Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Should Christians Draw Lessons from Sports?

Aliens: Let's invade the earth.

Aliens: Watching the Super Bowl halftime show.

Aliens: Invasion is cancelled.

It's an old joke but it does make a point, doesn't it? Sports have always been known for their less than noble aspects. In ancient times, the Jews in particular were leery of sports. In 1 Maccabees we read how the evil Jewish Hellenizers encouraged Jewish young men to participate in the Greek games. Sports was associated with worldliness, even idolatry, and it didn't help that most sports were performed in the nude. Jewish boys belonged in the synagogue, not in the gym.

And yet, there is a lot to admire in sports, wouldn't you agree? You don't get to the Super Bowl without extraordinary commitment. When I think of elite athletes, I think of their work and pain and endurance and self-denial and sacrifice and total focus and extraordinary single-mindedness. Athletes, in a word, are known for their passion. No passion? Forget about achieving your goals. "Going for the gold" -- that's the deepest passion of the world's elite athletes. To stand on the podium, to hear your country's national anthem played, to win the prize makes all the effort worthwhile. 

And that's Paul's theme in Phil. 3:12-16, my text for this morning's Bible time. 

Not a day goes by when I don't spend time with the Lord before spending time in the gym. 

When Paul speaks of "straining to reach the end of the race" (3:14), he's alluding, of course, to the ancient Olympic Games. When the New Testament was being written, the Olympics had been around for about 800 years. And though Christians had reservations about the temple and the idols and the altars and the cheating and the violence and the ungodliness associated with the stadium, none of those reservations stopped them from drawing big takeaways from the Games. Learn spiritual lessons, says Paul, from the Olympics -- lessons about persevering, about self-sacrifice, about determination, about getting and staying spiritually fit. This is what sports get right. That's what draws us to the Super Bowl or to the Olympics. It's this passion, this going for the gold. Can we all just take a moment and thank God for bringing into our lives other Christians who have modeled such spiritual passion for us? The Christian life is not a spectator sport. It demands active participation by all of us. Paul's question is, "Dave, do you have that kind of passion for spiritual things? Is God the all-consuming reality of your entire life?"

More about that in subsequent posts. In the meantime, let's not forget the imagery Paul uses here in Phil. 3:12-16 -- the image of an athlete in the stadium, running to win. That's why I'm happy to use athletes as role models when I blog.