Kingdom of God vs. Sport
aymon de albatrus
"24 But a slave of [the] Lord ought not to strive, but to be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, 25 in meekness teaching those who have opposed, if perhaps God may give them repentance for a full knowledge of [the] truth," (2Ti 2:24-25)
"For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1Ti 4:8)
There are two aspects to the activity called Sport:
A way to do physical exercise to keep the body in shape utilizing systematic activities of the physical body.
A physical, antagonistic striving to obtain a price gained by vanquishing the opponents.
A dictionary definition of Sport:
A sport consists of a physical and mentally competitive activity carried out with a recreational purpose for competition, for self-enjoyment, to attain excellence, for the development of a skill, or some combination of these. A sport has physical activity, side-by-side competition, self-motivation and a scoring system. The difference of purpose is what characterizes sport, combined with the notion of individual (or team) skill or prowess.
A Physical exertion and skill activity which is governed by a set of rules, or customs and often engaged in competitively, frequently associated to pecuniary gains.
An active pastime; recreation.
To justify their dependency on sport many argue that the Apostle Paul was supportive of the Greek Olympic Games, because he often alluded to them in his metaphorical analogies to the Christian life. But such an argument is faulty. For Paul was an orthodox Jew and then as now most orthodox Jews are not sympathetic to the concept of sport. Sure, Paul did make references to the concept of the dedication that is required to obtain the price in sport. The commitment to win in sport is Total and Paul uses that plain, visible to all, devotion to provoke Christian to do the same in their walk with the Lord. Indeed, very rarely Christians have the same overwhelming devotion to their walk as sport people have towards their passion.
When in Heb 12:1 the writer says: "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" it is not to approve or glorify sport, but meant as a metaphor that all would understand. As applied to Christians, it means that they should remove all which would obstruct their progress in the Christian course. Thus it is fair to apply it to whatever would be an impediment in our efforts to win the crown of life. It is not the same thing in all persons. In one it may be pride; in another vanity; in another worldliness; in another a violent and almost ungovernable temper; in another a corrupt imagination; in another a heavy leaden insensible heart; in another some improper and unholy attachment. Whatever it may be, we are exhorted to lay it aside; and this general direction may be applied to anything that prevents our making the highest possible attainment in the divine life. Some persons would make much more progress if they would throw away many of their personal ornaments; some if they would free themselves of the heavy weight of gold which they are endeavouring to carry with them.
Paul was not against physical exercise: "For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1Ti 4:8). The Apostle here does not mean the exercise of the body in the Olympic games, as by running, wrestling, &c. which profits but little, for the obtaining of a corruptible crown at most. The bodily exercise to which the apostle refers here is, doubtless, the mortifications of the body by abstinence and penance, which the ancient devotees made so important as a part of their religion. The apostle does not mean to say that bodily exercise is in itself improper, or that no advantage can be derived from it in the preservation of health. But that by bodily austerities it was supposed that the corrupt passions would be subdued, the wanderings of an unholy fancy fettered down, and the soul brought into conformity to God. In opposition to this supposition, the apostle has here stated a great principle which experience has shown to be universally correct, that such austerities do little to promote holiness, but much to promote superstition. There must be a deeper work on the soul than any which can be accomplished by the mere mortification of the body.
So Paul in this verse pits physical exercise (not competitive sport) versus spiritual exercise, the latter having a far more value and importance. Godliness, which is the centre of true worship and service of God, out of a true principle of the fear of God and faith in Him; holiness of life in obedience to God’s commandments, is of universal advantage; having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come; not from any meritoriousness in it, but from the free grace of God, which has annexed to it not only the promises of health, peace, and prosperity, and all good things while we live here upon the earth, but above all the promises of salvation and eternal happiness when this life shall be terminated. Amen
It must be remembered that the only things that we shall take with us when departing this earth are the knowledge of God and the rewards of our obedience to His commanded works, ALL the rest will be of no value and will not enter heaven. All our degrees, our skills and natural learning, earthly endeavours and all we value so much in this world will be but dung: "Yes doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the Excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ," (Phi 3:8)
So far we have seen that Scripture does not altogether despise physical exercise, some of which may be useful (moderately used) to make us more fit for prayer, for His service and for carrying out religious deeds, nevertheless this activity alone is of no avail in itself. But what about antagonistic sports, and indeed most of sports is antagonistic where two or more participant are actively opposing each other to obtain the reward of the winner. By antagonism it is meant: "Hostility that results in active resistance, opposition, or contentiousness, a state of deep-seated ill-will, actively expressed opposition or hostility".
The general secular definition of the Role of Sports is thus:
"Sports act as physical outlets; they allow participants to work out aggressive energies and emotions through involvement in the competitive recreational activity". (Encyclopaedia Britannica) Sports are accessible ways of gaining respect and admiration for self, through the exhibition of skill and prowess. As entertainment, they provide diversion from the demands of day-to-day living and allow the spectator to enjoy much of the experience of play without actual involvement.
Now is there in this definition anything resembling the language of the Kingdom of God. NO, there is none whatsoever. How does this definition of activity compares with our reference verse above? "But a slave of [the] Lord ought not to strive, but to be gentle towards all" They are diametrically opposite. There is NO competition whatever in the Kingdom of God, except to serve Him the better. As Christians we are commanded to: "Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1Co 10:31) How then the definition of Sports brings glory to God when its whole aim is to: "gain respect and admiration to self through the exhibition of self skill and prowess" ? Methinks it is not possible because the purpose of sports is to bring glory to self, there is nothing left for God. Those players that before the game make various religious sign, bring "holy" water, carry on themselves their amulets and pray to their God to give them victory by vanquishing the adversary are not addressing the God of the Bible, but some sort of demons, for they are pagans. God does not approve of competitive sports for their basic principle is to win by defeating the other.
Moreover, teams sometimes pray before a big match. One wonders what "God" thinks when both sides pray for victory!
Some even say: "But we do not play to win, we play for the game". Balderdash, do not tell palpable lies, you play because you like to win.
Here are some examples of the exhilaration of winners:
Here the despair of losers:
Do these pictures give the impression that winning or losing makes no difference, for it is only the Game that counts? And spotted piglets were flying about.
The Lord says this about the Kingdom of God: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev 21:4). There will be no tears or sorrow in His Kingdom for there will be no competition to subdue others and there will be no losers for all are winners in Christ.
With the advent on the "New Age", Christianity that had been the controlling religious system of the Western culture till then is now being supplanted by a "world religion" with the name "sport". In the twentieth century this new religious movement has almost completely ousted the old Christian religion. The symbol of the cross; has been replaced by the ball whose spherical shape, as "symbol of the finite encompassed by the infinite", is regarded as the highest form of religiousness. The spherical shape of the ball, the principal cult article, shows 'this world' character of the "sport religion". One refers to class-specific kinds of sport (called "sects"), from the lower classes over the middle class up to the upper class, and likewise to the ardour of the sporting rites. Finally culminating in the stupefying popularity of some "Priests and Priestly Orders of the sport religion", around which frequently hundreds of thousands "faithful" crowd.
Yes truly, Sport is the religion of this age with billions of devotees all over the world. Has anyone seen such devotion with such fervour to the religion of the round ball as in any other religion anytime during the existence of the world? Methinks not.
We see that as World Cup fever gains momentum, even those who are not avid sports fans are finding themselves glued to the television. Sport is actually taking precedence over shopping and cooking. What is the attraction of spectator sports to the busy inhabitants of a modern Metropolis? Surely we have so much to do already that we can hardly spare the time to watch strangers play a meaningless game in some faraway place. And yet we do. One obvious answer is that watching sports serves as social glue, reaffirming our cultural identity. But this is not a belonging to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom not of this earth: "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world ….." (Joh 18:36), that these people have allegiance to, but to a worldly kingdom that will pass away and that we Christian have no share in for we are looking up to the Heavenly city prepared by our God for His people. (Heb 11:10,16; 13:14)
Why then we Christian, citizens of the heavenly city not made by human hands, do identify with this secular pagan religion of Sport? Is the Lord pleased with such adultery? Methinks not. "You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (Jam 4:4)
I have seen believers getting absolutely mad at insult to their football club, priests and priestly orders, and yet could not care less to offences and swearing directed to our marvellous Lord, Christ Jesus, the Saviour of our souls.
Should Jesus have added these words to Luk 14:26: "If any man come to me, and hate not his sport, ……………… he cannot be my disciple". Well the principle is surely there. By this verse Jesus with no uncertain terminology is saying that if we, His followers, have divided loyalty between the things of this world (including relations) and dedication to Him, then we cannot be His disciples and have no part of Him and of His Kingdom. He must be supreme in our affection to the point that our affections for the things of this world when compared to the love (agape) that we have for Him it would appear as hate. But when we see the devotion that some Christians have for their sport, can we honestly glean that notion?? Methinks not.
Today’s Christians are spiritual dwarfs for we lack maturity, but in time past there were a group of people called Puritans that exemplified maturity whilst we do not. Protestantism today is, man-centred, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent and sentimental, blatantly lover of self. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them rested clear-headed passion combined with warm-hearted compassion. They were visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers. The perfect antithesis of today’s Christians; that by comparison are hedonistic, worshipper of sport and worldly pleasure. The Puritans were true worshipper of God, hard workers, lovers of the family and exemplar citizens. They were an undaunted and unsinkable people, rising above discouragement and fears, for which the true precedents and models are men like Moses, and Nehemiah, and Peter after Pentecost, and the apostle Paul after his interview with the Lord.
There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God. For them both Church and State were under God. Do the tenets of sport match these high principles and does sport really brings glory to God? Methinks not.
So, in their heavenly-minded ardour, the Puritans became men and women of order, matter-of fact and down to earth, prayerful, purposeful, practical. Seeing life whole, they integrated contemplation with action, worship with work, labour with rest, and love of God with love of neighbour. A far cry from today’s pleasure-seeking believers; methinks.
The Puritans, like the Apostles and especially Jesus were about their Father’s business, as every Christian should be, and they did not waste time in pursuing worthless worldly "pleasures" such as Sport, not in participating actively nor in watching them pagan practices. Nowhere in the Bible sport, antagonistic or not, is encouraged, but rather a life dedicated to the pursuit of holiness and peace is requested: "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:" (Heb 12:14)
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2Co 7:1)
For the Puritans communion with God was paramount, and Jesus Christ was central, Holy Scripture was supreme and they did not need entertainment to provide diversion from the demands of day-to-day living, because for them "His Grace was sufficient" for their every day living, as it should be for real believers today.
Let us take a golden leaf from the Puritans’ book and live a serious life in front of God by dropping any frivolous pursuits from our lives by making sure that our activities are all to the glory of God making certain that we have no love for the world or for the things in it: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1Jo 2:15)
Three questions to conclude this article:
Is there sport in the Kingdom of God?
NO! Sport is a competitive activity and in the Kingdom there is no competition.
Is Sport an activity that Christians should be involved?
NO! Sport has inherent with itself the concept of competition which is a pitting of one against others with the purpose to win a prize by vanquishing the other players.
Should Christians be practicing physical exercise?
Yes! In moderation to keep the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, in a healthy shape to pray and worship better and to perform those good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. The purpose of physical exercise is not to cultivate a "fabulous body" but to be sufficiently fit to perform God’s works, as He commands.