What does the Bible say about sports?
Heading to a game with your family or friends may be one of your favorite pastimes. Or, if you’re a Christian athlete, you may spend much of your time on the field or court. Have you ever wondered about God’s perspective on sports? It might surprise you. If you’re curious, here are some thoughts about what the Bible says about sports.
Christian quotes about sports
“We often can’t see what God is doing in our lives, but God sees the whole picture and His plan for us clearly.” – Tony Dungy
“Golf is just an avenue for Jesus to use me to reach as many people as I can.” Bubba Watson
How should a Christian view sports?
Like many activities in life, the Bible doesn’t specifically address sports as good or bad, but it speaks to our hearts’ motivation. God, who examines the heart, is more concerned about why we do what we do and who we’re doing it for. A Christian who watches or participates in sports can glorify God with their attitudes and actions about sports.
Christian athletes have an opportunity to stay healthy, to participate in our community, and to be a witness for Christ. How we act on the field, in court, or at home represents Christ.
As a sports viewer, we should know how to prioritize sports. Do we constantly skip church to watch games? Do we get angry at others who interrupt our sports-watching? Do our words and attitudes towards other fans or teams honor God? These things may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of life, but God, who sees everything, considers our actions.
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36 NIV)
1 Corinthians 9:24 “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.”
1 Corinthians 9:25 “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 (KJV) “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Timothy 4:8 (NASB) “for bodily training is just slightly beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Matthew 6:33 (ESV) “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Motivation for Christian athletes
As a Christian athlete, your motivation is both horizontal and vertical. You have a unique calling to represent Christ to your teammates and those watching you play. How you play the game, what you say to other players, and how you lose the game all show your character. When Christians get angry on the field or speak unkindly to the officials, it dishonors the Lord.
A Christian athlete’s motivation is also to glorify God. Scripture tells us
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)
Our calling as Christians is to bring glory to God in our everyday lives and activities. This means that even something as simple as eating a meal is an opportunity to glorify him as we express our gratefulness and acknowledge that everything we have is a gift from God. It’s a simple verse to live by and a powerful reminder of our need for God in everything we do.
The ability to participate in a sport is a gift from God. A well-known historic Christian athlete named Eric Liddell was memorialized in the movie Chariots of Fire. He was a Scottish Olympian runner participating in the 1924 Olympic games in Paris. He is famous for explaining his motivation for being a Christian athlete. Liddell said,
I believe God made me for a purpose. He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.
He’s also remembered for refusing to participate in a race scheduled on a Sunday. He wanted to honor the Lord’s day. Despite skipping this race, he went on to win his other races.
Revelation 4:11 (ESV) “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Things to watch for
Being a Christian athlete is challenging because you are on public display. You may be scrutinized by viewers for your good or bad performance. Sometimes, officials make bad calls, or your coach doesn’t let you play as much as you want. It’s tempting to feel angry, self-righteous, or prideful in those moments. Being in public only accentuates the temptation towards these sins.
1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”
Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
What sins are common for Christian athletes?
Christian athletes are often held to a higher standard than other people. They are expected not to sin on the field. But sinning is a common experience for all of us. We should never point the finger at Christian athletes but be more aware of our sins.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 NIV)
Of course, it’s important to note that Christian athletes have a degree of temptation due to the public nature of their activities that many of us don’t experience.
- Fear of man
It’s easy to feel prideful when you’re good at something. You forget that every ability you have is a gift from God. Pride is dangerous because Scripture tells us God is against those who are prideful. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines pride as too high an opinion of one’s own ability or worth: a feeling of being better than others. The Biblical describes pride as
- An arrogant heart
- A haughty spirit
God helps you resist sin. As you humble yourself and ask for his help, he promises to answer your prayer.
Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.“
1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.“
James 4:6 “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Psalm 75:4 “To the arrogant I say, ‘Boast no more,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horns.”
Boasting is putting yourself, your abilities, or your achievements above others. It’s a prideful view of self.
Boasting is a sin, so be sure to examine your heart for evidence of this sin. Ask other Christians you trust to point out any evidence of boasting or pride they see.
This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, ”declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23 NIV)
James 4:16 “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
Proverbs 27:2 “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”
2 Corinthians 11:30 (NASB) “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”
Anger has been defined as the emotion of instant displeasure on account of something evil that presents itself in our view. In itself, it is an original susceptibility of our nature, just as love is and is not necessarily sinful.
It’s tempting to feel angry when you’re treated unjustly or cheated. Athletes face these situations quite often. Officials make bad calls, and other team players trash talk or belittle athletes on the other team. Fights can break out over one comment. Fighting the temptation to get angry is challenging, but the Lord promises to help you when you cry out to him for strength to resist.
No temptation[ has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.(1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)
Proverbs 14:29 “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”
James 1:20 (NKJV) “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Fear of Man
Worrying about what others think of you is a common temptation for everyone. Christian athletes face this temptation in a unique way. They may fear what their coach thinks of them or the fans or other players. If this fear becomes obsessive or overly important to them, they may fear people’s opinions of them to the degree that it’s a sin.
Fear of man (or woman) puts another person’s opinion of you above God’s. If you don’t address this sin, you can become addicted to approval and incapable of life without people liking you. Scripture doesn’t soft-pedal the sin of the fear of man but says it’s a snare or a trap we can fall into. Such traps can lead to a compromised Christian life.
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (Proverbs 29:25 ESV)
Hebrews 13:6 “so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”
Psalm 118:6 “The LORD is on my side; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
What is showing good sportsmanship?
As a Christian athlete, you’re first and foremost a follower of Christ. Remembering this can help you resist sinning on the field or court. Good sportsmanship is demonstrated toward fans, officials, and other players. This is being
- Not trash-talking
- Not showing off or stealing other’s glory
- Following the rules,
- Supporting your team and other players
- Encouraging other players
- Not teasing,
- Not bullying,
- Not being critical of others when they make mistakes
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
2 Timothy 1:7 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
Proverbs 24:17-18 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, 18 lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.”
Ephesians 4:24 “and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves.”
Romans 13:14 (NKJV) “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
How to avoid cheating in sports
It’s common to read about a well-known celebrity or executive cheating on their company or spouse. But cheating isn’t just for the rich and famous. It’s a common sin for all people. Cheating is a form of lying. As a Christian athlete, you must play honestly. Commit to being fair and following the rules even if it means you lose a game. The God who sees everything knows your heart. He can help you resist the temptation to bend the rules. He sees when you choose to do the right thing.
The Lord hates cheating and delights in honesty. (Proverbs 11:1 The Living Bible)
Of course, as Christians, we are assured that when we sin, God forgives us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NIV)
Is it okay to work hard in sports?
Scripture encourages us that everything we do in life is for the Lord. This motivates us to do our best.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23 ESV)
If you’re a Christian athlete, you want to work hard at what you do. This means you train, prepare yourself during practice, and give it your all during the game. Of course, it also means looking to God for the strength of body and mind rather than relying on yourself to accomplish this.
Proverbs 16:3 (NLT) “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”
Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
What verses can you read before a game to help you?
There are numerous Bible verses to read before a game to keep you focused on God, and glorify him. These include:
Hebrews 12:1- Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Isaiah 40: 20-31-He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
1 Timothy 4:8- For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27- Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Sports have a way of revealing our true selves. Whether we play a sport or watch our favorite team on television, we sometimes allow sports to be more important than God. We boast, brag, and trash-talk other fans or teams. It’s important to remember that God hears every careless word we speak. Of course, Christian athletes face unique temptations because of the public nature of the game. Whether you’re on the home court of your high school or a professional player on television, you face public scrutiny. Remembering that you are a follower of Christ anchors you and encourages you to play well and for God’s glory.