As we stood on the sideline of the soccer pitch, I asked my friend from church, “Chris, how does being a Christian effect the way you play sport?”
There was a puzzled look and long pause, “I guess it means I don’t cheat” was his answer. It is a good answer.
Christian ethics and living has a firm set of rules. Obeying the higher authorities such as the umpire, the code, the coach etc is a Biblical example of folloowing the Lord and respect to God.
But there has to be more than a Christian’s faith lived out in sport than simply following the rules of the game. So what does it mean to be a Christian playing sport?
Playing to win
Just because a Christian should play by the rules doesn’t mean he / she shouldn’t play to win. In the first letter to the Corinthian church chapter nine verse 24 it urges us to go after victory, just as an athlete does.
Playing to win and trying our best is what a Christian athlete should do.
Pointing to Jesus
However, this verse says more. This process of playing sport also has a spiritual lesson. What we learn on the pitch also teaches us about our faith.
The Bible has a constant stream of types or metaphors that move from an earthly concept we know to a new spiritual dimension. Philippians chapter 3 verses 12 to 15 use the sporting metaphors of staying focused, endurance and striving towards a goal.
These physical skills are transferable to the way we live our faith. Sport can be a tool to strengthen our faith through these transferable concepts. This is the method used by the author of Hebrews chapter 12 by using the sporting concept of endurance applied to our faith.
The Bible is full of verses that explain how sport is a useful tool for developing our faith. These give a richer meaning to our sport and give it context within the Bible’s eternal framework.
An important document in the early Protestant church was the Westminster Catechism. It asks questions about faith and provides answers based on Bible verses.
Question One asks what is the “chief end of man?” The answer to the meaning of life is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” When applied to sport, this means our recreation brings Him honour through our thoughts and actions. Part of this is our enjoyment of activities. It brings us joy and God has designed it this way.
Chariots of Fire runner Eric Liddell commented that when he ran he could feel God’s pleasure: A deep intrinsic enjoyment from doing what we are designed to do and using the gifts, we have been given. This might be running fast to win an Olympic gold or it could be enjoying the scenery as you do your morning walk.
Next time you go for a walk or play your sport meditate on the way your activity is centred on God. It is a gracious gift that helps us live out our faith as well as enjoy the life we have been given.
This goes beyond following the rules but reflects the gospel of grace.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor.
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