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 a private Bible College while I was working towards my Bachelor’s degree.
But recently 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 many Christians, it seems their Christ-like mindset is checked at the door of their sporting event.
Sports Can Be Beneficial
Like so many things, sports are not inherently good or evil. For instance, sex is a wonderful 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, intimidate, or promote selfish gratification.
The Scriptures tell us to do all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and without doubt this means sports as well. They also tell us that bodily discipline is of little profit when compared to godliness (1 Timothy 4:8). We readily acknowledge this. But it is true that bodily exercise is still important.
As Christians, when we play sports, our actions should glorify God. Sports should be a time of relaxation, enjoyment, physical satisfaction, and 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, and 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 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. These are a few examples that many of us know all too well. And the sad fact is that many Christians say nothing about it, and some even promote these actions.
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 selfish pride. A football player makes a tackle, quickly gets on his feet, hovering over the ball carrier, staring him down. He wants to make sure everyone sees his dominance over the other person. Pride.
We must be careful, lest we promote attitudes and actions that the Scripture forbids. Once again, it is ok to try hard in sports and be competitive, but there is a point where playing hard stops, where competitiveness stops, and sin begins.
Parents may say their children will play sports no matter what because sports build character. But if that were always true, then our professional athletes should be the most well-behaved citizens in our country. We know that is not always the case.
Not only can sports interfere with our behavior toward others—they can also impact our relationship with God. 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. 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 behave? Is this hurting my spiritual life?
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.”