Sports and the Christian
Contrary to modern opinion, the teaching of the scriptures is to control every aspect of the life of the Christian (Matt. 6: 33). This is true even to the point of every thought being brought into captivity "to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10: 5). Work, government, families, the local church, conduct toward those without and within, all fall under the influence of the scriptures (I Tim. 5: 8, cp. Col. 3: 22, 23; Rom. 13: 1-7; Eph. 5: 22-6: 4; Heb. 10: 25, Eph. 4: 16; Col. 4: 5, I Thes. 5: 14). The gospel teaches the Christian how to dress, talk, and think (I Tim. 2: 9; Eph. 4: 29; Phili. 4: 8). There is not a single area, including recreation, which is not to be governed by Jesus' Lordship and teaching. Regarding sports, need I point out the continued interest on the part of the average person? Intense interest in sports started with Imperial Rome, some historians tell us.
"During festivals, huge crowds would converge on Rome's great amphitheater and many circuses to attend a day of games. In the vast Coliseum, up to 50,000 people could watch gladiators fight wild beasts or other gladiators. The even larger Circus Maximus, some 260,000 gathered to cheer daredevil charioteers as they raced around a perilously tight tract. 'Such a throng flocked to all these shows,' wrote Suetonius,' that many strangers had to lodge in tents pitched along the roads, and the press was often such that many were crushed to death.' These brutal spectacles were usually staged by the Government, and one of their chief purposes was to divert the menacing hordes of Roman unemployed, who at times numbered as many as 150, 000. According to various dour commentators, these idle Romans were interested only in two things: bread from the public dole, and circuses .Though Roman intellectuals were shocked by the carnage, the poor found the spectacles an outlet for passions that might otherwise have been turned against the state" (Great Ages of Man, Imperial Rome, page 45, by Time-Life Books).
The Bible student is aware that the scriptures contain allusions to various even then extant sports (I Cor. 9: 24-27; 2 Tim. 2: 5; Heb. 12: 1). Paul's reference in I Corinthians 9: 24-27 is apparently to the Isthmian games that took place every second year and were conducted about nine miles from the city of Corinth. Such games and matters were considered about half of Greek education.
"What Bible influence is exerted relative to sports," one might ask. Allow me to offer some sound biblical guidelines pertaining to sports.
The brutality and physical abuse consideration. The body of the Christian is to be offered as a sacrifice to God (Rom. 12: 1). Also, the body is involved in the carrying out of many of God's commands (cp. Heb. 10: 25, Jas. 1: 27, I Tim. 5: 8). Man is fearfully and wonderfully made, declare the scriptures (Ps. 139: 14). How, then, can the Christian or man in general be entertained by activities that involve the abuse of the body of others? Anterior to becoming a Christian, I was involved as a young man in various sport activities. Two contact sports in which I participated were tackle football and boxing (I shall comment particularly on boxing later). I know first hand the potential for physical abuse that these sports involve.
The dress of the participants. The scriptures regulate dress and appearance (cp. I Tim. 2: 9). A common sport in some bars is mud-wrestling. This involves women in skimpy attire and in all sort of provocative positioning. The women's volley ball at the 2004 Olympics involved women in disgusting apparel. The male Olympic swimmers were often dressed in a repulsive fashion, having on as little as possible.
The time issue. Another question to be asked in ascertaining if a particular sport is acceptable to the Christian, either for participation or entertainment, is how much time is required and involved (cp. Eph. 5: 16). Many of the sports involved in the Olympic Theater involve a tremendous amount of time, dedication, and sacrifice. So much so that these sports become the life of the athlete.
The amount of money used in the sport. Money is involved in a number of specific matters involving the responsibilities of the Christian. For instance, the family and the local church involve financial consideration and provision (I Tim. 5: 8, I Cor. 16: 1, 2). Some spend so much in pursuit of sports and also entertainment that they have little left for other important matters. When this is the case, the particular sport becomes wrong.
The matter of how does the sport affect my influence. The influence of the Christian is very important (Matt. 5: 14, 2 Cor. 3: 2). For instance, what would you think of the Christian who regularly attends the female mud-wrestling event for personal entertainment?
How does the sport affect you? Some sports kindle illicit sexual desires. Other sports incite aggression, especially on the part of some males. The Christian is to exercise temperance and these sports are antagonistically opposed to such verses as Second Peter chapter one, verse six.
The prevailing climate in which the given sport is customarily found. What kind of message is being sent by the players of a given sport? Is the message lack of control, as evinced by the physical confrontations, bad language, and excessive violation of applicable rules, such as often witnessed in ice hockey? What is the normal life style of the stars of the sports? The typical conduct of the spectators should also be considered. Are the spectators drinking alcohol, cursing, and gambling while the sport is being conducted? Consider God's word:
"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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I Jn. 2: 15-17).
One of the better books that involve sports, especially boxing that I have recently read is, "By George," an autobiography written by George Foreman and Joel Engel. In this book, the Professional Heavy Weight Boxer of the world reveals some of his life style in that climate and his earlier boxing career. Mr. Foreman wrote regarding his training for the championship fight with Joe Frazier in 1973:
"My instinct had always been to stare at opponents with menace in my eyes, but I'd never channeled so much hate. Hate, that's what Archie (the trainer, dm) thought you needed to be champ. If you had hate, no matter how ignorant you were, or how little of self-confidence you felt, you had something powerful carrying you ." (By George, pg. 86).
George wrote thus regarding the real world of boxing:
"All punches hurt. But if you feel the pain, you know you're okay. You can either rub the spot or run back to your corner after the round and cry for a minute. Some shots, however, are so ferocious they don't hurt. What they do is interrupt communication between the tower and the ground. Knees jiggle. You're looking at your opponent, but your legs are somewhere else ." (By George, pg. 239).
Mr. Foreman mentioned a number of title defense fights, the following was one of his first. Please consider the descriptive terms used and the end goal:
"My first title defense came early in September 1973 against Joe Roman in Tokyo, where the purse was best and the tax bite least. Showering him with brutal punches, I made a starling discovering: I was powerful enough to knock out someone without hitting him on the chin. I teed off on this man. Let's see what happens if I hit him up near the ear. Wham! He became a human experiment. Shots on the top of the head that normally do little or no damage to boxers were knocking him down. I even tried to hit him as he fell. I did not care about right and wrong. I had become something vicious. The fight ended in the first round, when he fell right between my legs. Glowering down at him, I wouldn't move until the referee pushed me back. I didn't even smile when he raised my arm. All I could think about was my punching power" (Ibid. pg. 94).
Mr. Foreman mentions that when he returned later in life to regain the heavy weight title, he was a changed man, the hate and ferociousness not as intense. The hate that often rebounds in the sport was not present. He wrote of a problem, though:
"It wasn't until I got in the ring and sparred that I knew my boxing antennae still worked. There was that invisible message telling the brain to move the body and head. As long as the antennae worked, I'd be fine. Without them, there was no point in going forward. Because without reception, even lighting reflexes are useless. There was one problem. I couldn't get used to hitting people" (Ibid., pg. 231).
George tells of his come back fight with Steve Zouski.
"As the fight began, I was reluctant to hit Steve Zouski. Every time I did, I felt embarrassed, as though I were betraying myself. I knew there was no way I could go wild on a human being again; no way could I unleash a torrent of punches until the man crumpled to the mat. The ref kept ordering me to box .When I hit him, I could see that it hurt. And if I used my right, it really hurt. So I'd stop for a while, and the ref would again order me to box. 'But he's hurt,' I'd say. 'Just box, George,' he'd reply" (Ibid., pg. 234).
Mr. Foreman was, indeed, a changed man. He had lived a life of immorality and debauchery that characterizes many who have obtained sports celebrity and he had acquired the bitter hatred and desire to lame, inflect brain damage, and even kill that motivates so many professional boxers. He had gone through a number of wives and brought children into his chaotic world. However, George began to realize there was more to life than the fast lane, wine, woman, song, and violence. Another problem that George faced when he returned to the ring in an effort to raise money for his kid's clubs was expressed in the following:
"I had butterflies before the bell rang. But what scared me most was taking off the robe and parading around the ring without my shirt. For most of the past decade I'd been seen only in proper slacks and long-sleeve shirts buttoned to the neck " (Ibid., pg. 234, George remains a changed man and continues to function as a preacher, especially attempting to help teenagers who have inherited some of the same challenges that George had when growing up in the rough Fifth Ward in Houston, Texas).
I trust the foregoing will cause us all to think more about the influence and guidance of the gospel in our lives, even regarding the sports in which we participate and with which we are entertained. (You might want to read, "The Human Body".)