Is (top)sport pleasing to God?

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Sport has a high level of interest. Even to the extent that it is a fixed topic in the daily news. It can sometimes captivate a whole nation for days and can bring it to sheer enthusiastic madness or give it an emotion comparable with mourning. But has sport also a high level of interest in the Bible or is it contradicting with it? Let’s check that out.

(Top)sport is a way [1] of condition training for the body for which one chooses. The general and basic purpose is to stimulate health, but it cannot be denied that the way (certain branches of sport [2]) these are performed and how it is classified has a component aimed at achievement. Mostly, a sport follows a sophisticated, measured program. This makes it a cognitive process. Sport done as a group often has a high competitive element. Sport can be done for recreation but also professionally (as a profession (often with a salary with high compensations)). Sport is also a way of pastime and sometimes even as a way of spending wealth.

Paganism
Most people want to get the most out of life. Some think that it is achievable for everyone. Therefore health [3] for them has a high or maybe even the highest priority. Next to other things. Applied to (top)sport soon an achievement for example becomes an issue and when that is gained the new goal can become to receive fame, honor and glory. Some want to shine continuously and distinguish itself and compete with others. The ultimate goal of it all can become to gain (more and more) from it.

Focus on gain can lead to self enrichment in different ways. Not just with money, but also in power, honor and self indulgement. Then there is the glorification of man in the sense of the body esthetics and its strength (physically and mentally). These are the typical things what paganism is about; human vainness. Sport can then become a way of observing a ‘religious system’. That ‘belief’ is also aimed at the downfall and humiliation of others. ‘Climbing on the back’ of others. Not so much from hatred, but in the sense that if it’s not reachable in one way then maybe in another corrupt way. There is strong element of aggression to it. This explains why sport is connected with the ‘strong arm’ of the government, like the police and the army.
Obviously, believers would want to keep far away from paganism, but still many of them are involved in (top)sport. How is that possible?

The Bible and sport
The concept ‘sport’ cannot be found in the Bible. It is however mentioned as a side issue as ‘training of the body’ (1 Tim 4:8). Paul compares the religious life of a believer with sport, but sport itself is rejected as something of ample purpose. This is certainly to be understood as a sneer towards the Greek/Roman culture, since he was born in the Greek city of Tarsus. He knew very well that sport has an honorary place in that culture and that it also had that revered position for some believers in his time. But that is even today the case, since in the Western culture sport still receives that honorary place.

In the world of the Old Testament there is in the whole no place for sports. From the beginning believers never strived for the things which are central in paganism, like making a name for oneself, building a nation and striving for dominance amongst the nations. Even when God decided to separate the believers from the nations and make them into a nation (Israel) with their own Land this did not change. That explains why sport has no place at all in the history of Israel. Only when the Jewish culture was Hellenized (influenced by Greek culture) [4] this changed. But because almost all believers were less wealthy people [5] they hardly did any sport. Sport requires wealth; time and money to perform a sport [6]. When believers have time and/or money they prefer to spend that primarily for their religion. How then is it possible that today for many believers sport is a basic part of their lives?

Being religious and sport
Many believers perform some kind of sport. Some even without realizing it. For example when they have a walk, ride a horse or take a bike trip. It is a ‘healthy’ way of spending time (re-creation). It seems not only ‘healthy’ for the body, but also for the whole person. But some believers choose to perform a (top)sport actively. Sometimes even from the need for recognition and taking their place in society. Some even earn a living with it. But is that really as it supposed to be?

It is good when believers ask themselves why they do certain things or even whether that pleases God. First of all it should be stated that believers in the West live an unhealthy life. This isn’t so much due to the fact that the environment is polluted, like unclean air [7] or noise [8], but our corrupt [9] wealth. This gives way for laziness, but also for lethal longings. Even when someone would never give in to that, then still our food is packed with unhealthy additives [10] and enablers [11]. Also, we have more spare-time than ever before. We own lots of tools, so we can avoid doing hard labor [12]. Then there is the convenience of all kinds of automatic transport, like the car. To sum up, Westerners are more inactive and less laborious busy then previous generations and other people. So there is all the more reason to think about that and make a plan to compensate it and make that consciousness part of the daily routine. The government advises to be daily engaged in a sportive activity for at least half an hour, like taking a good walk. It is even better to walk each day at least for an hour. This is actually performing a sport, probable without realizing it. However, in this case the aim is ‘keeping a sound spirit in a healthy body’ and not striving for achievement or self-enrichment.

When one engages in sport for fear of becoming sick, then this can be a sign of lack of trust in God which is a basis for sinfulness. Because a believer is the property of God. Having fear is not good for any living creature. But when fear is the reason to engage in sport, then that is the wrong intention. Sickness and health are in the Hand of God, so the first thing a believer needs to do is present this at God’s Presence. Talking about it with Him. Believers should not be afraid for sickness, because even when it comes, He is involved in it. That in itself is reassuring. But hope for recovery remains.

When sport is done out of a disorder, like an irresistible urge to be better than others, then it is right to search for help. For sport can even be sinful or life threatening.

When sport is done from a pagan reason, like making a name for oneself, making a career from it and becoming rich through it, then the question is what is more important. God or the ego. These two cannot bear each other and the latter shall always be victorious [13]. Sport can then become a demigod and that in itself is a mortal sin. If such a person continues to claim to be a believer in God then that is mocking Him and His religion. Eventually He will visit that person or lets a visitation happen. That is always a path toward downfall, since no one is stronger than God.

Against not purposefully being sportive, like taking the stairs instead of an elevator or choosing to walk or taking a bike instead of the car, nothing can be said. Since this actually cannot be called sport.

Human corruption and sport
If sport is not forbidden in the Bible, but is only sinful in specific situations, like those mentioned above, why bother to ask whether (top)sport is pleasing to God? Because (top)sport has a price tag which not everyone in the end can continue to pay. This is not a warning against becoming poor, but against the life threatening consequence of it.

Firstly there is the question why a believer would want to engage in a sport. When it is about something more than just the daily required exercise to keep oneself in ‘good condition’, then the word ‘more’ point towards a way of self-enrichment which in itself is sinful. That sport has everything to do with self-enrichment starts already with the desire to improve. That is, going further then what is necessary for the good condition. Why would a believer want that? Is that required by God? Does that add to honoring and serving Him, which a believer must do? It can also be self-enrichment in the sense of proving oneself. For example, climbing a mountain which at first glance seems impossible to climb. Stretching limits.

Sometimes stretching limits is certainly needed. For example in a recovery after a fall. But if it’s more that returning to the original situation, then it is nothing more than wanting to become more than before. That is basically self-enrichment. There are quite some examples that God commanded to stretch limits [14]. Still, that has a direct command of God at its basis and has His blessing for which He also guarantees that the end result will be reached. However, when stretching limits stems from the ego, then this is dubious and mostly sinful.

The second issue is the question how important (top)sport is in the life of the believer. If it hinders his religion and his calling or he even temporarily needs to forsake these for (top)sport [15], then the question should be asked whether there he is addicted to it or is involved with idol worship.

The third issue to consider is that sport is very much interwoven with paganism [16], through which believers can end up in a semi religious struggle. For example, the temptation of using drugs for enhancement of the capabilities (doping [17]). Very commonly used in (top)sport. More serious is abuse [18]. Something believers that perform sport in a team can become victim of. Also, there is the strong connection with group competition which starts at local level, but is also connected with nationalism. Ultimately there is the politics of sport and that sport is not always free from politics of the land.

Evaluation
Sport is not an obvious activity of believers. Even more so, because time is short. It is much more urgent that believers are committed on learning [19] about God and the place [20] that He has created for them. How believers can bear fruit. Some state that bearing fruit can be in (top)sport, but seen the corruption of (top)sport, it is inevitable that it leads to a high level of misery which can be avoided.

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[1] Bound by goals, requirements, rules and customs.
[2] This is mostly bound to all kinds of things, like special clothing, facilities and (juridical) regulations.
[3] A concept that is not mentioned/known in the Bible.
[4] From the invasion of Alexander the Great in the Land of Israel (332 CE) sport became more and more a governmental requirement.
[5] True believers experience discrimination, persecution and subordination. These are not very beneficial for prosperity in a worldly sense.
[6] Thus sport was originally an activity which only the elite and the wealthy could afford.
[7] Outside of the Western world air is often cleaner.
[8] This is due to the fact that in the Western world there is a high concentration of people and that in itself makes it less peaceful and quiet.
[9] Corrupt in the sense that it is manmade wealth. It doesn’t come from God. That human wealth makes people cling to all kinds of useless things and sometimes makes people become slaves to them.
[10] (Unhealthy) fats, sugars and salts.
[11] Unhealthy pigmenting and fragrance substances, additives, antiseptics, etc.
[12] Perhaps washing clothes was one of the most laborious activities in the past.
[13] God will also allow that to happen.
[14] For example, God commanding Noah to build a ship which probable was never built before and probable in a place where seemingly it could never be put into water.
[15] For example, by performing a sportive achievement, although is takes place on a religious Sabbath of festivity.
[16] For example, nowadays (top)sport has characteristics of an industry.
[17] Sometimes connected with the use of hard drugs.
[18] Not just misuse of power (compulsion) by the coach, the team or the sponsor, but also sexual abuse.
[19] Not only Bible study, but also practicing the principles of God (discipleship).
[20] The calling and/or ministry of a believer.