Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.Galatians 5
“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other…”Colossians 3
Sports and Scripture
The command in the Bible for Christians to be called out, separate, and distinct from the world’s behaviors and values (i.e., “being holy”) is pervasive. Just a few of the most commonly cited passages would be Leviticus 19-20, Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 1:3-14 and 1 Peter 1:13-15, 2:9-12.
Perhaps the biggest sledgehammers in Scripture on this topic, to me at least, are Galatians 5 and Colossians 3. Because they don’t just tell us to live differently than unsaved people; they tell us exactly how to know that we are or aren’t. It’s a double dose of medicine in this way as well—it tells you what bad deeds (“works of the flesh”) are and contrarily, what fruit looks like in a Christian’s life.
So, we are without excuse when we choose to live like we don’t have the Spirit of God within us.
And perhaps no area of culture and life in America leads Christians to look, act, and talk like the world than sports.
I want to look at some of the sins listed in Galatians 5 and Colossians 3 and briefly comment on how easy it is to see that when Christians and non-Christians engage in sports together, often the lines get blurred because the two groups’ behaviors and values are often indistinguishable. I hasten to add that these can apply to games, like board games, as well.
Any pastor will tell you that sports often replace church community, notably with young people and their parents. I always teach Christians can use sports to be salt and light, to evangelize and make disciples (since we make disciples “as we go,” according to Matthew 28). So, I am not as down on sports at all in and of themselves. But for many that is not what is happening. Sports are their life, particularly on the weekends when churches meet. The gathering that is the heart of the church is ignored and what is essentially corporate “worship” and community life takes place at a ball field.
Granted, this can happen with fans at any level, especially attending games in lieu of assembling with a church on the weekend. It can even happen on a sofa at home with a big-screen TV.
Is it fair to say that sports cause us to feel passionately opposed to other teams’ fans, coaches, and players? Is it fair to say Christians are to blame for this as well? I’d say absolutely.
I know this from experience. This has happened to me with Clemson since I was young. With Tom Brady as an adult. And most ashamedly, with high school coaches, players, and even referees who have opposed or made calls against my teams both in South Carolina and Illinois. It’s so irrational but it’s real—often times when I’m watching my local high school, Sesser-Valier, in a big game, I feel this volatile emotion when the other team’s fans celebrate their success. I want them to lose by 100 points, or runs, or whatever. I want to crush them. It’s unhealthy and childish.
Jealousy, Contentions, Dissensions, Factions And Envyings
“I hate Alabama fans.” Have you ever heard or read something like this? Although I know there is a lot of joking in Christianity about sports and rivalries, I am positive there are times it is serious.
Sports have a way of dividing us and wanting us to see “us” and “them” on something supremely unimportant. And then tempting us to despise “them”.
Outbursts of Anger
Oh man could I write a novel on this one! About myself and other Christians I know. From Little League baseball to USC Gamecock football games in person, to watching Cub games on TV to anything high school sports related.
Americans lose their tempers rapidly during sports. We blow up at the drop of a hat. And Christians are without a doubt guilty as well.
I’ve had tantrums, yelled at referees, thrown things, broken things, and all other manner of exhibition of this work of the flesh. All from a sports result! When the Atlanta Braves lost the 1991 World Series, I nearly broke my hand hitting the wall. It’s so dumb and ungodly.
One thing you learn from reading proverbs is how easy it is to get a mob going just from one single person getting angry. Like a small crack in a dam that leads to it collapsing. It takes discipline not only to not be that guy but also to not follow the angry crowd. Christians should have that spiritual fruit in self-control.
Drunkenness and Carousing
Few things go together like sports and alcohol abuse. People lose all sensibilities and inhibitions, and the repercussions are awful. These include everything from fights at the games (cell phones posting these to social media frequently proves this), to treating others rudely. There is a reason a lot of parks and stadiums stop beer sales mid-game.
Obscene Language and Profanity
Anyone who has played sports can testify that unless the coach has strict rules on cursing, there’s probably tons of cursing. Notably the worst English vulgarities. TV Networks silence bad language from the players during the games and sometimes the sound on the feed when they get close to the basket goes out incessantly because the players are constantly swearing.
And this is true of fans as well. And of Christians, in the stands and on the court or field. I even know of many professional athletes who profess Christ but are heard carelessly dropping F-bombs on camera.
Lying and Slander
“That referee is out to get us!”
“That announcer hates my team.”
“That was clearly a push-off!! Are they blind?”
Sometimes, these things could be true (Save the “blind” part). More often, I’d guess they are our tendency to see things through our team’s-colored glasses. Which may be understandable. Not controlling our tongue, and brashly assaulting people’s reputations, is clearly not.
I’ve read and heard that in many parts of the country, finding referees and officials for high school-level sports and lower is more difficult than ever. Because fans are so nasty. I wish I could say Christians aren’t this way. But we are.
This one is not in Paul’s lists from the two passages above, but I include it because it is biblically a work of the flesh.
My old pastor in South Carolina from my youth described sports as “thousands of people in desperate need of exercise watching dozens of people in desperate need of rest.” He meant that to be funny, but it can communicate truth.
I have at times in my life watched a high school football game on Friday, two or three college games on Saturday, and two or three NFL games on Sunday. Or spent 10-12 hours in front of a TV on the Thursday and Friday of the First Round of March Madness. Sports in America are an everyday thing, and because of TV, internet, and streaming, countless games of all sports are right at our viewing disposal.
Right now, it’s football season and there are games of some kind every day except Tuesday and Wednesday. And even on those days, because we have social media and podcasts and non-stop news, the consumption never stops.
Years ago, on Rambling Ever On, Phill asked the question, “Can I Be Passionate About Sports and Still Be A Good Father?” He asked more questions than he gave answers, and I would be the same. I don’t have concrete answers, but I do know there is no way I can follow sports now that I have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old as I did five years ago. Sometimes sports can be a bonding experience for families, no doubt. As my boys get older, I hope that happens. But even then, I pray my boys and I will watch limited sports and spend far more time being active, reading together, and interacting face-to-face.
(I also know sometimes people can spend entire days watching sports because they are resting, and that can be appropriate as well.)
Final thoughts about Christians and sports
So those are the things we should repent of, cast off, and call out. Thankfully, God gives us alternatives, because God never simply tells us to just stop bad behavior without telling us the good. And we should see these attributes in action whether we are a player or coach or fan:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Galatains 5
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Colossians 3
The crazy thing about Christianity is that even if the referee or announcer or other fans are terrible because Christ forgave us, we can live with a posture of forgiveness. And the Spirit produces in us fruit that is healthy and good and that keeps sports in their proper place. As another means to glorify God. Imagine a world where Christians yelled out compliments to the referees and officials, were slow to get angry, and were generally joyful as they participated in sports.
So, I ask you, how do you react to and interact with sports? Are you different than a lost person? I urge every Christian, especially myself, to constantly ask ourselves these questions. Biblical truth and discipleship are at stake.