In this series discussing sports and the Christian family, it is important to emphasize that this Corner is written for families where the dad is:
- 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
It is expected that with any negative mention of sports there will be a few who protest and insist that the Apostle Paul would not agree that sports were the antithesis of the Christian walk. Then the verses where Paul refers to sports will be listed as proof Paul endorsed sports. Therefore, it would be good to objectively look at those verses briefly.
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Paul was using an example to which the Corinthians would relate. Corinth was where the Isthmian games were held in a staggered yearly timing with the Olympic games. Since the Isthmian games were in honor of the Greek god Poseidon, there were sacrifices to this false god as part of the festivities.
The competing athletes were so committed to their sport that many were willing to give their lives for a corruptible crown. Paul had a terrific example of a worthless crown because the crown they were competing for was woven out of celery. Think how long that celery-crown would have looked nice before it wilted and rotted, unlike the fancy chrome trophies of today that sit on shelves gathering dust.
Some of the “games” were horrifically brutal and often resulted in the maiming or death of one of the opponents. In one competition, which involved a combination of boxing (“beateth the air”) and wrestling, the only two rules were no biting or gouging out of the eyes, but breaking bones, dislocating joints, and choking to the point of death were all fully acceptable and encouraged. Would Paul have attended, encouraged participation in, or endorsed such things? Not a chance.
Paul used these games as an example of how foolish for a man to spend his time training, competing, and possibly giving his life for something that has little value. How much more we should discipline our flesh and follow hard after things that have eternal benefit, not pursue the games of the world. We are to invest our time and lives in pursuing the crown that everyone can win and doesn’t fade or decay.
Some also might think that these verses from Hebrews could also be used by those endorsing sports for Christians, so let’s investigate them.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
The author of Hebrews is using an example of a foot race involving a crowd watching to see how determined and prepared the participants are. He calls special attention to a runner’s weight. If you haven’t noticed, a competitive runner is smaller than he might be because every pound of extra weight is a great hindrance to his performance. Additional body weight will not disqualify the dedicated runner, but it will burden him, perhaps causing him not to win.
The writer of Hebrews is trying to convey how easily we are entangled in the things of this world that weigh us down, that hinder or prevent our service to the Lord Jesus. He is not suggesting we get involved in a foot race. He is cautioning us not to be burdened with things that will impede our spiritual performance, and he is encouraging us to patiently run the spiritual race set before us.
A direct application of this verse would be our time usage. We all have only twenty-four hours in the day to be busy about what the Lord has called us to do. I don’t think I’ve met a man who will disagree that sports are a horrendous stumbling block to many men (usually never themselves). These “other” men squander vast amounts of time to the idol of sports in their lives. Even if we ignore idolatry, just the wasting of the most precious commodity in life—our time—is serious in itself. Sadly, sports has to be one of the greatest examples of a weight that burdens men down today. In those homes where there is time for the “big game” with the cheerleaders and beer commercials, there is likely little time for family Bible and one-on-one interactions with the children.
I would like to give you three sections of Scripture showing how Paul uses examples from daily life to help his readers understand a spiritual concept, but he isn’t directing that they live out the actual example.
“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)
Paul is not suggesting that we die in the arena by the wild beast, nor is he endorsing living an indulgent life of being merry with food and drink. He is saying that there is no benefit if we give our lives in service if there is no resurrection.
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
Paul is not telling us to enlist in the army, wear helmets, and carry guns as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. He is strictly making a spiritual analogy relating soldiers being prepared to endure difficult situations to Christians not being distracted by the affairs of this life. We are to be fully committed to the service of the King. In fact sports would be a good example of “affairs of this life” that entangle so many men today.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Paul is not promoting that we give everything we have to the poor, nor that we volunteer to be burned at the stake. He is making the point that extreme self-sacrifice is of no profit if we don’t have charity.
Another section of Scripture that will be suggested to justify time spent on sports is 1 Corinthians 9:22-23.
“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
Is Paul saying we compromise truth and what he teaches in other verses to win the lost? Is Paul saying that if the world pursues sports, then Christians are to pursue sports so that they can reach the world? The world also pursues alcohol. Should Christians pursue alcohol as well? Is Paul suggesting that we go to the local bar and share a “brew” with someone in hopes of leading him to Christ?
I have yet to read a verse that indicates we compromise truth in our lives. If that was the case, then there would be no need for Scripture because the “silver bullet” excuse for not living according to God’s Word would always be, “I was doing it to reach the lost.”
A sports example consistent with this verse would be if we have a neighbor who is crazy about sports and he spends all his time at home watching them. One would not shun him because of this. When interacting with him, one would not tell him he is wrong or wasting his time. One would listen to the things he wants to share about them. Listening will not compromise truth, and it will not defraud. On the other hand, to go to the sports bars, watch the game, and drink with him would be a compromise, a snare to ourselves, and something we couldn’t do. For the sake of matters of preference, we seek to win the lost. However, we never compromise on matters of integrity or purity.
I trust that it is clearly seen that Paul was in no way promoting that believers should participate in sports. Just because David had several wives, it does not mean that Scripture endorses polygamy. Sports is a prime example of something that greatly hinders believers’ service of the Lord Jesus. As I mentioned previously, we need go no further than to look to many homes where sports take precious time away from the family being in God’s Word every day. Clearly, sports are no friend of the serious believer. For more information on this, I suggest you listen to our audio Sports-Friend or Foe?. We continue this series next month.