Like many other Americans, I grew up playing sports from a young age. Baseball, football, basketball, golf, track—you name it—and there is a good chance I’ve given it a try. After becoming a Christian, I had the privilege of playing basketball and baseball for Welch College while I was working towards my Bachelor’s degree.
But I have noticed a disturbing trend among Christians playing sports, whether it is ping-pong, basketball, or even video games. The trend is that for some Christians it seems the sporting activity they play is in reality hurting their walk with the Lord.
Sports Can Be Beneficial
Like so many things, sports are not inherently good or evil. For instance, sex is a gift from God when practiced in the confines of marriage, but it is a horrible sin outside of marriage. Likewise, sports when played in a God-honoring way are good, but not when played as a means to hurt, to intimidate, or promote selfish gratification.
The Scriptures tell us to do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31) and without doubt this means sports as well. Again, the Scriptures tell us that bodily discipline is only of little profit when compared to godliness (1 Tim. 4:8). We readily acknowledge this. But it is still true that bodily exercise still profits some.
As Christians, when we play sports our actions should glorify God. Sports should be a time of relaxation, a time of enjoyment, a time for physical satisfaction, and, at times, fellowship. Our attitude when playing should always be Christ-honoring.
If we participate in sports with unbelievers, they should be able to tell there is something different about us. We don’t get furious or use foul language when things don’t go our way. We show good sportsmanship and are gracious as winners as well as losers. It’s ok to joke, to have a good time, to poke fun at someone, if it is done in a playful spirit. There is also nothing wrong with showing desire, competitiveness, and joy when playing. That’s only natural and normal. Sports can and should be God-honoring, and enjoyable to us.
Sports Can Hurt Our Christian Walk
But for many Christians, this is not how sports are being played. Sports often bring out the very sins we should be trying to eliminate—pride, anger, boasting, envy, bitterness, and idolatry are often associated with our activities. The golfer who misses an easy putt and lashes out in anger; the basketball player who curses under his breath at a call he felt was wrong; the person who watches so much sports that it becomes an idol to him. These are a few examples that some of us know all too well. And the sad fact is that many Christians say nothing about it, and some even promote these actions to an extent.
A former basketball player reminisces about how practice was slow until a fight broke out between two players, and now even encourages it to motivate the team. Is this the Christian way? A player thinks he is unbeatable and carries a swagger that reminds everyone of this fact. He says it is confidence, but often it is nothing more than sinful arrogance.
We must be careful, lest we promote attitudes and actions that the Scripture forbids. Once again, it is okay to try hard in sports and be competitive, but there is a point where playing hard stops, where competitiveness stops, and sin begins.
How many of us can bring up from memory the latest stat, score, and sports update, but are unable to quote and explain some of the most well known teachings of the Bible? How many parents are teaching their children the sports they love, while never thinking of their children’s souls that could be heading for hell?
A Better Way
Sports can and should be enjoyed. They should be played for the glory of God, and in a Christ-like spirit. But if we cannot play sports in a way that would please God, then we must not play. The questions we should ask ourselves about the sports we play, as well as everything we do in life, are these: Is God glorified and pleased with the way I play? Is this hurting my spiritual life? Could I pray and ask God to bless this activity knowing the way I participate in it?
If we cannot participate in sports in a way that glorifies and honors God, then we must stop playing, at least until we can play in the right way. Someone when reading this may say, “But sports will never be the same if we play them in this way.” Exactly.
(This appeared on www.thebrinkonline.com, though this version is different in places)