By Andy Constable
Like most men, I love sport. It is something that has always been part of my life from an early age. I especially enjoy playing or watching football! Sport is a great creation by God and is something we should enjoy. However, many men, including myself, need to watch that sport doesn’t become an idol. When we think of idols we usually think of Hindu or Buddhist Temples. But in the Bible an idol is anything that we place higher than God. It is anything that we love more than him. At the end of 1 John 4:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” As men we need to watch that sport hasn’t become an idol that has replaced God. How can we tell if sport has become an idol? Here are three tests.
Firstly, is sport your future hope? What do I mean by that? What we hope for in the future, always directs our current actions. This can be in a big area like getting a job. For example, if you want to become a doctor then you have to work hard at science in school and then do 7 years in medicine at university. Your future hope of becoming a doctor becomes the focus and drives your life choices. The same happens in the small-scale, day-to-day decisions as well. If my future hope is to be respected and liked, then the way I interact with people will reflect that hope. I will be polite to people, I will try to look good in front of them and I will seek to please them. These future hopes become idols when we direct our whole lives around them and cut out God. Do you organise your week and, in particular, your weekends around the football fixtures? Do you cut out relationships to make time to watch or play sport? Do you spend more time thinking about what your football team is doing then reading and talking about God’s Word? This is a question we all need to ask ourselves: what hopes and goals give direction to your life? If sport is the driving force then it has replaced God and we need to readdress the balance. I’m not saying don’t enjoy sport, but watch that it hasn’t become ultimate. In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” When Paul looked at the future he thought of the day of Jesus Christ. He thought of the day when he returns to be united with his people. And his focus was on running the race to this end. At the end of the day (to use a sporting pun), the Lord is not looking for men who can recite every fact about Premier League football, but men who serve his kingdom.
Secondly, does sport direct your mood? Sport is an emotional event! Watching England play rugby can be very emotionally draining. The next way to tell if sport has become an idol is if it directs your emotions. Let’s go back to the example of respect or being liked being our hope. If that is what drives your life decisions then when people don’t affirm you or respect you, you will get very depressed, angry, despondent and frustrated. The same can happen when sport becomes our main priority. Do you get angry when your team lose and huff for hours after? Do you get despondent when you don’t get to play or watch all the sport you planned to? Do you get frustrated with your kids and family when Match of the Day is on and they are making a noise? We can tell that we love something by the way we react when it is taken away from us. When Jesus asks the rich young ruler in Mark 10 to give up all his riches and follow him, he walks away, down heartened and sorrowful. Why? Because the greatest love in his life was money and he didn’t want to give it up. If you get upset when you lose your sport time then you know you have a problem. It has become an idol.
Thirdly, does sport direct all your conversations? What comes out of our mouths reflects what’s in our hearts. We talk about the things that we love most. Jesus said this clearly in Matthew 12:34: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” When you meet up with your mates, is sport the main thing you talk about? I know many Christian men who spend more time talking about sport then they do discussing their spiritual life. Isn’t this a shame? If the most important person in our life is God then shouldn’t we be spending time talking about our walk with him. We should be asking questions like: What are we learning? What are we struggling with? What has God been challenging us about? How are we sharing the gospel with our non-Christian friends? This should take up the majority of our conversation time and not how your favourite football team is doing! If your heart is loving God then naturally you will talk about him first and foremost and sport will fade into the background.
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus gives his disciples one last and very important command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Our time as Christian men should be spent spreading the fame of our glorious God. This should direct our prayers, thoughts, emotions and wills. Lets spend time enjoying sport but using it as a means to share the gospel and love our Lord and Saviour more than anything else!