The Monday feature of the Worldly Saints blog focuses on a story from the sports world – current or historic. The goal is one of the following: (1) either to recognize athletes who are using or have used their sports and athletic abilities to further the kingdom of God or (2) to show how some athletes or teams are wasting or did waste their days by not giving God the glory or (3) to simply reflect on a story from the sports world from a Christian perspective.
My spiritual hero, J.C. Ryle, was a professional cricketer until his ministry ordination, and after he went into vocational ministry, he abandoned playing sports all together. The Puritans had a negative view of Christians playing in sports because they believed it wasn’t a good use of time and often encouraged gambling, drinking, and bad company. And the Puritans believed John Calvin had the same view of participating and observing sports.
I don’t like being on the opposite side of the Puritans or Ryle or Calvin, but on this subject I must stand elsewhere. While I agree that observing or participating in sports may invite or encourage “bad behavior” for some, this does not mean that everyone who enjoys sports is in danger of being corrupted. God allows the enjoyment of sports for the following 3 reasons.
Sports is a means to worship God. When Paul says that whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God (I Cor 10:31), he gave examples that were fairly mundane – eating and drinking. He could have given examples like prayer or studying the Word, but he chose eating and drinking. Why? To communicate to all of us that every moment of our lives is an opportunity to worship – even the moments we don’t put much thought into – like drinking a glass of water.
This is how we can approach sports as well. I have shared the view before that I believe one of the reasons we jump off our couches or from the seats in a sporting venue when we see a spectacular play by an athlete is a reflection of our created purpose. Remember, we were created to worship (Eph 1:11-12). We have a default to worship that is built within our framework. When we see something spectacular, our makeup tells us to worship it.
Now, I know and acknowledge that sports can become an idol to where we direct our worship towards the athlete or the sport itself, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When that wide receiver makes a game-winning TD, and you start cheering boisterously, that is a reflection of God’s design for all of us to celebrate that which is greater than ourselves – mainly Him.
Sports are used as a metaphor in the Scripture for the Christian life. Why would God allow metaphors to be used to illustrate the sanctification process in the Christian life when that metaphor was not an activity that pleases God? That is rhetorical question with an assumed answer, “God wouldn’t do that.”
So when Paul wrote, “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Cor 9:24-27), he does so because Christians would understand the activity of boxing and running, because they have seen it and participate in it.And as a footnote – boxing and running was not near as timid as it is today. Often times, especially in the Isthmian Games, people died as a result of losing their races or bouts. They were socially ostracized by their hometowns when they were defeated. Sports could be far more brutal in the N.T. era than they are today.
Other examples of Scripture with athletic imagery: Philippians 3:14 II Timothy 2:5; 4:7-8; Hebrews 12:1-2.
Sports can be an opportunity for the Christian to make disciples. If sports are permissible for a Christian to enjoy and participate in, for some who make sports a vocation, it becomes a mission field. For the rest of us who play a pick-up basketball game in the local park or swim laps at the YMCA, sports become an activity that gives us a platform for the Gospel. You could even say that those who gather to watch a game or play a sport are reflecting the idea of community, which is a distinctive of the local church.
So friend, if you love watching sports, thank God for that grace. If you love playing sports, show your gratitude to God for allowing you the physical ability to participate. But whatever you do, or however you choose to participate, seek God’s glory and be intentional with those people who enjoy it alongside of you.