Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Idolatry of Sports

If you read my posts this week, you realize that God really has been putting the issue of sports and being a sports fan on my heart.  I was going to write about "Mainstream Christians" today, but that message will have to wait.  The Lord has really been speaking to me this week about the issue of sports and so instead of dancing around the issue or alluding to it in other posts, I am going to address it head on today.  I want to preface this by saying that there is nothing inherently sinful about watching or playing sports, but sports oftentimes becomes an obsession of ours.  We associate with our teams more than we do our faith.  We are more passionate about our teams then we are about the Lord.  We forsake family for sports.  Sports, for whatever reason, has the tendency to take over the lives of many Christians. My goal here is to warn about the trappings of being a fan and to put sports into its proper perspective.  I also want to warn my brothers and sisters that if you see sports affecting your families and faith, then you need to either put it in its place or cut it out altogether.  Do not let sports become your idol. 

The first issue about sports is the trash talking and boasting.  We like to cheer for our teams and rub it in when other teams lose, especially if that team is a rival.  I have been guilty of this myself.  But what does the Bible say about this kind of behavior?
Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the LORD.  Jeremiah 9:23-24 NKJV
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.  Colossians 4:6 NKJV
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  Ephesians 4:29 NKJV
I am sorry sports fans, but these verses apply even to sports.  While we can celebrate the competition and cheer for out team, when we trash talk other people about their teams, we cross the line into sin.  First of all, we are not to brag about our teams. What is the point?  Do you play any part in their success or failure?  And even if you did, we are to boast that we know the Lord, not that our team is having a good day.  Can trash talk be seasoned with grace?  If so, I would like to hear it, and sarcastic "grace" does not count.  If your grace is sarcastic because the Bible tells your speech to be seasoned with grace, you are not insulting anyone else but the the Lord who wrote His word.  When we beat someone down because of their team, is that necessary to edification?  Does it impart grace to the hearers?  Sports turns our talk into an ungodly mash or bragging, trash talk, insults, and sarcasm.  That is not the example Jesus set for us. 

Another issue with sports is that it brings out anger.  We get angry when our team does not win.  I shared in a previous post how I reacted in anger to my wife all because my team lost.  I am not alone in this.  How many times has any fan been actually angry because their team lost a game?  Here is what the Bible says about anger.
"Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.  Ephesians 4:26-27
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV
Can you be angry that your team lost and not sin?  That is kind of hard when that kind of anger itself is not godly. The kind of anger we are allowed to have is anger at sin, anger at evil, anger at unrighteousness.  What we are allowed is righteous indignation.  You have no right under God for your team to win a game and therefore you have no right to be angry when your team loses.  Any kind of selfish anger we are told to put away from us.  It should have no place in our lives.  One question that may pop into your mind is "Can I be angry of a bad call or if the other team cheated?"  I suppose, but only if you are equally as angry if a bad call goes in favor of your team or your team wins by cheating.  Furthermore, what kind of witness is it when we display immature anger over a sports game. 

And this brings me to my next point.  Sports becomes so important to us that it becomes more important in our lives for our team to win a game then it does for a soul to be won for Christ. 
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' 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.Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  Luke 15:4-10 NKJV
I know you say "What do you mean, of course it is not important for my team to win than for God to win a soul."  Actions speak louder than words.  More accurately, reactions speak louder than words.  I have and anyone else who has ever been a fan of a team has cheered wildly for our team when they won and pouted in anger when they lost.  We jump up, we dance, we cheer, we shout, and we rejoice when our team wins.  How do we react, though, when someone we know and love gets saved?  Do we jump around excitedly?  Do we call our friends and glory in the Lord's victory.  Do you you go to your friends at church and say "How about our God, another soul saved!" and give high-fives and hugs?  Do we join the angels in rejoicing before the Lord over every single soul saved that we hear about?  On the other hand, we allow a bad loss to ruin our day.  Sometimes even our whole week is ruined by a loss, especially if that loss is in the playoffs.  I mean, if our team losses in the playoffs, they go all the way back to their mansions until next season.  Do we grieve before God for the tens and tens of thousands of souls that die each day without Christ?  Our team goes home for a few months, those souls go to Hell for all eternity!  We get depressed when our team loses, but go on with our lives as though nothing happened when souls are judged.  We pray that our team kicks a last second field goal, or gets a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth lever losing that one bit of hope our team will come through, but do we do the same for the souls that perish each and every day?  Why are we not on our knees for them?  But no, they aren't sports.  We will pray for them, maybe during a commercial or after the game.  Seriously, we glory more in what player our team picks up then we do with a soul that God wins.

And while we are speaking of priorities, let is talk about how sports becomes a priority in our lives.  What place should sports have in our lives?
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV
What is your upward calling in Christ?  We all have the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations.  We all have a role to play in the body of Christ.  If you are a husband, you have the calling to be a husband and spiritual leader to your wife.  If you are a parent, you have a calling before God to be a father to your child.  No one is called to be a sports fan.  If any of your true callings in Christ are hurt because of your attentions to sports, then that is becoming an idol.  If your wife is lonely because you watch or play sports all the time, you are failing in your ministry.  If you children are neglected while your attentions is to sports, you are failing in your ministry. Sports can not take precedence over any calling of God in your life.  We are not to cheer on some team to win their prize, but we are to run our own race to strive for our prize in Christ.  If you find yourself more concerned for them winning their perishable temporary crown than you are for obtaining the imperishable eternal crown for achieving the God's calling on your life, then you have a problem you need to deal with. 

While we are on the subject of idolatry, sports also brings so much ungodly superstition into our lives. 
"There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. " Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NKJV
Perhaps you think I am making a stretch by attributing "innocent" superstitions regarding sports to Deuteronomy.  Well, you are wrong.  I am guilty of this myself just this past weekend when I accused my wife of "jinxing" my team.  I confess before you and God that what I did was wrong as it is wrong when we do the same.  When we believe in jinxes or curses we are giving ourselves power over the sovereignty of God.  We are also calling ourselves witches and sorcerers when we attribute that kind of power to ourselves.  We are equally as guilty when we have a "lucky" jersey, seat, ball, or anything else.  We are attributing power to an idol made by man and giving that idol power over and above the sovereignty of God.  Whenever you even begin to think that a team won or lost because of whether or not you were wearing a certain article of clothing you are saying that thing has more power than God.  You are saying that the outcome was determined by your choice of clothing and not the will of God. 

And speaking of clothing and our outward appearance regarding our favorite teams, I want to address how sports takes over our identity.
Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.  Romans 13:13-14 NKJV
We may put our our ball caps and jerseys, but even over them we need to put on Christ.  We must always be defined first by who we are in Christ, not by who we cheer for.  Conversely, we must also associate with others first by who they are in Christ.  I see people who are more vocal about their favorite team then they are for the Lord.  I know people who actually personally hold against them who they cheer for.  I have seen that even among brothers in the Lord.  Seriously, is a meaningless sports team more important than the bond of Jesus Christ?  Is it more important for other people to know you are a good fan than a good Christian?  Is it more important for you as to what team a person cheers for than who they are in Christ?  If any of those are true, then you have a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. 

Please let us all put sports in its proper perspective.  In the grand scheme of things, sports are quite meaningless. It is entertainment and we have to see it as such.  Once it becomes an idol, we need to put it in its proper perspective or get it out of our lives altogether.  Sports should have zero priority in our lives and yet we often let it take us over.  You may disagree, but I ask you to check yourself.  I know of many who will find time for a softball game during the week but are too busy or tired to attend or even teach a midweek service.  I am not saying that if you do not go to church on Wednesday, you are in trouble with God, but you find the time for things that are important to you.  If you find time one night for softball and fail to find that same time for church another night, what is more important to you?  Actions, or lack thereof, speak louder than words.  If you compromise your faith to "bend" rules in order to give yourself a better team, then you are showing that sports are more important to you than the righteousness of God.  If you neglect your family for playing or watching sports, you are showing that sports are more important than your family.  If you are more emotionally affected by what team wins what games then over souls won and lost for Christ, then sports are more important to you than the salvation of others. If you spend more money on team merchandise than you do for the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ then sports are more important to you than the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Check your heart and see if sports have become an idol in your life.  If sports, in any way, comes between you and your relationship with, service to, growth with, or witness of God then sports has become your idol.  Idols need to be destroyed lest they become your god. 

I know this post was about sports, but this can apply to anything in your life that affects your relationship with God.  It can be movies, television, hobbies, or anything else.  Please do not think that just because you are not a sports fan that this message does not apply to you.  What I said today applies to anyone who is allowing idolatry to take over their lives.  Give up those perishable idols for the eternal rewards God has for you.  Those idols never satisfy and only serve to obscure your view of the glory and majesty of the true and living God.  Take off the jersey and put on Christ and cheer not for some sports team you will never be a part of, but rejoice with the angels for the lost souls God used you in leading to the Lord. 
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.  1 Corinthians 10:14 NKJV


  1. This used to really describe me. What the Lord used to break me of this was the Philadelphia Eagles loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I was bummed out for a few days and finally came to realize that sports were way too important to me. I still enjoy them, but am not nearly as fanatical. Jesus Christ means so much more to me.

  2. Well said, Ed!
    Ben, I love the things that God is working in you! I love that you have things that you love and enjoy, but that you know that MOST of all you are a FAN of Christ! Let's let our lives be the jerseys we wear! (I'm so clever!)