The college football season is upon us as games will actually begin tonight and play throughout the weekend and on Labor Day. While the NFL may be the most popular sport in America, college football is a passion for millions of fans.
Fans and advertisers have often rallied around the cry, “Sports is LIFE!” As an admitted sports enthusiast, I can see how life can revolve around sports, especially in this social media age. From message boards to Twitter accounts to 24 hour sports channels to fantasy teams, sports can become interwoven into all areas of one’s life.
A Cheap Substitute for Life
In reality, sports can be a cheap substitute for life, especially the Christian life. While there are wonderful lessons that can be learned from sports, sports also elevate traits and characteristics that are completely opposite to the values championed in the Scriptures.
1. Sports values performance over character. If an athlete can contribute to the wins’ column of a team, they are valued, no matter their character. Character is often overlooked as speed, strength, size, and skills are elevated.
The Scriptures always value character first knowing that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works. In the Bible, those whose performances seemed to be failures were elevated as examples of faith and obedience. We think of King David as mighty king through whom the Lord is promised, but he was first the youngest son tending sheep in the field. Whereas King Saul was head and shoulders over the others, David was a man after God’s own heart. Character matters in the Christian life.
2. Winners are valued over losers. Sure, there’s the idea of “it’s not who wins that matters, but how you played the game.” Isn’t it interesting, though, how even in some Christian sports leagues where the score of the game isn’t kept, that coaches, players, and parents still know who won and lost? Coaches are hired and fired based on winning. Players are kept or cut based on winning.
The Scriptures teach us that the scoreboard in heaven doesn’t measure what the world measures. Read Hebrews 11:35-39. The writer of Hebrews first speaks of the winners, those who would be deemed successful in the Christian life. But in vs. 35-39 he speaks of what we would consider losers, the ones who died for their faith. These men and women were surely winners, and maybe more so, than those who experienced miraculous deliveries.
3. Only a few play the game while the majority are spectators. There are always more substitutes on the sidelines than those playing the game. Thousands watch the game in the stands and millions watch on TV. While these folks can encourage and support, they never get into the game. The greater number of spectators watching, the more successful are the teams in the eyes of people.
The Scriptures teach that no Christians are called to be spectators. If one is a Christian, one is a disciple who does what Jesus commanded. Christians are all active ministers of the gospel and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.
4. Bragging and “swagger” are encouraged in sports. Some call it a winning attitude, some call it confidence, others call it “swagger.” Whatever one calls it, sports values those who are leaders, who play with great confidence. And of course fans are fans because they are “fanatic” about their teams and players. Bragging rights concerning wins and losses is a valued part of the joy of being a fan. Older players haze younger players. Starters feel entitled over subs. Sports seems to encourage a “better than you” attitude.
The Scriptures value humility. From the example of Jesus to the teachings of the Apostles, Christians are to boast in the Lord, not in themselves. Paul asks the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you didn’t receive?” The Christian life is one of humility as we are grateful that God would pour out mercy and grace on us through Jesus.
5. Grumbling is encouraged. In this I’m thinking more about the fans. Fans yell at the officials. Fans yell at the other team. Fans yell at their own coaches and players. Message boards and blogs are filled with armchair coaches who go after their team when things are going bad during the season. The other team is the enemy. And the officials, well, let’s just say that fans draw great joy in coming up with new ways to harass those officials.
The Scriptures encourage Christians to rejoice in the Lord, to consider suffering as a means of joy, to be grateful in all things. Christians, more than anyone else, should know peace, joy, and satisfaction in life.
6. Ferocity and aggression are valued over kindness. This is not a knock on competitiveness. Being competitive in athletics is one thing, it’s another thing to desire to humiliate and even harm your opponent.
The Scriptures tell us to pray for our enemies, to have kindness and gentleness, to see others as created in the image of God. Making a tackle and then standing over your opponent to add an element of humiliation isn’t glorifying to the Lord.
Sports Isn’t the Devil
As many good gifts from the Lord, I think sports, rightly understood and used, can be a great and joyful celebration of the life that He has given us. Let’s be careful, though, that we don’t allow the gift to become more satisfying than the Giver of the gift. Let’s also be careful that we don’t allow some of the misuses of this gift to take us away from how our Lord would want us to live life and enjoy Him.