I thought it was far too religious an idea that people in NZ would choose to 'abstain for the game.' I thought for a minute that Saachi and Saachi and Telecom had been reading their Bibles and misread it, like Harold Camping who after doing his maths wrong and falsely predicting the end of the world in May 21, now knows the end of the world is about to happen on Oct 21.
After all, abstinence is a highly biblical idea. Whereas the surrounding nations were into anything except abstinence even getting it on to please their gods, the Jews were into abstinence big time. They basically said nothing goes, except when a man and a woman get hitched. Even then, for one week a month, things were all off. In a world where the Greeks and Romans had little time for abstinence, Christians followed the Jewish way, effectively endorsing that abstinence rules, except of course in a marriage between two heterosexual married adults when it is all on.
Despite speculation from people that Jesus was into it like the rest of humanity, all evidence suggests that Jesus was into abstinence. He was single and despite being the object of attention from any number of hot women, some who were prostitutes (e.g. Luke 7), he abstained for the game – the game being saving the world. He did have the advantage of living in a culture that liked to beat up those who didn't abstain from the game, but still, it was an impressive effort to manage to abstain. As a result he won, he saved the world – go Jesus! So, sometimes it works to abstain for the game. Mind you, that he hung out with people who clearly did not abstain for the game, shows that while he endorsed abstaining outside the game of marriage, he was no prude.
In Corinth at the time of Paul (mid first century), the Greek Christians had differing views on what was ok. Some of them thought that now that they were Christians, they could do what they liked with their bodies, so were joining their fellow country men and women and going for it with prostitutes at the local temple feasts, and after-dinner orgies. One of them didn't even abstain with his step-mum, not a good look even for the raunchy Corinthians. Paul was not impressed, he told them to kick him out unless he would abstain for the game. The Corinthians saw little value in abstinence because there was no value in doing so, or in the human body – and it felt good, so why not 'eat drink and be (with) Mary, for tomorrow we die.' Paul had to put them right with a Saachi and Saachi approach, 'abstain for the game' – the game being life and life eternal.
Then there were other Corinthians who took the opposite view. You read about them in the first part of 1 Cor 7. They thought that even though they had got hitched, they should abstain for the game. They likely thought that they should live the ascetic life like a Stoic, subduing the body; that abstaining for the game of life would make them more spiritual, religious, and impress their God – after all, he had abstained for the game.
Paul put them right – don't you dare abstain for the game, it just makes you more randy. That's the problem with getting too fired up over abstaining for the game. It can actually have the reverse effect by making life all about one thing, sex – you lose perspective. This is the problem with the abstinence ring movement. It sounds a good noble idea as young people pledge virginity. The problem is that it is abstracting sex as the thing that really matters and inadvertently locks a person's faith into this one decision. Why not an anti-materialism ring, or a anti-individualism ring, or an anti-violence ring, an anti-pride ring, an anti-drugs, alcohol, white collar crime ring? Christians are far too uptight about sex. Sure, they are meant to abstain for the game unless they have tied the knot, but they also need to relax and live. Sex is cool, God came up with the idea. He just wants us to get it into perspective, wait until we are married. Anyone who will let a book like the Song of Songs into his holy book can't be a prude! When we fail to abstain for the game as he would like, it is not the end of the world – as with all mistakes, he will forgive.
By the way, kiwis are into abstain for the game. Everyone who has had an affair and been caught knows that the should have abstained for the game. It really messes up lives when we don't. That's the point of God's way, it actually makes the world tick if done right. Still, if you fail to there is life after failing to abstain for the game. Jesus himself came from a line of people who had messed up like Judah who had it off with his HERE and David who had an affair with Bathsheba and then knocked her husband off. There is hope even if you mess up.
Back to 1 Cor 7. There Paul does endorse a right time to 'abstain for the game.' It was definitely not when the ancient Corinthian Games were on – their kind of RWC. Yes, every four years in Corinth (and other places like Olympia and later Rome), there was a huge athletics festival. Greeks came from all over the Empire and raced, threw, rode, and more naked for huge crowds – not a pretty thought for the sprints! There were also dramas, poetry, music and other elements to the festival. Now let me tell you that at these festivals, as at the modern Olympic Games, the athletes did not abstain for the game! The place was heaving and the pimps and hookers made a mint. It was a time of good old Greco-Roman debauchery. The wine-makers and everyone got loaded. Bacchus and Dionysus were the man.
What Paul did say was that the Corinthian Christians should abstain for prayer and fasting, and only when the marriage partners mutually agreed, and only for a short time – sounds like he had in mind that for a day or two, they would get into some serious prayer and stop eating and drinking, and devote themselves to praying. Aside from that, married couples should not hold back. Paul says that a wife's body belongs to her husband, and a husband's body belongs to his wife. The first part of that is standard; everyone in the ancient world knew that a wife's body belonged to her husband. She was a possession to be discarded if need be. She was effectively his servant and lived to please him. If Paul had stopped with the first half of the saying, the world would have nodded – you are onto it. By saying the opposite that a husband's body belongs to his wife, Paul would have blown their ancient minds – mutual ownership was totally counter-cultural. The point of course is that when married we kind of 'own' each other, which really means we live to serve each other like Christ served the world – sexually I suppose it means we can get it on, explore, have fun with each other. We don't have to abstain for the game, at least, not if we are married.
So, I feel for Saachi and Saachi. Perhaps they, like the Corinthians, have found Jesus. Perhaps they think that the path to spirituality and releasing the power of God is to be found in abstinence. Such thoughts have a rich tradition. Of course, they misunderstand Jesus if they do, like most people in NZ's culture these days. Paul would have put them right. They shouldn't abstain for the game because it avails nothing, it just makes you hornier and want it more.
I feel also for Telecom because they not only found Jesus it seems, but they have backslidden! Just when it looked like they were finding salvation, they pulled the ad campaign. Of course when they or Saachi and Saachi read what Jesus said about money, they, like the Rich Ruler, would have walked away anyway. They would have realised that they are camels and that a needles eye is very very small. Mind you, it is possible to get a camel through a needles eye, but it takes an extraordinary effort to blend the camel to the point that it can be squeezed through!
Then again, perhaps if they had both read 1 Cor 7 they could have changed it to 'abstain to pray for the game.' Now that makes sense. Husbands and wives and lovers could have abstained for the next two months and spent their time on their knees to pray for the game. They could pray for the whole game, the world of course! But I suggest, they should pray for the game that matters to us Kiwis more than any other, the RWC. After all, it is 24 years since we first and last won the RWC. The RWC of course is ours by right. We all know it. The Jews knew that they were Godzone and that they should rule the world. We know it too; we are Godzone as the National Anthem proves, as does this ad campaign – the RWC is ours! So, let's get religious and pray for what really matters, that we win the game! We could abstain and fast and pray and the AB's will win!
Of course the problem with this is that it assumes God cares who wins. Does he?