The Bible uses some sports as illustrations of spiritual principles.

1Co 9:24-27  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  (25)  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  (26)  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  (27)  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

The contrast between the temporary benefit of sport and the permanent benefit of the gospel does not mean that sport is bad, just that it less good than spiritual exercise. Some sports have good physical effects; others may be dangerous. There may be some sports that it might be wiser to avoid. I cannot imagine why a Christian would want to participate in boxing or wrestling; this may be a lack in my imagination of course. However as a non-sportsman it would be very unwise for me to accuse sportsmen of lack of spirituality. The non-sport non-spiritual activities that I participate in would then accuse me.

Sometimes sport is played at a time that clashes with when most people worship God on Sunday. That can be a practical problem faced by Christian sportsmen and sportswomen who then may need to make a decision as to where their priorities lie, and whether the way of life that sport demands on them is consistent with the demands that serving God requires. This is not a decision that I or anyone else can make for them, though I would certainly advise anyone against making sporting commitments that made worship difficult. In other cases the sporting activity may actually fit well within a spiritual life.

Last year a fine young couple belonging to our church moved to our small city for one sports season; the young brother had a contract to play Rugby League with a local team. He wants to progress a career in Rugby League and we were a stepping stone to a higher level competition. I have no interest in Rugby League, but I had a lot of interest in following his progress and I was able to attend three of his matches on Sunday afternoons, the only ones I will ever be likely to attend.

In summary, it is not wrong to participate in sport just as it is not wrong to be involved with other non-spiritual things. However there are possible problems that sportspeople would be wise to consider.

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2 Responses to What does the Bible say about sport?

  1. Nick Virga says:

    Concerning hard sports and/or Martial Arts, Christians are supposed to defend themselves and their friends/family as well as what is described in the Bible as “the weak.”
    In fact Jesus followers carried swords for defense against the highway robbers of the time. They surely were taught how to wield a sword. The only way to be taught this is threw some sort of sword fighting/competing. Sword fighting is a martial art and sport as is boxing and MMA. In Genesis, Jacob takes part in a Grappling contest and is injured in his thigh but the contest was done in a friendly sportsman manor which is the way to do it if you follow God’s way. Some ignorant people might say that the object of MMA/Boxing is to inflict pain but this is untrue. The object of boxing/MMA is to WIN within the rules. That’s all. No where in the rules of boxing does it say you must injure anyone. All sports and many games carry high risk for injury. Many more people are killed while driving than are killed boxing every year yet Christians drive still don’t they? Boxing and Martial Arts are good for self defense,a healthy body and competing within rules is not a bad or dishonorable thing in those or any other sports. Some Christians hunt don’t they? As long as they use the animals for food it’s acceptable. I think intent is a big factor and as we all know,God sees the intent.

    • Jonathan Morgan says:

      Hi Nick,

      In general I would say a lot depends on motives. While I personally would not choose to go in for boxing, I’m not willing to say that boxing is wrong for everyone. However, I would question a few of your assumptions:
      1. I’m not sure where you get the idea of self defense from the Bible. Could you give some references? There are certainly references like “turn the other cheek” which could suggest self defense isn’t always a good idea. Similarly, defending the weak is required, but I’m not sure that that means or requires physical show of force.

      2. I don’t know where the idea that the disciples’ swords were for defense against highway robbers comes from. Some facts about these swords:
      a. At the only time we hear of them, there were only two swords among twelve disciples (Luk 22:38). I’m not sure they were trained in their use, either.

      b. The reason Jesus told them to take swords was because it says “He was numbered among the transgressors” (Luk 22:38). That suggests to me that Jesus was saying them having swords was wrong and a transgression, rather than being right and expected.

      c. When a sword was used in his defense, Jesus said to put the sword away, because “He who takes the sword will die by it” (Matt 26:52). That doesn’t suggest to me that he was encouraging the usage of swords.

      d. The Romans were in charge of Israel. While there was organised resistance (the Zealots) with swords and daggers, I’m not sure it’s likely that there would have been organised training of everyone.

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