Competition/Sports, Gospel Centricity

How Do You Know When Sports Are an Idol? Part 2

Sports and Idolatry – hopefully you are connecting these two ideas.sportsidol-01-300x300

In Part 1, I said there are three important ideas we need to embrace in order to diagnose the idolatry of sports. They are:

1) Assume sports are an idol 

2) Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger 

3) Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory.

In this post, I want to unpack the first idea – Assume sports are an idol.

To begin, let’s go back to the coach, who, when asked if he had a problem with sports as an idol, quickly and emphatically responded, “NO!!” The coach seemed to assume that wasn’t even a possibility by his response. This denial goes far beyond just this coach, however.

Tim Keller counters to such a contention or assumption in Counterfeit Gods –

“I am not asking whether or not you have rival gods. I assume that we all do; they are hidden in every one of us…. In Romans 1:21-25, Paul shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart.”

Since the fall, our hearts have been idol factories, seeking something, many things, other than God to fulfill its longings for meaning, love, significance, security, and, what is often left off this list, glory. We were made for glory. We lost glory at the fall (remember Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”). We pursue glory in “all the wrong places” to fill that void.

Sports today demonstrate one of the most often used and clearest methods for establishing this lost glory. We strive to become champions, winners, first place, the best, the highest – whether it is in world class arenas for Olympians and Super Bowls or in neighborhood courts for a community league or a pick up game.

However, rather than looking into our sports for the reality of this idolatry because of what is “fundamentally wrong with the human heart,” we say things like, “I am just competitive,” or “I am just playing hard” and deny the reality of our idolatry.

When we won’t even consider the possibility that our sports are an idol, we live out what God says of idolaters in Isaiah 44. In verse 13-20, God uses a carpenter as an example. The carpenter takes what God has provided (wood) and uses part of it for his job, part of it as fuel to warm himself, and part of it to cook his food, all within the purposes of God.

Yet, rather than stopping there, the carpenter then takes the rest and makes “a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” (verse 17)

Now, the carpenter doesn’t really understand that he is doing something wrong, nor does he contemplate the possibility. “Their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say….’Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” (verse 18-20)

In the sports world, we don’t see, we don’t stop to think and ask, we won’t even ask, “Is this thing I play, watch, or coach an idol?”

So will you ask –
“Are my sports an idol?” with the assumption that it probably is an idol? 

Will you allow God to show you how you have taken his provision, sports, and not stopped with the design that God had in mind, but have fashioned it into a place for your glory, not his?

Will you ask God to open your eyes, to give you understanding, to give you the courage to ponder and be honest and ask the question, “Is this thing I play an idol?”

If you will, you have made the first great step to dealing with the idolatry of sports. We will look at the next step in tomorrow post – How do you know when your sports are an idol? Part 3


Bob Schindler