Bible Answers: Sports, violence and idolatry in the Bible

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“I heard someone say recently that ‘God likes sports because they teach character.’ Another person countered, ‘God doesn’t like sports because they foster violence and idolatry.’ What would the Bible say to this argument?”—Adrian

As with many current issues, the Bible doesn’t make a straightforward value statement on “sports.” Most of the New Testament was written just prior to — and during the time of — the great Roman spectacles (the Coliseum was built circa AD 70-80.) The Greek Olympic games had obviously been around much longer, perhaps as early as the 8th Century BC.
References to sports appear in the New Testament: discipline for competition, the race, the prize (the “wreath” or “crown”), even “shadow-boxing” (I Cor. 9:24-27; II Tim. 2:5; 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1).
These references are used for illustrative purposes as opposed to making comment on the sport itself. Little or nothing appears in these texts that approves or disapproves of sports.
We must explore the topic in light of scriptural principles that may apply to sports as we know, practice or invest in them.
To the degree that sports contribute to physical well-being (care for the body, I Cor. 3:17), teach character that reflects Christ (Gal. 5:22-23), promote care for widows and orphans and facilitate humility, honesty, generosity and moral rectitude (Eph. 4:25-32; 5:1; James 1:27), then they would be approved by Scripture.
To the degree that sports foster violence (Prov. 3:31), idolatry (in reference to the adoration of sports figures or to inordinate amounts of time, allegiance and money devoted to the games) and/or a destructively competitive spirit that promotes pride, they are the antithesis of the teachings of Scripture.
The question of sports is adiaphoristic. To God, the heart of the matter is this: are you focused on following Him and being conformed to Christ (Rom. 8:28-29)?