On Sunday 11th July, the FIFA Football World Cup final will take place. Many nations played in qualifying matches around the world with the result that the top 32 nations participated in South Africa.
The over-riding opinion on sport seems to be that it can bring nations together and provide an opportunity to work together for good through this medium. That can be true, but it can also have the damaging effect that many professional sports stars are, today, far from being good role models, and they often act, instead, irresponsibly both on and off the field of play.
Football today — or “soccer” for our American readers — has become a modern “god” with millions of followers around the world, and what players do on the pitch in the UK or continental Europe, as well as in many African and South American nations, is copied by millions of young people during Sunday morning games. Abusing the referee, vile language, dissent and general argument and trying to injure opponents, while pretending innocence are just some of the behaviours that are copied by the young, and not so young, as they mimic those they look up to!
When England was eliminated by Germany, the wrath of the English press and media was meted out mercilessly on the manager and the players. I am sure that this was also the case in the French and Italian press as their highly fancied teams were knocked out in the first round. And in each country, as their team was eliminated, there would have been, to one extent or another, an enquiry or recriminations as to why they didn’t do better. The worst in human nature appeared from every nook and cranny in the land!
Whilst sport can indeed bring people together to enjoy either playing or watching, it can also bring out the worst in human nature in many different ways.
A caution must be given to a true Christian who plays sports — or is a fan of sports: He or she is not to allow this to become an idol. In 1 John 5:21, it states: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We must never allow any sport to become more important to us than our relationship with God. This would include, then, not to watch a football game or any other game of sports, on the Sabbath–which is God’s HOLY day–no matter how “important” or “critical” that game might appear to be.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the apostle Paul addresses the issue of striving for a crown by using the analogy of running a race. The “KJV Commentary” states: “The Isthmian games were an athletic event known to all of his readers, held on alternate summers within the vicinity of Corinth. It was an event not to be missed by anyone of importance in all parts of Greece.” Of course, in running a race there can only be one winner, but we are running the Christian race and we can all be winners!
Whatever the sport–football, basketball, rugby, tennis, cricket, golf, athletics or any number of other activities–we have to ensure that we are not caught up in the “zeitgeist”– “the spirit of the times” or “the spirit of the age.” Sports in general, and football or basketball in particular, can be interesting and entertaining, but we must always make sure that they are kept in perspective. Unfortunately, football is a new religion in many places for many people. But we must be different. God must be first in our life (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 6:24; 19:16-22; Luke 14:26); not sport, sports stars or any other celebrity.
I have to confess that when England lost to Germany I was disappointed with their display, but that was it. It was just a game of football. In the context of a Christian’s life, it really didn’t register as anything of lasting importance. Others who make a “god” of a sport or sports stars, will inevitably be let down at some stage. But God never lets us down, and we should try and emulate that by never letting God down.
Our attitude on such matters says a lot about our relationship with God, and the level of our conversion.