Sports is a big part of life for many people, whether they’re watching athletic events, driving their children to and from sports practice, or directly participating in sports themselves. According to MarketWatch, Inc., Americans spent $100 billion on sports in 2017—$56 billion on attending sporting events, $33 billion on sports equipment, and $19 billion on gym memberships.
Sports and athletic competitions have been popular since ancient times. The Bible draws several analogies of the Christian life from the sports world: 1 Corinthians 9:26 contains a reference to shadowboxing; the author of Hebrews likens the Christian life to a race (Hebrews 12:1); and Paul admonishes us to “run in such a way to win the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24, CSB).
Given the Bible’s positive use of sports-related analogies, there can be nothing inherently wrong with viewing or participating in athletic events. Following one’s favorite football team, playing a few rounds of golf, attending a volleyball match, or signing up for community softball is something Christians can and do enjoy. Christian athletes and coaches often have the opportunity to use their prominence in sports as a platform for advancing the gospel.
Christians who play sports can attest to the many benefits that such involvement can provide, including stress reduction; weight control; camaraderie; and the development of accountability, leadership, and communication, goal-setting, and problem-solving skills. The endurance and perseverance required in athletic competition can be valuable in building and strengthening character.
One of the greatest benefits of competing in sports is the development of self-control: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). In the crucible of competitive action, the presence of self-control—or the lack of it—becomes obvious to all observers. Some athletes (and fans) handle game-related adversity with grace and poise; others melt down in an adult temper-tantrum. The problem is not the sport; it’s the inner character of the athlete or fan. In many ways, a sporting event provides an occasion to test the character of both winners and losers. Christian athletes, coaches, and fans should be filled with the Holy Spirit and display the Spirit’s fruit, no matter where they are, be it on the court, on the field, or in the locker room.
As in all areas of life, we must have balance in regards to our involvement in sports. We must set priorities. It’s easy for a sports fan to overdo it, committing too much time, money, and other resources to what should be an entertaining diversion. It’s easy for an athlete wishing to succeed to devote an inordinate amount of time and energy to training, to the neglect of family, friends, or walk with God. The Bible helps us clarify our priorities: “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
Sports is good and beneficial when kept in perspective. Never should sports be allowed to crowd out time with God or become more important than seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Idols are not to be a part of the Christian life (1 John 5:21). And in whatever we do, on or off the field, we are to do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).