You won’t find track meets or golf tournaments in the pages of Scripture. But we’re about to look at a passage that applies to all of life, including sports. These few words, if by the grace of God we understand and obey them, will transform our lives.
Are you ready for this? It’s a familiar passage, but perhaps you haven’t applied it to the playing field:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
This simple sentence is loaded with divine wisdom for every part of our sports, from practices to playoffs. So few words, so much wisdom.
We’ll grasp it more easily if we know who it was written to and why. So we’re taking a short detour from the world of sports to the world of first-century Greece. (Trust me, we’ll be back to sports in a minute.)
1 Corinthians 10:31 is part of a letter from the Apostle Paul to Christians in the city of Corinth. They had asked whether it was okay for Christians to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and then sold in the market (1 Corinthians 8:1–10:33). In other words, were they allowed to enjoy a steak dinner if the beef had been offered as a religious sacrifice to an idol?
This may not sound like a big deal to us, but for Christians in Corinth it was a very big deal. Their culture was full of idol worship. So the question of whether you could eat food that had been offered to idols was starting serious arguments in the church.
In response to their question, Paul explained that the food itself wasn’t damaged by the idolatrous sacrifice, and Christians weren’t harmed if they ate it. However, Paul does tell them not to attend pagan banquets. Why? Because for Christians to attend these popular events was to associate with the worship of demons. So attending these banquets was out of the question.
Here’s Paul’s point: the important thing for the Corinthians was not the origin of their food, but the nature of their worship. So, he tells them, “flee from idolatry” (10:14). Then he says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
With this background, we can understand that 1 Corinthians 10:31 is calling us to do two things:
- examine our hearts and lives for the presence of idolatry, and
- devote ourselves to the glory of God in all of life, including sports.
These two principles have a lot to say about our participation in sports. They also make a surprising promise: sports, like anything else in life, is an opportunity for us to glorify God.
That’s right. Sports, just like those Corinthian steak dinners, are a gift from God. From swimming to softball, wrestling to rugby, baseball to basketball, cross-country running, gymnastics, hockey, decathlon, karate, track, golf, football, tennis, lacrosse—the list could go on. Each of them is a gift from a gracious God. Each, when enjoyed properly, can glorify God.
We have to be careful, though, because this promise carries a warning label too. If it’s possible to use sports for God’s glory, then there is also a way to misuse sports for our own glory. And that is exactly what the sinful heart—mine and yours included—is often all too eager to do.
We’ll talk about examining our lives for the presence of idolatry a little later in future posts. But first let’s consider: How do we glorify God—and not ourselves—in our sports?
To answer that, we need to know who God is and what brings him glory. Stay tuned…
- Sports At Their Best—And Worst
- What Are Sports Really For?
- Meeting God Before the Opening Tip
- Play to the Glory of God
- The Grateful Athlete
- The Humble Athlete
- The Servant Athlete
- Sports Idols
- Your Next Game
- Application Questions for Athletes
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