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Don’t Waste Your Sports, Part 8: Sports Idols

We’ve been talking about how we can glorify God on the playing field—about how 1 Corinthians 10:31 applies to our sports. This passage of Scripture was written almost 2000 years ago. The apostle Paul was writing to people who were confused about eating steaks that had been offered as sacrifices to idols.

It sounds like another world, one hardly relevant to us or to sports. Does anyone worship idols today? If Paul were writing another letter and addressing it to us, do you ever wonder if he’d say something different?

I think he’d say exactly the same thing: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And I think he’d also tell us, as he told the Corinthians, to avoid idolatry.

Our world is different, yes. We’re not usually thinking about pagan festivals or meat that was sacrificed to little statues. But our hearts are no different. We are tempted to make sports a much higher priority than they should be.

It’s not hard to imagine Paul, if he wrote to us today, talking about what happens on playing fields and in front of TVs every weekend. Yep, sports. The temptation to idolatry isn’t immediately obvious. You won’t see people bowing down to statues or kneeling in little shrines before picking up the ball. But all around us, people are obsessed with sports. Athletes become celebrities. We memorize their stats, build our schedules around their games, make them our role models, and talk about almost nothing else. We exalt them. Our hearts bow down to our team, our sport, our victories. Worship is happening—on ESPN, and in our hearts.

That’s why, just like the Corinthians, we need Scripture’s sober warning. You see, if we’re not playing sports to the glory of God, we’re still worshiping—we’re just worshiping someone or something else. And that’s what the Bible calls idolatry.

So how do sports become idols? One way to tell is by examining your heart. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you preoccupied with sports? Are they what you think about and talk about more than anything else?
  • Are sports where your mind goes when you don’t have anything else you have to think about?
  • Are your most passionate conversations always about sports?
  • Do you have an excessive passion for a particular team? Are you euphoric when they win, and depressed when they lose? For example, I grew up as a Redskins fan, and what happened in Sunday’s game determined the mood in our home all week. That’s idolatry. Disappointment is one thing; depression is another.
  • Is your passion for a team, or for playing a particular sport, greater than your passion for Jesus Christ? for your family? for your church?

Another way to tell if sports have become an idol is to examine your time. Have sports taken the place in your schedule that belongs to other God-given priorities, like your family and your local church?

Yet another good way to tell if sports have become an idol is to examine your involvement in your church. When your church gathers, are you there? Or does the sports schedule trump the church calendar?

Now, missing an occasional Sunday meeting because of a sports event doesn’t make you guilty of idolatry. What matters is your heart—what you love most. And what you love most usually shows up on your schedule. So if your life shows a consistent pattern of choosing sports events over gathering with God’s people, I would encourage you to ask why. Has your heart been captured by the priority of the local church as taught in Scripture?

On the last day, when each of us gives account to God, you will have no regrets about appropriately limiting participation in sports so that you can be involved in your local church. No regrets at all.

Enjoying Don’t Waste Your Sports? Get more:
Buy the booklet.
Hear the sermon.
Other posts in this series:

  1. Sports At Their Best—And Worst
  2. What Are Sports Really For?
  3. Meeting God Before the Opening Tip
  4. Play to the Glory of God
  5. The Grateful Athlete
  6. The Humble Athlete
  7. The Servant Athlete
  8. Sports Idols
  9. Your Next Game
  10. Application Questions for Athletes

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