Should Christians Play Sports: 3 Crucial Questions
My helmet shattered. Just moments before, life had looked very promising. The bases were loaded and the scoreboard had a big fat 0 in the out column. Being the cleanup hitter, I couldn’t wait to take my turn in the batter’s box. Full of enthusiasm, I cranked the first hittable pitch I saw as high as humanly possible. But unfortunately for me, the outfield fence was located several feet behind second base. To make matters worse, all three runners ran for some inexplicable reason. A catch and two glove pops later, the inning was over. Tripple play. I found myself walking back to the dugout in a disgusted rage.
I mention the story because sports have become a huge stumbling block to many parents and their kids. Now, sports are not bad. Competition is not evil. We don’t need to take down the scoreboards and force everyone into our “Non Competitive Soccer League” where everyone is a winner! Yay us! (And oh don’t forget everyone is also a losers. Yay, logic!) And, moving on.
There is no virtue in skipping sports. Neither is there virtue in playing sports. For Christians the value of sports rises and falls with our attitudes. Specifically, do we use sports to praise God or to praise ourselves? In I Corinthians 10:13 Paul says it this way.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
The thing in question is not the activity but the player’s heart. Is God gloried on the football field or is Jim playing so that people will praise him? Does he play so people see Jesus or so that Sally’s mom will tell his mom that everyone thinks him a stud?
In my case, the answer was often, “I play for me.” I smashed my helmet all those years ago because I wanted sports to be my platform for worship. I wanted people to leave every game thinking I was the hero, the stud, the “it” guy. And so the bats flew, fights erupted, and a coach’s lectures was never far away. When I failed on the field and failed to collect my weekly dose of worship, I got mad. By God’s grace I eventually stepped away from baseball for a time during college, realizing that my self-worship needed to stop. Below I want to offer three test for determining how we are playing sports. Are sports a platform for God or for us? Here we go.
How Do You Treat Others?
Sports (even tennis and golf) require you to interact with other people. Do we use sports to talk about Christ, to encourage others (a kind word to an opponent or a ref should very much be in the Christian’s vocabulary) and to celebrate their success? “How cool is it that Sally got the start today. Sure, I hoped to play, but I’m so excited for her; she’s going to do great!” Do you encourage the kid who fumbled the game away, do you support the coach who has a losing team?
Or do you always whine when you don’t get to start? “Um…coach don’t you realize how good I am. Why don’t you make Joe second string?” Do we tell our parents how evil our teammates are because they don’t talk about us enough or play us enough, or chant for us enough? Do we get mad and shout at players who drop the ball, miss the kick, or fail to land the jump?
The Bible tells us to “Count others as more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). Do we? Or do we count ourselves as being more significant than everyone else and chew out the second baseman that dropped fly ball?
What Happens Win You Lose?
Mom, Dad, kids, Grand dad, we are going to lose. We will strike out. We will fumble the ball on the last play, we will miss the gaming winning shot, and we will fall off the balance beam. We will lose. When we do, what happens? Do we smash our helmets? Are we mad because no one will praise us? Has our life ended, because we’ve been reminded that we are actually kind of ordinary (or maybe just plain bad at sports)? Do we think about cheating to make sure we never have to suffer another horrific loss and the taunts of our neighbors?
Or, are we content? Can we go celebrate with the other team? Can we come home and be happy because we know that Jesus is Lord and that no game can ruin our faith? What happens when we lose?
In one of the most quoted sports’ verses of all times, Philippians 4:13, we read, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Most people assume this verse says that God is going to take the 3rd string QB and make him the starter who goes on to excel at college before wining a super bowl ring. Most think, Paul is saying that strikeout sally will become home run sally one day and star on the USA softball team. But while the context of the verse does talk about the good days, the passage also mentions being “brought low” (4:12). Paul is saying that we can never play and be joyful. We can never win a game and be content. We can be the strikeout kid and have joy because we have Jesus! We can do all things, including losing for Jesus! Do you?
What Happens Win You Win?
Winning isn’t everything. But, it sure is nice to win. And there is nothing wrong with competing well for a chance at victory. But how do we respond when we win? Do we boast in God for giving us the talent? Do we praise our coaches and teammates for their help and support?
Or do we talk about our hit, our catch, our corner shot? Is our celebration all me, me, and I? Or are our comments about Jesus?
Friends, we are to boast. But our boasts are always to be in Jesus (Jeremiah 9:23-24)! Every success we have is a gift from God. Why are people great and then inexplicably horrible? Why do dunces become MVPs and MVPs become dunces so quickly? They answer is God. He gives every skill to you. He places you in the winning teams. We do nothing alone.
Do you belief this? Who do we boast about when we win?
What Should We Do?
Sports don’t have to pull us or our kids away from Christ. God designed athletics to be good. And, my hope is that all Christians will play sports for the glory of God.
But being sinners, we are prone to mess up God’s design. I can bear witness to this fact over and over again. If we continually mistreat overs, whine when we lose, and brag when we win, it’s time to step away from sports. It’s time to refocus our lives on Christ.
”And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” – Mathew 5:30