“And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
This is the final article in a series discussing sports and the Christian family. If you haven’t already read the two previous Corners on this topic, it is important that you do so, because they are necessary for the full understanding of the context of this discussion.
As I said previously, this series is written to dads who sincerely desire God’s best for their families and want to make their decisions based on the Word of God. Some readers may be tempted to bring up justifications for team sports based on their personal positive experiences with sports. Remember, though, if we are committed to living according to God’s Word, no matter how strong our justifications might be due to positive experiences or emotion, it doesn’t make it right if what we are justifying is contrary to Scripture.
An excellent example of putting “good justifications” in their proper place is from Matthew 16:21-23: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Here Peter was rebuking Jesus because he loved Jesus and didn’t want to see Jesus suffer on the cross. In return for Peter’s “kindness,” Jesus rebukes Peter with the same rebuke He gave to Satan when Jesus was first tempted in the wilderness (Luke 4:8).
How could Jesus rebuke Peter like that when Peter appears to have had wonderful motives? What could be wrong with not wanting to see someone you love suffer horribly? (Or what could be wrong with wanting your children to have fun?) Jesus showed us that life in Christ isn’t about good motives but rather obedience to the Father. Peter was attempting to hinder Christ from following God’s will for Jesus’ life. Can we begin to see how serious ANYTHING is that takes us away from following the Lord’s will for our lives? Can we see how it often is the savoring of activities and things of this earth that quickly draw us away? Sports may be one of the best examples of “things that be of men” and draw their hearts away. If anyone doubts this, just look at church attendance when there is a Super Bowl game on at home. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Even if a person can’t bring himself to the point of saying sports are bad, surely it can be seen that they are not edifying in the Lord Jesus. “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Paul says he won’t be involved in anything that has the potential of bringing him under “its” power or is not edifying. I can’t help but wonder if anything else has more men in bondage to it than sports.
Quite a few years ago, we were visiting a church, and my family was shocked at what we heard the pastor say. That Sunday morning the preacher shared how he was really looking forward to the Super Bowl because it had been years since he had seen a Super Bowl game where the blood really flowed. The two teams scheduled to play were tough, and he couldn’t wait to see the blood flowing. We all hoped he didn’t mean that literally, but it was obvious that he wanted to see a violent, hard-hitting game. How can we give our children appetites for things like that? Even if we are watching these games in moderation with our children, it will likely fuel a passion in our children that does not know the same limits.
Christians are called to lay down their lives for others, while team competition fuels a child’s pride and the desire to put himself first. This is contrary to Scripture and the command to love one’s brother. “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:21).
One dad e-mailed me the link to a news documentary about what was happening to professional football players. Apparently, the shock to their brains is so violent that their life expectancy is, on average, over twenty years less than that of a normal person. It would be good for dads to evaluate all competitive sports they are watching or involved in as to whether they are giving their children a thirst for violence. Is this consistent with the command to every father to bring his children “up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4)? Jesus lost so that others might win.
I was asked about other pastimes that many Christian families spend their time participating in such as board games, non-organized “friendly” basketball, football, and volleyball games or even spelling bees. Are they wrong or beneficial? I suggest that each dad evaluates them based on Scripture and family goals. For example, in light of 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” I ask myself these two questions concerning the activity: “Is there nothing better to do with the time? What appetites might be developed?”
I personally would avoid shooting baskets or playing football with my children. Why? Because those sports are addictive, as evidenced in many men’s lives. I wouldn’t want to cast a potential stumbling block in the path of my children. Some dads may have the maturity to limit it to just time with the boys, but children often won’t. While Dad may control it in moderation and not be tempted to tune into “the big game,” children won’t have that same level of self-discipline. Their exposure to sports during times together “shooting hoops” is likely going to give them an appetite for watching the pros and learning from them. I have observed in some families how this “innocent” use of time became a major appetite in their sons’ lives. So for us, I would rather avoid it.
What about many other family pastimes such as board games? There are a lot of board games that seem to really foster a spirit of competition. For us we would prefer to avoid those. However, there are some we have found that enhance thinking skills, are educational, or are Bible related, where someone “winning” just brings closure. Then the goal is mostly to learn in the process of spending time together.
What about spelling and geography academic competitions? To me they are just another way of taking a test to determine who scores the highest, unless some form of “hard-hitting” violence breaks out :-). I seriously doubt that children would find spelling bees to be addictive, so activities of that nature would be of little concern.
And what about the coed volleyball games that are pretty popular with the church youth? I haven’t observed any, but I suspect that winning could be a major thrust with some. If that is the case, then it becomes the opposite of loving my brother. Even if it is a noncompetitive time of fellowship, is there nothing better for the youth to do? What about using that energy to minister to others or do upkeep on the church? Frankly, coed teams are likely going to foster relationships between the boys and girls. That is why each parent needs to evaluate if their children are ready for marriage and whether this is a positive or negative thing.
What if a child is “gifted” with physical abilities, and the parents visualize him being a pro star who would give all the glory to the Lord? If people would be honest about it, I suspect the chance of that happening is on the order of winning the lottery. I believe there is the far higher probability of the child being drawn into the drugs, alcohol, and immorality that surrounds college and pro sports.
Nathan and Christopher were both gifted athletically, but based on what I have observed in others and read in Scripture, the last thing I would think is that God wanted them to play sports. Physical abilities just mean that God intends for them to use those talents to serve others, certainly not for fun and games. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). God gives us talents to be used in accordance with His will.
Look at the apostles and their ministry. God took uneducated men (with the exception of Paul) who were surrendered to Him and empowered them by His Holy Spirit. God does not need the fame a man gains for himself to prepare or use that man for His service. Even if someone is gifted physically, it highly unlikely that God intends to use that giftedness in sports.
Sports consume a tremendous amount of time both in practice and competition. Soon after I was saved, but before I came to these convictions on sports, I ran three marathons. That experience made me well acquainted with how much time sports training takes. If we value our time on earth as being precious and desire to redeem the time, then we will want to make sure we use our time as the Lord directs. “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
Maybe you still are not convinced that the essence of competitive teams sports is the opposite of the life God has called us to live. Maybe when you or your children play or observe sports you aren’t crying, “Kill them!” and it is a simple pastime you enjoy. But what is the most valuable thing we have on earth? Isn’t it our time? Think about how much time sports robs the Kingdom of God of every day. Isn’t it time to put away unprofitable things and be busy for our Lord? “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).