Christians and Sports
I miss the Pittsburgh Pirates already. Growing up in western Pennsylvania, I always passionately rooted for the Pirates. During my childhood, the Pirates were the most pointed piece of Sabbath debate in the household – no televised baseball was allowed on Sunday. Now, residing on alien turf, something doesn't feel right. I suspect I'm not alone. Professional athletics help to define our communities, sell us our products, provide role models for our children, and fill our leisure time. When our children are involved in high school athletics, those activities become an even more intense concern. But before my life becomes too involved with finding a new home team, a few biblical reminders are in order.
A need for balance exists. Involvement as a fan or spectator with professional, college, and even high school athletics is leisure activity, or recreation. The Bible and the secular world are on a collision course when it comes to recreation. The world suffers through work in order to play. It advertises putting a little weekend into your week, expressing the hope that extra playtime can be carved out of traditional working time.
The Bible says otherwise. The first commandment given to Adam, a commandment that has always been at the heart of the covenant, was a command to work: "subdue the earth and have dominion over every created thing." Recreation fits in here only as an aid to work. The Christian does not work in order to play. Rather, he plays in order to work. His purpose for living is to work for and worship God. So the purpose for his recreational activity is to refresh him so that he might prove more faithful to God in his work.
Involvement in athletics is a positive, Christian form of recreation … if; it is God-pleasing if it serves as recreation and refreshment for the Christian worker and actually makes him more productive and less stressed. It ceases to be God-pleasing when it ceases to be recreational. When a Pirates game goes into extra innings and I simply must see the outcome, even if it means being up too late and consequently not being at my best for work the next day, it is no longer recreational. When a close call goes against the Pirates and I become so passionately distressed by the umpire's shortcomings that my blood pressure begins to rise, it is no longer recreational. If a Pirates losing streak depresses and distracts me, it has ceased to be recreational. And when the next generation of the church learns from my example that the best role models are athletes, regardless of their personal lifestyles – rather than the church's elders (Hebrews 13:7) – athletics has ceased to be a God-pleasing, recreating activity.
There must also be a proper perspective on the Lord's day. A right understanding of the Fourth Commandment will not turn the Sabbath into a contest to see how much we cannot do. A better understanding will remind us that the single most refreshing, recreative thing we can do is to enjoy a day set aside for the worship of God. Both work and worship are included in the Fourth Commandment, and they feed off each other. A slothful worker does not have all his work done in six days, and his worship suffers. One who neglects the Lord's day finds his fellowship with God suffering, and his work for God becomes distracted. The worship of God needs to be seen as so refreshing that even an undefeated season and world championship cannot compare with it. This is exactly why the world can never successfully put enough weekend into the week. Nothing refreshes like fellowship with God, and apart from God nobody winds up refreshed enough. Only after we come to grips with this can involvement in athletics provide a secondary, helpful diversion and refreshment.