I shared in the first article of this series that there’s a bit of irony that sports has become such a huge part of my life as a believer. It’s an irony that I laugh at today. It’s also one that I’m thankful for.
I’m thankful that my heavy involvement in athletics today was purely from the providence of God and not from any kind of external pressure or internal idolatry. For as much as I enjoy being involved in sports and athletics at all levels—recreationally, competitively, and occupationally—I will be the first to admit that we live amidst a culture in which sports has taken an unnecessary place in the lives of the younger generation. As I write this book, I grieve because I can think of many young people who have exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the glory of sports (Rom 1:23). And much of this is due to the culture in which many American youth are currently raised that has turned sports and athletics into idols.
Sports and athletics are not mandated endeavors in the Bible. Sports are often used as illustrations, but there is no prescription in the Bible that mandates for our children’s involvement in them. It’s common today to see fathers grow disappointed at their sons for either not excelling in sports or refusing to be involved in them. This is hardly a surprise, given that Isaac favored his more athletic son Esau over his more domestically oriented son Jacob (Gen 25:28). God designed for sports and athletics to be enjoyed, but our culture has turned it into a necessary part of maturity.
Because we see it as a necessity, our culture now esteems athletic success far higher than godliness, the very opposite of how Paul instructs us to prioritize our lives (1 Tim 4:8). I have seen even Christian parents fall into the trap of being far more interested and invested in their kids’ sporting endeavors than church involvement. Is it any surprise, then, that even within the church we are seeing more and more kids neglect involvement in the church so that they can excel in their sports? Unless we as parents teach our children to love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, and strength (Deut 6:5), they will have hearts that are divided between being involved in God’s church and excelling in sports. Sadly, this is what I see happening. I’m observing more and more kids from professing Christian families who are highly involved in athletics and hardly involved in the life of the church. They’re growing as athletes, but not as Christians.
Again, the culture in which they are raised is partially to blame. Even among the Christian community churches seem to love inviting professional athletes as special guests and speakers at conferences. Are we inadvertently sending the message to the younger generation that if two people tell you to give your life to Christ and say no to pornography, the one who wears an Olympic gold medal has more credibility? Did we forget that the Lord Himself is not impressed with athletic ability, but looks to the heart of the man instead (1 Sam 16:7)?
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to redeem and restore all things to Himself. That includes sports, and the place it has in the Christian life. Through Christ, Christians can learn to enjoy sports and athletics without idolizing them. And in Christ, our younger generation can learn to view sports for what it should be—not the point of life, but rather a parable for Christian living. With this perspective and approach, a Christian’s engagement in sports can be truly enriching and edifying.