Fun and games
Did you know that God wants us to experience pleasure? In spite of all the stereotypes out there, Christians know that God is not a killjoy or a spoilsport; he created so many great things for us to enjoy, and that includes sports.
Sports are a good gift from God. They allow people to utilize their God-given abilities, promote health, enhance community pride and comradery, and are just plain fun. That pleases God, who wants the best for us and has provided so many pleasures for us to enjoy.
We all have different gifts
Although it does not mention athletic ability explicitly, Romans 12:3-8 describes how we are all members of the body of Christ, all exercising different gifts. As with the human body, different members play different roles (the hand acts differently than the foot, for example), but all contribute to the healthy functioning of the whole.
If God has gifted someone with extraordinary athletic talent and a desire to use it, we can assume that God is pleased when they do.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Or course, self-discipline can be applied to many areas of life, but athletic training is certainly one of them, Any great athlete would agree that the only way to achieve success is to put in the work and sacrifice one’s temporary pleasure or comfort for the sake of the sport. In fact, few great accomplishments in life come without short-term difficulty or training.
The passage in Corinthians explains that self-discipline, even physical discipline, has rewards beyond winning the game, race, or trophy. For the Christ follower, all disciplines are for the ultimate goal of serving Christ.
Running the good race
1 Peter 4:10-11 says that whatever we do, we should do it to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace. That extends to speaking, serving, and even playing sports.
There are many Bible passages that use running a race as an analogy for living a life of service to God and to people. This is not a call for guilt or obligation, but an encouragement for believers who are gifted in athletics: God can use all things for his glory. He gifts us according to his will, and he asks that we bless his kingdom with those gifts in return.
Scottish sports figure Eric Liddell (you may know him from the classic film Chariots of Fire) famously said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Liddell went on to lead many people to Christ in his lifetime, including when he was confined in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
Let your light shine
Some of us may have grown up singing the song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” And that’s the truth. Matthew 5:14-16 says that we are the light of the world, and just as we would not cover up a lamp with a bowl, we also should not shield the world from our light.
Those God has blessed with athletic ability and a love of sports ought to get out there and do what they love. God’s kingdom can only be enhanced by people doing what they do best. It’s biblical to do whatever it is you do for God.
The world is full of athletes serving God, and athletes have a great platform to spread the Word, just by doing what they do best and being honest about their faith.
I Am Second is an organization that spotlights athletes and other influencers whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel. Wayne Simien is one of them. The former University of Kansas and NBA basketball player (Miami Heat), began his relationship with the Lord in college, and now runs a ministry for youth, colleges, and athletics, Called to Greatness.
Sufficiency in Christ alone
Contrary to the what society may depict, success in sports (or any other arena) does not guarantee happiness or satisfaction. Recognizing one’s weaknesses may come especially hard for athletes, who pride themselves on strength and self-sufficiency. But by surrendering to the Lord, athletes like former NFL long snapper Clint Gresham and professional MMA fighter Cody Garbrandt have battled anxiety and depression and come out on the other side.
As with any good thing, it is possible to misuse sports. Anything we prioritize over God or people can turn into an idol, and this idolatry can manifest itself in over-exercising, gambling, the pursuit of fame, unhealthy competition, spending more time watching sports than with family, and so on.
Christians can rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us and to help keep our priorities straight. There’s no harm in enjoying the pleasure that goes along with competing or watching sports. We believe that if God is our number one priority, he will help us to keep all the other good things in proper balance. Then we can really enjoy them wholeheartedly.
Other voices in this conversation:
I Am Second: https://www.iamsecond.com/
The Gospel Coalition: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org
Fellowship of Christian Athletes: https://www.fca.org/
Called to Greatness: http://calledtogreatness.com