As part of the forthcoming London Men’s Convention book, ‘The Big Fight’ (at least I think that’s what we’ve called it) I had to write something about sport. My initial draft didn’t make the cut. Thornborough brutally culled it. And then got all his friends to weigh in when I disputed his judgement. I’d written something for sportsmen. But Tim was convinced that the overwhelming majority of the LMC participate in sport as spectators not as players. I stood corrected. And less enjoyably, in need of writing a whole new article. But what about the first one; the one I wrote for guys who actually do sport and don’t just watch sport. It couldn’t go to waste. And so here it is.; in three parts. Part one today and the other two to follow in short order.
Let me start with something a little provocative. Competitive sport is either an act of God honouring worship or it’s an act of God denying idolatry.
Does that get under your skin? It did mine. When I first heard it. I was on camp and I’d asked to leave early so that I could go and play for my rugby team. The camp leader told me that rugby had become my idol. He was right. And I didn’t like it.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s possible to play our sport so that we humbly use our God given abilities to bring Him glory. And in our better moments, before the red mist brought on by competition descends, that’s what we’d love to do. But often we find that we selfishly display our sin in arrogant attempts at self-glorification.
But let me explain how I got there.
Jesus doesn’t address the issue of sport directly. But he did condense God’s requirements in a natty two point summary. In Matthew 22:37, he memorably told his disciples,
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
And so Jesus has made it unavoidably clear how he’d like us to conduct ourselves on the field of play. He only requires two things of us. Remembering that surely lies within the capabilities of most sportsmen! The first requirement is that we love Him unreservedly. And the second is that we serve others unselfishly. That’s it. But whilst we may understand those in theory, we struggle to live them out in reality, especially in sport.
And so all sport is dangerous, regardless of whether it’s extreme or not. It provides limitless opportunities for ungodliness. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with sport. But there is with us. And it’s what we are that spoils the games we play. We’re sinners, forgiven sinners, but sinners nonetheless. And we’ll continue to struggle with the desires of our sinful flesh until the New Creation. At that point, our heroic champion, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to complete the redemption he accomplished on the cross. And he destroy our flesh. Imagine that; sport without sin. We’ll participate in morally perfect sporting contests in heaven. I’ll never cheat. My opponent will never sledge or distract me with other gamesmanship. And I’ll never racquet chuck ever again. It’ll be fantastic. But until then we’re going to have to deal with our ungodliness. Especially we’re going to struggle to love God unreservedly and to serve others unselfishly. We’ll find ourselves tempted to idolatry (not loving God unreservedly) and to individualism (not serving others unselfishly).
We’re going to think about each of those in turn in the next two posts.