Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Opportunities and dangers in sport

Opportunities and dangers in sportMany people enjoy playing and watching sport. But how should a Christian be involved with sporting activities?

This post is based on a book by Stephen Liggins, “The good sporting life – Loving and playing sport as a follower of Jesus”.


“Play” is an unstructured activity undertaken for its own sake. A “game” is play where rules are added. And “sport” is where the rules of the game have been universalized and competition is added.

Like many activities, sport can have a positive or negative impact on our Christian life. It provides both opportunities and dangers. It can be a force for good or a force for evil.

God has given people the capacity to invent sports and the Bible says, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5NIV). The context of this passage is that people were teaching abstinence from marriage and certain foods in order to please God. But our food and marriage choices do not make us more righteous. Likewise, our degree of involvement in sport does not make us more or less righteous.

Positive aspects of sport

Sport enables character development, interaction with others, recreation, entertainment, and improved fitness and health. It can improve our level of physical fitness and our general wellbeing. And a healthy body can promote a healthy mind. Regular exercise is usually good for our mental health and it helps us to maintain a measure of discipline in our lives.

Team sports teach you how to be part of a team. The time spent with others can be used to encourage believers and witness to non-believers. And it may provide opportunities for travel and employment.

Billie Jean KingTennis player Billie Jean King said that sport “teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose – it teaches you about life”. Playing sport is a great preparation for life.

When competitors cheat, you learn that life isn’t always fair. There is injustice. And every Christian faces disappointments and discouragement. But God desires that we learn to trust Him in adversity (1 Pt. 1:7). Life is not fair here, but it will be hereafter. Justice will occur in the future.

Negative aspects of sport

But sport can also hinder one’s spiritual growth. It can take up our time and energy. Poor sportsmanship can bring out anger, abuse, cheating, hatred and violence. Sport can be an obsession that keeps us away from church and Christian fellowship. It can determine how we live, and how we find our significance, identity and self-worth. Also, there can be temptations such as alcohol and drug abuse and sexual immorality.

Do we treat teammates and opposition with respect? Are we humble in victory and gracious in defeat? Are we selfish (Phil. 2:3)? Do we obey the rules? Do we want to win at all costs?

Do we find our identity and significance in the fact that we are created by God and loved by God (Gen. 1:27; Jn. 3:16), or in the fact that we may be good at sport?

God is more important than sport. Following Jesus and regular Christian fellowship is more important than regular sporting involvement.

In some sports there is a risk of serious injury. In this case we can do a risk assessment and consider whether participation is worth the risk.

Sport in the Bible

The Bible says that infants and animals play (Job 40:20; Isa. 11:8; Zech. 8:5). So animals and people have a God-given instinctive ability to play. They can enjoy God’s creation through play, games and sport. So, play, games and sport that is not ungodly are gifts from God.

Paul was fond of sporting metaphors (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Gal. 5:7). The Bible uses sport to illustrate living the Christian life, godliness, perseverance, and hope. These are:
– Running a race (Ps. 1:5; Gal. 2:2; 5:7; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1)
– Training (1 Tim. 4:8)
– Winning a prize (Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8).
– Boxing and all of the above (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
They seem to mainly refer to the Greek games.

It is unlikely that Paul would have used something that was inherently evil as a metaphor for the Christian life. But early Christians criticized the Roman games for their violence and death and association with gambling, poor crowd behavior, and pagan religions.

Balance, perspective and priority

Living as a Christian in a sporting context involves struggle. The stronger our relationship with God, the better we will do. Following Jesus is the main game, not following sport. Christians prioritize God and fit all aspects of their life – including sport – around serving Him (Appendix).

Athletes hope for victories, but Christians seek something far greater. Paul said, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:25). The athlete was disciplined and self-controlled. Likewise, a Christian needs to be disciplined and self-controlled to spread the good news about Jesus. One of the greatest benefits of competing in sports is the development of self-control.

“Living a life devoted to serving God will see us want to live in a close relationship with God. We’ll also want to help others to get into and live in a close relationship with God. This will mean prioritizing Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, serving others, family relationships, and using our gifts in ways appropriate to our life circumstances. How this will influence someone’s sport will vary from person to person.” (Liggins, 2020, p.33). We can trust all aspects of our lives – including our sporting involvement – to God. This means putting God first. God, not the sporting calendar sets our agenda.

Our relationship with God will affect how we think about sport, how we play sport, and how we treat and behave with the people with whom we come into contact through sport. Everything – sport included – is done for God. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col. 3:23).

The key principle is to put Christ first in our lives. This will involve prioritizing personal Bible reading, prayer, maintaining regular Christian teaching, and fellowship.

Good character

God wants Christians to develop good character (Phil. 1:27). This means being like salt and light (Mt. 5:13-16) and having patience, humility, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, gentleness, self-control and thoughtfulness.

Christians should seek to display godly character in every area of their life including sport. That means to play sport and follow sport in a way that honors God. For inspiration, you could read a biography of someone like Eric Liddell who served God on and off the sporting field.

God can use our time in sport to mature us, and to make an impact upon others.

Bad character

Every area of human life is damaged by sin. This includes sport. We need to be aware of the dangers so we can avoid them. They include cheating, excessive aggression, selfishness, being a poor loser, arrogance, verbal abuse, anger, violence, bullying, bad language, spitting the dummy (where a person behaves poorly when things don’t go their way) and excessive drinking.

If we are consistently failing in one area, we either need to give up that sport or give up playing with those people.


We can meet people and form friendships through sport. As such, sport can be a mission field and a minefield. The key to making it the former rather than the latter is to maintain and grow in our relationship with God. And our lifestyle on and off the sports field should be consistent with the Christian message.

Jesus saw the world around Him as a harvest field full of people in need of the gospel (Mt. 9:36-38). Sport provides regular time to spend with non-Christians. We are Christ’s representatives to them (2 Cor. 5:20). If the people with whom we play (of watch) sport respect us, and if they know that we are Christians, we may end up in spiritual discussions with them. So we need to be prepared to talk about our Christian faith (1 Pt. 3:15) – we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. Lean how to explain the good news (gospel) about Jesus. And pray for Gods’ help (Col. 2:2-4).

How would you answer some of the big questions that people may ask about your faith. Like, isn’t Christianity a myth? Hasn’t science disproved Christianity? How can you take Jesus’ resurrection and miracles seriously? What about all the suffering in the world? Isn’t Christianity narrow minded – for example, isn’t it anti-women, anti-gay and anti-other religions? Do I have to give up drinking/sex/fun/sport to be a Christian?

God has many good things for us to do (Eph. 2:10). We can serve God in sport and after we retire from playing sport.


Sport can have a positive or a negative impact on our lives. It can provide opportunities to serve God and dangers of ungodly behavior.

Following Jesus in all areas of life, including sport, should be the top priority for Christians.

Appendix: Priorities – God and sport

“As in all areas of life, we must have balance in regards to our involvement in sports. We must set priorities. It’s easy for a sports fan to overdo it, committing too much time, money, and other resources to what should be an entertaining diversion. It’s easy for an athlete wishing to succeed to devote an inordinate amount of time and energy to training, to the neglect of family, friends, or walk with God. The Bible helps us clarify our priorities: ‘Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come’ (1 Tim. 4:8).

Sports is good and beneficial when kept in perspective. Never should sports be allowed to crowd out time with God or become more important than seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness (Mt. 6:33). Idols are not to be a part of the Christian life (1 Jn. 5:21). And in whatever we do, on or off the field, we are to do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).”


Liggins S, 2020,  “The good sporting life – Loving and playing sport as a follower of Jesus”, Matthias Media, Sydney.


This post is based on a book by Stephen Liggins, “The good sporting life – Loving and playing sport as a follower of Jesus”.

The appendix is from “How should a Christian view sports”.

Written, May 2023

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