Should Christians play sport?

Now hear me out. You probably reckon I’m going to say “yes”, but keep reading because I’m not going to suggest it should become compulsory! By the time you read this the Rugby League “festival of the boot”, State of Origin will be over and the Olympics will be just a few weeks away.

So what does the Bible teach on this issue and what can we learn from Christians down through the ages? One of my heroes has been the 19th century English Bishop J.C. Ryle. Ryle decided that once he became a clergyman he should give up all such trivial pursuits, such as his beloved cricket, for the sake of devoting himself to fulltime ministry. And, sometimes we do have to give up things we love for the sake of our ministries. But surely this is an individual decision.

1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that God gives us our wealth to enjoy. So whether we enjoy a symphony, or the symphony of a rugby scrum, we should thank God for this pleasure. But v18 tells us that we should be willing to give up some of our riches so we can share our wealth, our time, or our leisure with others.

God made us human, and humans need rest, exercise and recreation to be able to function—so the doctors tell us. In Mark 6:31 we have an interesting incident where Jesus is so busy that he’s not even had time to eat (I don’t think I’ve ever been that busy!) He told the disciples to go off on a mini holiday with him and rest. But then he saw the desperate needs of those who were lost “sheep without a shepherd” and he gave up his rest for their sake. So sport and leisure are always a privilege, never a right.

A few years after I became a Christian, I was playing rugby and league as often as I could, but I realised I enjoyed the brutality of tackling more than I thought was good for a Christian. So I gave these up for a while and played the more “sedate” soccer. My point is that our character matters more than our fitness. Some sport’s teams have a culture which is demeaning to women, or promotes drunkenness, or violence, or win at all costs, which demands our whole life. Christians will be selective about what sports they, or their children become involved in.

What about the issue of sport on Sunday. I once attended a Baptist church that preached “no sport on the Sabbath”.  But Christians are not under OT laws, and Colossians 2:16 specifically says the Sabbath law no longer applies. So I played Sunday arvo soccer when I was a school teacher, but still attended church twice on a Sunday. And church was the priority, not sport. I believe some parents have inadvertently taught their children the reverse of this. They tell their children that they must play every week and “mustn’t let the team down”. But what about the church or Kidz Church team and their KC coaches? Doesn’t this team deserve their priority? I know rep sport can complicate this issue because they usually play Sundays. What I’m urging parents though, is to make church the primary commitment and put sport in second, third or first place. If “sport is the religion of Australians”, then we Christians need to show we have a better and bigger God than this!

And so to the Olympics. Have you noticed how the Olympics are returning to their pagan roots and opening ceremonies are taking on a religious form again? The Olympics will hold out the promise of solving human problems by uniting the world in sport. Sounds like the Tower of Babel again to me. What people need surely is not more and bigger games, but to know the God who made them, made them body, mind and soul. Who loves them and died for them and who brings black, white, yellow and brown together through His forgiveness and empowering Spirit. I love sport and my struggling Dragons, but I love Jesus and what he can do in our lives far, far more than any games.


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