Today there is an unusual emphasis on sports. We see an undue idolatry when it comes to sports. Among the great idols are the stars and superstars of sports. That idolatry is not at all limited to the unbelieving world. Christians are, to quite an extent, captivated by this same idolatry. Perhaps one could say with some measure of certainty that nearly all Christians in one form or another, idolize their heroes in the sports arena.
The question is: Is this wrong and evil? Is it really sinful to admire, and in a way, idolize these outstanding stars in sports? One might be hard pressed to bring a conclusive argument against it. The real question here is whether we are being drawn along with a spirit of sport madness that tends to captivate our thinking and desires in such a way that it controls our whole life. We must not push this aside too lightly. From experience I know how easy this can be.
There is another closely related question and that is, is it wrong for a Christian to enter the field of professional sports? Some of our young people face this question. Among them are athletes who fully qualify for entrance into the field of professional sports. Is this a forbidden field for them? Can Christians consider professional sports a calling of God in which they can serve and honor God as they are called to do?
How do we answer this question? Can we find any good convincing Biblical givens on this matter? Was the apostle Paul. for example, a lover of, and watcher of professional sports? One could almost come to that conclusion when he says, “I do not fight like a man beating the air” (I Cor. 9:26). Then he also says “they…run in a race…,but only one receives the prize” (vs.24). From such statements some consider it justified to hold that Paul attended the Olympics of his day and therefore we too may enjoy watching professional sports. Therefore Christians may also enter that field for if it is not wrong to enjoy watching professional sports, is it wrong to enter that field? These kinds of questions we as God’s children are called to answer.
We faced such a question with Willy De Wit when he decided to enter the field of boxing. This is a sport that we considered prohibitive to Christians. Scripture is not silent on this matter. Our bodies are the property of our Savior and temples of the Holy Spirit. We are called to care for them and not to abuse or misuse them (1 Cor. 6:18). Willy argued that all sports have a measure of danger in them and that most are much rougher and more dangerous than boxing. To the credit of Willy De Wit it must be said that he wisely stepped out of the field of boxing before, as one sports announcer said it, “he got his brains knocked out!”
THE LORD’S DAY
But there is another question that is as important, if not more important, than the one concerning bodily harm. That question concerns the Sunday. Nearly all professional sports are held on Sundays. Therefore, aside from the matter of bodily harm, or the danger of becoming an idol in the world of professional sports, or abetting the madness of today’s idolatry of stars and superstars, there is the question of the Sunday, that is, the Lord’s Day. Does it really matter if a Christian plays on Sunday? Is that a sin serious enough to forbid the Christian from entering the field of professional sports? Another related question is whether it is wrong to watch professional sports on Sunday?
We must look carefully at this question. There are those who contend that the Old Testament Sabbath no longer holds for today. We have heard sermons with the theme, “Every day is Sunday!” The argument runs something like this: When Christ came, He abolished the ceremonies and laws of the Old Testament, and this included the Sabbath Day. As proof for this we are referred to such texts as Rom. 14:5, Gal. 4:9,10, Col. 2:16, 17, and especially the latter which speaks of “sabbaths” as apparently having been put aside by our Lord through His sacrifice on the cross. Because of this, so we are assured, the whole life of the New Testament believers has changed and now every day is a day of worship; every day we enter into the eternal rest, and the Sunday is no longer a special day. It is good however to keep and use it for worship services. Conclusion? It is not really wrong to work on Sundays or to enjoy watching or participating in professional sports on Sunday.
Was the Sabbath Day abrogated by Jesus so that our Sundays have nothing in common with the Old Testament Sabbath Day?
A Creation Order
Let us first consider the question of the Sabbath Day. It was a day specially made by God. In Genesis 2:2 we read, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made….” (KJV). Some of the newer translations miss this important point. The NIV, for example, puts it this way: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing….” Most commentators miss this also. They miss the fact that on the seventh day God made the Sabbath Day. He blessed that day and made it holy. Of this Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). We must take note of this. The Sabbath was made by God. It is therefore a creation ordinance. The Sabbath was made for man, or mankind. Would someone venture to say that the Sabbath was made only for Israel of old and not for man today?
Now let us ask another question: Why did God make that day for man before the fall, living in the paradise of God? In his commentary on Genesis, John Calvin gives the following beautiful explanation: “First, therefore, God rested: then he blessed this rest, that in all ages it might be held sacred among men: or he dedicated every seventh day to rest, that his own example might be a perpetual rule …Lastly, that it is a sacred rest which withdraws men from the impediments of the world, that it may dedicate them entirely to God” (Genesis 2:3). God made that day so that man might use it as a day of special preparation for, and a foretaste of, the eternal rest to which and for which he had been created. Far from abrogating this creation ordinance, Christ established it. If Christ is, as He declares, Lord of the Sabbath, what kind of Lord is He if He came to destroy that day? Rather He came to make men partakers of the eternal rest and provide them with all they needed to prepare for entering that rest. For that reason Hebrews 10:25 is so important when it says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” In other words, since every Sunday is a God-hallowed day of rest, to be used by man to prepare for the eternal rest remaining (Hebrews 4:9), and since this day points to that rest. it is a very grievous sin to neglect using it as God intends us to use it. especially in view of the coming Judgment Day.
We must also note how seriously Scripture takes this neglect of church attendance. In Hebrews 10:26 it gives us this warning: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth no sacrifice for sins is left but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. In pointing to the importance of church attendance because it, in a very special way, prepares one to enter Gods eternal rest, and because a neglect of it shows our neglect “of so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:2) it is the more urgent to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). From the above it should be dear that for believers Sunday sports is a forbidden terrain, either as to watching or playing.
Lord’s Day — A Re-Creation Celebration of Christ’s Resurrection
One question must still be addressed, and that is, whether Sunday replaced the Old Testament Sabbath. We should note that the early churches did not question the change from the Old Testament Sabbath to the New Testament Sunday, the first day of the week. It was called the “Lord’s Day” because on that day Christ rose from the grave. Christ Himself confirmed this when He met with His disciples on the first day of the week (see John 20:19). The disciples were gathered for worship. In this service Christ came with His greeting of peace to them. In Acts 20:7 we read of a worship service on the first day of the week. Here we read, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people …” (KJV has it, “Paul preached to them”). In 1 Corinthians 16:2 we read, “On the first day of every week, each of you should set aside a sum of money ….” These were offerings to be given in the worship services. From Revelation 1:10 we learn that the first day of the week was called “the Lord’s Day.” This we can understand since Christ’s resurrection made His people possessors of the salvation He had earned for them. Through it His people become partakers of the eternal rest. For that reason every Lord’s Day points us to that glorious fact and calls us to use it for the entering of that rest. How important the warning of Hebrews 4:11 where we read, “Let us therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”
It should be clear to all of us how serious a matter a correct observance of Sunday is for the life of God’s people. We should encourage young and old to use it as the Scripture commands, and to warn everyone of the tragic consequences of neglecting to use, or of desecrating the Lord’s Day God has made (see again Hebrews 10:24–30). We must be concerned to make very clear to our children the glorious eternal destiny of God’s people, the important place Sundays should take in our lives as God’s people, and seek to instill a deep desire in all to set the whole program of our activities in the light of the rest remaining. This is vital in view of the very seductive powers in the world of today. How the world today needs our witness against the desecration of the Lord’s Day along with a clear call to seek the rest remaining (see Heb. 4:9)! If all Christian athletes would rise up in protest against the desecration of the Lord’s Day for professional sports, what a mighty and important voice that would be for the whole world of sports to hear and see. In this respect we should strive to make all of our athletes, genuine athletes for the Lord.
Rev. Tuininga is a retired pastor in the United Reformed Church of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.