I am honored to lead the Resources Division at LifeWay and serve with a team of leaders who are passionate to serve the Church in Her mission of making disciples. Each Wednesday, I share the heart behind one of the resources our team has developed and give an opportunity for you to register to win a free copy of the resource. This week’s piece is from In The Arena, a new book by David Prince, Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY, as well as Assistant Professor of Christian Preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
Because I am about to coach my youngest daughter’s six-year-old soccer team, I find David’s work helpful, challenging, and encouraging.
If, as Chesterton asserts, we can say grace over our enjoyment of sports, then we must think about our enjoyment of sports in light of the priority of our faith and the supremacy of Jesus Christ. What would a distinctively Christian approach to sports look like? In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5—7), Jesus teaches about the characteristics of the kingdom of Christ. His message turns the wisdom of the world upside down and is a call for his disciples to live distinctive lives. The distinctiveness of Christ’s followers will bring verbal and even violent persecution at times (Matt. 5:11–12) because the disciples of Jesus constitute an alternative kingdom community who are in the world but not of the world (John 17:14–15). In other words, Christians are to constitute a unique gospel culture within a culture. Let us consider what Jesus’ call for his followers to be salt and light means for how we think about our interaction with sports as Christians.
1. A distinctively Christian approach to sports must actively seek to preserve the good in God’s cultural gift of sports.
Jesus told a tiny band of Palestinian peasants with no cultural power or authority, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Before refrigeration, salt was used to preserve meat from inevitable decay and to season food. Animals are a part of the good creation of God and are used as food to nourish and sustain his image bearers. Meat, not preserved, will rot and be harmful, but meat properly preserved and seasoned can become, not just good, but very good. Jesus then provided two warnings. The first is that salt contaminated and diluted is worthless, and the second is that its saltiness, once lost, cannot be restored (Matt. 5:13). The implication for Christians in relation to sports is clear. If Christians uncritically absorb sports culture, they will have no preserving influence. But, they will also be ineffective if they withdraw from sports culture.
2. A distinctively Christian approach to sports will seek to illumine the world.
The preserving work of Christians as “the salt of the earth” and their illuminating work as “the light of the world” is to be a communal blessing—a public good. Therefore, the light of the Christian gospel should permeate all public places, including the athletic fields and stands. The people of God have not been given the light of Jesus simply so that they can personally enjoy it. Neither have they been given the light so that they can share it with each other or compare to see whose lamp shines the brightest. Nor have they been given the light so that they can shake their heads and talk about those sad and pitiful people of the world who grope around in darkness. No, they are to be “the light of the world.” The pervasive cultural interest in sports provides a particular, specific, and strategic place for Christians to be the light of the world.
3. A distinctively Christian approach to sports will be God-centered and God-directed.
In other words, it will be for the glory of God. Jesus says, in the same way a lamp shines, and a city on a hill cannot be hidden, Christians are to let their distinctive gospel light shine for the benefit of others, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). The Christian is not given distinctiveness in order to parade their virtue and righteousness before the world. Doing that is simply a manifestation of pride—not salt and light. When Christians do so, they are adding to the decay and darkness. The goal is not that others would see them and follow their morality but that they would glorify God in Christ.