A fellow sports minister had a recent conversation with a coach where the sports minister asked, “Do you think you have a problem with sports being an idol?” The coach quickly and emphatically replied, “No!”
What is interesting about his response is that this coach had recently had several emotional and difficult confrontations surrounding his coaching.
This situation prompted me to ask, “How do you know when sports or a sport is an idol?”
You might be wondering, “What kind of question is that?” thinking that idols are those things in foreign cultures that people visit and bow down to.
While the Bible mentions making objects into idols, God doesn’t limit the definition of idols to just those lifeless statues. Consider the following from Tim Keller (from his book Counterfeit Gods):
“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give….. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
According to Keller, “anything can be an idol.” Even sports.
Just take out the key words to that definition and you’re left with:
- absorbs my heart and imagination
- gives my life meaning
- gives me value
- makes me feel significant
Put “sports” before each statement on that list, read them before a group of athletes, and ask “Which of these statements are true for you?” The answers would quickly show the power of sports to become an idol. Ask a whole culture like ours and you would not only see how powerful but how pervasive the idolatry of sports is.
More importantly, ask ourselves, “Which of these statements is true for me?”
- Sports (or a sport) absorbs my heart and imagination
- Sports (or a sport) gives my life meaning
- Sports (or a sport) gives me value
- Sports (or a sport) makes me feel significant
Just pause for a moment. Think about what is going on in your heart. How are you reacting to this article? Your reaction is important for you in diagnosing the extent of the problem. Why? Because, if we are going to diagnose the reality of idols in our hearts, we must:
1) Assume sports is an idol
2) Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger
3) Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory.
For more on these three points, go to “How Do You Know When Your Sports are an Idol?” Part 2.