Jonny Reid looks at some key Bible verses to consider as you make up your mind about Sunday sport
For players, parents and pastors, Sunday sport presents a difficult issue.
In response, some have advocated for church to remain the fixed marker in a weekend, not relegating it to fit around sport. Others have recognised what they see to be an avoidable clash, seeking models that allow sport and church to co-exist.
Hanging over the whole debate is the issue of whether or not Christians should keep Sunday as a Sabbath day or not. How can we see a way forward in this complex web of competing claims?
A disputable matter
Ultimately, whether to play or not on a Sunday is conscience issue for each sportsperson. In Romans 14:5, Paul clearly refers to the Sabbath (though perhaps not only the Sabbath) as a day special to the Lord when he writes: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
Paul is saying that the issue of keeping the Sabbath is no longer one of covenant faithfulness and obedience but is a “disputable matter” (Romans 14:1) - in other words, an area of legitimate disagreement between Christians.
Old Testament prophets would have treated Sabbath keeping as law because it was a command from the Lord, but since Christ has come, it is not something we are required to keep but something some still wish to keep. So, Christians can be flexible, but the key biblical message is not to be judgemental of others with different opinions.
So how can you decide the way you’ll approach Sunday sport? Here are three principles to keep in mind:
1. Created to rest
Right from the start in Genesis 2 we see God blessing one day of the week and making it a day of rest for all humanity. God’s blessing on this day is linked to the fact that God himself rests on it and it became a day of rest for all humanity.
We all need rest don’t we? Think about sport – you need recovery days after a race or match and millions of pounds is pumped into research on recovery to help us perform at our best. Rest is good and rest is necessary.
Genesis 2 is not all the Bible has to say about rest, however.
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus tells us that true rest is now found in Him and Hebrews 4 reminds us of the spiritual rest available now which Christ’s death and resurrection provided. There is a wonderful promise here that we will only truly and fully rest with Christ.
So rest is not just stopping work, as it was in Genesis 2, it is also a time to focus on God and to re-orientate ourselves back to Him.
2. Born to worship
In Romans 12:1 Paul describes what worship is: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship.”
The key principle here is that, because of God’s mercy given to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our response now is one of worship with ALL that we are, ALL of the time.
Paul reminds us that our ‘worship’ is not confined within the context of church. In all we do, including sport, as we use our gifts, in relationship with others, for the glory of God, that is an action of worship in and of itself. We are born to worship, 24/7.
3. Made to meet
Taking previous principles on their own, you could end up playing sport every Sunday and chilling out on the sofa on a Monday. But this would mean ignoring the fact that the Christian life is never to be lived in isolation. God, in His very being, as Father, Son and Spirit is relational and we have been made in His image. We need each other as we live this life.
In Hebrews 10, the writer exhorts us to not give up meeting with one another: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This was written when the Romans had made Christianity illegal, the temptation was to give-up meeting in the face of the persecution. Yet, despite the life-threatening risk for the Hebrew believers, the message is loud and clear - ‘don’t give up meeting together - without meeting together it is very hard to run your race of faith.’
Think of a marathon - the cheers of the supporters and the encouragement of fellow runners all help spur you on to the finish line. Church is wonderful, and important for all Christians. We are encouraged and get help to keep going as believers as we meet together to sit under the teaching of God’s word. We were made to meet.
Some practical points
In light of these principles, how do we reconcile this issue which is very real for a number of sportspeople?
Here’s three practical tips:
- Chat with your pastor and make them aware of this issue. Ask for their wisdom and work through the situation together. Undoubtedly there will be others in the church like shift workers who can’t make every gathering.
- Get to a gathering in the evening or in the week. Prioritise small groups and make every effort to get to something on a Sunday and in the week. If you’re a parent of a young sportsperson, make sure your child is stuck into a youth group if possible.
- Think about when you are resting and how you are resting. Is your rest something which helps you re-orientate towards Christ?