. Red Sox, Duke vs. Carolina, and many more), observing the darker side of fan culture, and pondering the problems rivalry games present to the Christian fan.”1