Some Christians believe that watching and supporting professional sporting events is wrong. They argue that many sports fans are obsessed. Some also believe it is wrong for Christian athletes to drive a race car or play a football or basketball game on Sunday. Others are concerned that sports encourages the destructive habit of gambling.
The sentiment behind their concern is understandable. We recognize that sports can become an obsession or idol that supercedes relationships with others and God. Others have also brought the dark world of gambling into the arena of professional sports. And playing sports on Sunday is an issue to think through. For these reasons, some well-meaning people believe that Christians should separate themselves from the world of professional sports. But is the issue black and white?
Christians make a mistake when they have nothing to do with sports because some have corrupted or misused it. Like most things, sports can be used for both godly and ungodly purposes.
Food, for example, is something that God has given to nourish our bodies and to give us pleasure. Unfortunately, some overindulge in food and use it in a selfish and self-destructive way. As a result, however, we shouldn’t conclude that eating food is completely wrong. Food is still good and right when used for godly purposes.
Satan himself took one of the most sacred things in this world, the Scriptures, and used them for the wrong purposes when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness ( Luke 4:10-11 ). Just as we can’t use the argument that the Bible is wrong because some misuse it, we can’t make a similar argument with regard to sports.
The Bible never portrays sports or athletics as inherently wrong. On the contrary, by using athletics as an illustration to communicate a spiritual point ( 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 2:5 ), Paul recognized that there is a legitimate place for sports.
There is an honorable side to sports that we cannot ignore. Competition, self-discipline, devotion, teamwork, and camaraderie are just some of the benefits. Most important, the world of sports can provide an avenue to share Christ with others. It would be a great tragedy if we were to shut that avenue off.
Christian athletes can get the gospel to people that most of us would never have the opportunity to reach. Even in death, as we saw in the passing of golfer Payne Stewart and football player Walter Payton (both knew Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior), there are opportunities to proclaim Christ and to testify to the peace and comfort only He can provide in the midst of sudden and overwhelming loss.
Many Christian men and women can use a personal interest in sports to connect with an unsaved neighbor, family member, or co-worker with the larger purpose of sharing Jesus. As long as interest in sports doesn’t become an obsession, enjoying athletics is an example of pursuing a legitimate interest with a greater intention in mind. It’s a means of setting the stage to share the gospel — a way of being in the world, but not of it.