It would come down to the wire. My partner John and I were locked in a heated back and forth battle against the number-two doubles duo of the Palo Verde Panthers tennis team. (The Panthers would go on to win the league that season.) It was inevitable: at 6-all, the match would be decided by a tiebreaker. The other players from both schools had finished their matches early and had come to watch our match and cheer us on along with the parents who had come to watch their kids play.
Somehow, John and I reached match point, riding on the “c’mon guys!” and “let’s go!” chants of our teammates from the sideline. With both opposing players and John all at the net (as you’re supposed to be in doubles), I was the lone at baseline. With the ball to hit deep into the open court on our side and with John too far up at net to make a run for it, I scrambled to the other side of the court and made the last-minute decision to loft a backhand lob crosscourt instead of hitting a passing shot drive.
As it floated high over our opponents’ heads, one of them shouted, “Let it go!”—thinking it would go out. But it landed well in, giving John and me the victory. Our team went berserk, erupting in adulation. After looking over to them and giving a silent fist pump of relief, I turned toward the net where John—two years my junior, whom I almost never interacted with during actual school hours—yelled out with a smile on his face, “I love you, Julian!”
I still regularly hit backhand lobs in matches today. And every time I do hit one for a winner, I’m reminded of that day when the joy and relief I felt from winning a tennis match was equally shared by others who were a part of the same team.
Nothing builds teamwork and camaraderie like playing sports with a team. Individuals who would punch each other off the court all of sudden learn to high-five one another on the court. Players who want nothing to do with each other off the field are cheering each other on the field like there’s no tomorrow. There’s something about the heat of competition that compels athletes to put their differences aside, cooperate with good communication, and genuinely rejoice (and weep) with one another. And it’s not just the athletes who carry this shared sentiment. As a coach, my heart leaped with my team in their victories and sunk with them at their bitter losses. This is the nature of fellowship, or partnership in a common cause.
The call to rejoice or share your joy with others is an exhortation to all Christians (Rom 12:15). It’s easy to become individualistic and self-absorbed in one’s own life, growth, and progress. It’s easy to rejoice when your life is filled with blessings, and it’s easy to weep when your life is struck with tragedy. But Christians are more than just individual followers of Christ; we exist as a team, a fellowship around the furtherance of the gospel, and part of a united body in which all members both cooperate with and care for one another. Paul told the Philippians, “I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (Phil 2:18). This kind of mutual rejoicing will only happen when Christians are in pursuit of a vision that stretches past the horizon of their own lives—namely, the exaltation of Christ, the global spread of the gospel, and the salvation of men from every people group.