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Competitive Sports & Christian Character

Several years ago I attended an Angel’s major league baseball game.  As I sat in the audience my favorite player hit his second home run of the game.  And I like the rest of the fans stood on my feet, and cheered.  It was an exciting moment, fireworks were exploding, tens of thousands of people were cheering, and in the midst of all this fanfare, I suddenly heard a still small voice whisper “Do you get this excited about Me?”  I sat down slowly, and contemplated such a statement. I knew the answer, “Lord, I don’t get this excited about you, I don’t get this excited about souls being won to you.  I get more excited over a sporting event, than I do the kingdom of God.”

How is a Christian to handle competitive sports?  May Christians participate in boxing or football?  Should Christian parents expose their children to such events?  “The tendency of most athletic sports is a subject of anxious thought to those who have at heart the well-being of the youth. Teachers are troubled as they consider the influence of these sports both on the student’s progress in school and on his success in afterlife. The games that occupy so much of his time are diverting the mind from study. They are not helping to prepare the youth for practical, earnest work in life. Their influence does not tend toward refinement, generosity, or real manliness. “1  The question many have is, which sports are appropriate for Christians to participate in?  Which sports are sinful in God’s sight?  Such are good questions.  The Bible has good answers.  Therefore let us study the Bible to discover the truth about competitive sports.  But before we consider any sport directly, let us ask for the Lord to guide us in our understanding, let us pray.

Dear Gracious Heavenly Father, Lord we want to be just like you.  Lord we want to have the character of Jesus. Lord if there is anything that is hampering our growth , if there is anything that we are doing that is sinful, please Lord show us.  Guide us, help us to make the right decisions, based solely on your word.  May we lean not in our own understand but in all our ways acknowledge you, and you shall direct our paths.  May your will be done oh Lord, we pray. In Jesus name, amen.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

The Bible here warns us that just before Jesus returns, many people who have “a form of godliness” but will be proud, brutal, unloving, haughty and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.  The reality is there are certain sports that we must not partake in, in fact we must not even watch as Christians.  Boxing and UFC or ultimate fighting martial arts competitions, where two men gather into a cage or ring and punch each other out, are clearly brutal.  Such sports are Satanic in origin. Is this what Christ would want us to do, give pain to others for whom Christ died?  Certainly not!  We are not to even watch such sports for it is written “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” (Psalm 101:3)

What about sports where fighting is not allowed such as football?  I’m sure we have seen a NFL game in the past and so I want to illustrate a very common scenario.  A quarterback drops back for a pass, he sees an open receiver and throws a pass into the end-zone to this receiver.  The receiver leaps in the air and catches the ball.  While he is returning to the earth, a defensemen from the other team tackles the receiver in mid-air, blindsiding the receiver and knocking him to the ground, in turn causing the receiver to drop the ball because of the force of the crushing blow.  As the receiver lays on the ground, with ears ringing and pain throbbing through his body, what does the defensemen do after the play is over?  Most of the time they celebrate.  A dance, a high five, or some other ridiculous gesture is preformed and thousands applaud.  Are we to cause pain to others and then celebrate?  Is this the attitude of heaven?  “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

The sin and degradation of Christian character is not found at the professional level of sports alone.  I once spoke with a twelve year old boy who attended church every week and was engaged in competitive tackle football.  I asked him the question, what do you enjoy most about the game?  He answered me “I get to hit people and not get in trouble”.  Friends, “some of the most popular amusements, such as football and boxing, have become schools of brutality. They are developing the same characteristics as did the games of ancient Rome. The love of domination, the pride in mere brute force, the reckless disregard of life, are exerting upon the youth a power to demoralize that is appalling.

Other athletic games, though not so brutalizing, are scarcely less objectionable because of the excess to which they are carried. They stimulate the love of pleasure and excitement, thus fostering a distaste for useful labor, a disposition to shun practical duties and responsibilities. They tend to destroy a relish for life’s sober realities and its tranquil enjoyments. Thus the door is opened to dissipation and lawlessness with their terrible results.”2

The attitude taken in many competitions is….who is the better athlete?  Who is the better, hockey or soccer or basketball or football player?  Is this bringing glory to God or glory to self?  Is there not a great temptation to think of the winning team as better than the losers?  Is such an attitude dangerous?  The Bible gives us the answer when it says

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (Philippians 2:3)

Do competitive sports promote such an attitude, or the opposite?  The attitude of proving who is the greater is something the disciples had in Luke 9:46 when it says “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.”  Jesus, in compassion knew that this attitude must be corrected, for it is written “And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.” (Luke 9:47-48)

He who is least among you all will be the greatest.  The humility of Christ, this is what God’s people need now more than ever.  Beloved, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

The opposite of everything prideful, the opposite of everything selfish, the opposite of everything boastful, is found in the humility of Jesus Christ.  The King of Glory, the commander of the heavenly host, gave all that He had, so that we may spend eternity with Him.  “Never can the cost of our redemption be realised until the redeemed shall stand with the Redeemer before the throne of God. Then as the glories of the eternal home burst upon our enraptured senses we shall remember that Jesus left all this for us, that He not only became an exile from the heavenly courts, but for us took the risk of failure and eternal loss. Then we shall cast our crowns at His feet, and raise the song, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” Rev. 5:12.” 3

In conclusion, “I do not condemn the simple exercise of playing ball; but this, even in its simplicity, may be overdone.  I shrink always from the almost sure result which follows in the wake of these amusements. It leads to an outlay of means that should be expended in bringing the light of truth to souls that are perishing out of Christ. The amusements and expenditures of means for self-pleasing, which lead on step by step to self-glorifying, and the educating in these games for pleasure produce a love and passion for such things that is not favorable to the perfection of Christian character”4.  Time is almost finished, let us spend our final hours fulfilling the gospel commission of Matthew 28:18-20 instead of spending time in the amusements of the world.  One soul won to Christ, one effort made that is successful, will bring about eternal happiness in heaven.  Let us redeem the time by sharing the gospel and perfecting Christian character, let us not waste our time with the amusements of the world in these the final hours of earth’s history. “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Luke 15:7, Ephesians 5:15-16)  May the Lord bless you as you do so.

  1. Adventist Home p. 500, Ellen White
  2. Adventist Home p. 500
  3. The Desire of Ages p. 131, Ellen White
  4. Adventist Home p. 499

6 thoughts on “Competitive Sports & Christian Character”

  1. Hi!
    This site is really wonderful!!! amazing articles indeed…. I heard quite a few sermons of Mr. Dwayne Lemon and that’s how i came to know about this website. May God bless your ministry as you continue for His glory.

  2. Thank you for the insightful message. For the couple years since my mom past away from diabetes, I’ve been weight training and playing pick up basketball for cardio. Praise God!!! I’ve lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of lean muscle. Unfortunately I encounter extremely competitive guys at the gym. Some of guys of take b-ball way to serious,consequently loud arguments break out,and people come close to fighting. After reading this message I’m going seek the Lord for guidance whether I should continue playing b-ball, or get my cardio by some other means.

  3. Excellent article. And I think it can be summed up with a couple of verses from Scripture:

    “That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)

    “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” (Matt. 6:24)

    1. Hi Don,
      The principles laid out in this article would apply to all competitive sports, including Olympic style wrestling. It is my prayer that these Biblical principles can guide you regarding all sports. Thank you for the question and may the Lord bless you as you follow Him!

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