Sports – Part 1

Here is an e-mail I recently received:

“I read your last article about the grandparents, and you said that your family doesn’t do sports. I am very interested in this philosophy and would like to know if you have Scripture that backs this up, or is it just your family’s preference? I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I know you have very good family values and back up your writing biblically. I was wondering if you could give me the reason your family doesn’t do sports or possibly is it just organized sports that you are talking about?”

From discussions with families, I have found that any negative mention of sports can be a very hot topic. I remember presenting the session “Preparing Sons to Provide for a Single-Income Family” (we also have a book with the same title) at a homeschool conference where I made one brief comment about sports being a hindrance to a young man learning vocational skills.

After the session, one mom cornered me as I left and expounded on all her reasons why sports were wonderful. For the next thirty minutes, she was the buzz-saw, and I was the wood as she vented her justification for spending large amounts of time on their passion. There have been other professing believers who have let me know in no uncertain terms how important sports are in their lives.

If you are a Christian and committed to sports, I’m not trying to pick a fight, because I have more profitable things to do with my time. If you can’t read this with an open mind, then please simply stop reading now. Each of us will give an accounting to the Lord Jesus for the way we use our time and the decisions we make, so let each be persuaded in his own mind. This Corner is for those families who would like to hear what Scripture says about sports as the writer above has requested. Please pray that I will be faithful in sharing the Lord’s heart in this matter.

This Corner is not written to the lost because, frankly, for them sports may be a better use of time than many pastimes in which they could be engaged. However, even for those who don’t base their lives on the Bible, logically speaking, sports may still not be the best use of a child’s time, provided the parents have normal, vocationally-related, long-term goals for their children.

Therefore, it is important to clarify that this Corner is written to families where Dad is:

  • saved
  • striving to raise his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord
  • deeply committed to leading his family consistently with Scripture
  • sincerely desiring God’s best for his family
  • not simply avoiding sin

We need to begin by defining sports for the purpose of this discussion because there are a wide variety of activities that are called sports, and some are beyond the scope of this Corner. The first use of the word “sport” in Scripture is found in Judges 16:25: “And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.” According to Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, the Hebrew word for sport is sahaq and is also translated to play (10 times), laugh (10), rejoice (3), scorn (3), sport (3), and five other words. To play and have a good time is a primary thread woven into the fabric of why sports are important to families today and a key aspect of its definition.

Next, I went to a number of resources to see what our modern English definition of sports would be. Merriam-Webster primarily defines sport as “a source of diversion, recreation, a physical activity engaged in for pleasure such as an athletic game.” To compete is the heart of most athletic games, and compete is defined as follows: “To strive consciously or unconsciously for an objective (as position, profit, or prize): be in a state if rivalry.” Finally, rival is defined as “one of two or more striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess.” So for the purpose of this discussion, let’s define sports as “physical activities that are fun or pleasurable where the purpose is to compete and win against another person or team.” Whether the sport is officially organized and whether a score is kept have some bearing, but we won’t make that part of the definition.

Now, let’s consider a couple of verses that present the foundation of the Christian faith. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Might we sum up the Christian faith in the words self-sacrifice and love for others who don’t love us? Briefly put, it means, in response to the Father’s great love, Jesus obediently gave His life so that sinners (losers) might be made righteous (winners) and have a relationship with the Father through Jesus. Glory!

That is why Jesus would say to His disciples in Matthew 16:24: “. . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” If fun is our motive in activities, no one is going to take Matthew 16:24 seriously because there is nothing fun about self-sacrifice and self-denial.

Now compare the above Scripture to sports. If my readers can be open minded, it is seen that sports are the antithesis, the exact opposite, of the Christian faith. The basis for sports is that we have fun as we compete against others with the goal to defeat them, resulting in me being number one and my opponent being the loser. Sports are all about winning and making someone else the loser. My rival is crushed in defeat so I can be the best.

On the other hand, the Christian faith is where we can all be winners, and we are all trying to attain the crown together. I help you, and you help me. We all win together. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Sports train us to receive pleasure in putting ourselves first and others down. However, life in Christ is all about putting ourselves last while we attempt to lift others up.

Some may think that when a team works together to win they are helping those members of the team who are less able or skillful to all win together. Again, an open mind will see that the spirit of competition and being first is predominant inside the team itself. From our experience and from others’ feedback, even in fairly noncompetitive leagues, within each team, the good players “win” the best positions and opportunities. The poor athletes are given token playing time and become champion benchwarmers. The reality is that sports are all about winning and defeating the opponent. Jesus is the One “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Jesus gave the example of “losing” (death on the cross) to win us away from the penalty of our sin.

I want to share just a few other verses that highlight ways in which sports are the antithesis of the Christian walk.

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” (Romans 12:10)

We are to teach our children to love others—wanting them to succeed before us instead of crushing them for our pride and recreation. I expect almost everyone has heard belittling comments addressed to the opposite team. Anger is rampant among spectators, and in doing research for this topic, I read Internet news articles stating what a problem anger is for organized youth sports activities.

“For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:3)

Paul was willing to go to hell, the ultimate defeat, so that others would win a relationship with the Father.

“For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Romans 13:9)

Sports fuels pride in that to be a champion I must defeat my neighbor.

“Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:6)

If one team gave themselves so that the other one would win, it wouldn’t be fun any longer, and no one would come to watch.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:25)

I can’t help but wonder how many marriages have been ruined because of husbands having this spirit of competition so ingrained in their hearts. They don’t understand that Paul, by the Holy Spirit, is teaching us that we are to give our lives for our wives, not compete against them.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

If I am bought with His blood, purchased to be a righteous instrument in the hands of Almighty God, then I am to give myself for others as well.

There is so much more to this topic that we will continue it in the next Corner. The first step is understanding how deeply contrary sports are to the life of Christ. Will we have the mind of Christ or the heart of the world? Are we raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord or in the “me first” way of the world?