Like eating and sleeping, the Bible describes play as one of the good things of life which God has made part of the rhythm of being alive.
The Bible never describes what heaven will actually be like, but instead it gives a series of pictures. One of them is a place where people can play in the city streets. It is not a literal picture, of course. However, it gives a sense of God’s purpose for humankind to imagine streets that will not be used for work and never again for war, but for sport!
Those who believe in God believe he wants them to play. That is one of the reasons many Christians are excited by sport in all its forms, both as participants and spectators.
During the time of Jesus, the land in which he lived had been conquered by the Roman Empire. Games were a part of their culture, particularly games that showed sportsmen at their fastest, strongest or most agile. Paul, who was one of the leaders of the church during the decades after Jesus, acknowledged how popular these sporting events were. He urged Christian leaders to stay fit physically, but to be even fitter spiritually.
Paul wrote letters that have been preserved in the Bible. In them he describes being a follower of Jesus as like getting yourself ready for sport. He explained that as a Christian life is no longer aimless, like someone thrashing around wildly. Instead it is full of purpose, like someone doing disciplined boxing (today he might have added aerobics).
Life is no longer like someone scampering until they drop dead. Instead it is like running in a race in which there is an everlasting prize provided by God for every single participant.
Many churches have sports clubs associated with them because of the popularity of sport among Christians. These range from badminton and football to walking and computer games. As in all aspects of living as a follower of Jesus, church clubs stress the fact that there are ways to take part which involve the highest standards.
Some of the issues which have complicated sport include cheating (especially with drugs), gambling, racism and homophobia. There is a determination among Christians to play and watch sport with exemplary standards. Christians who have reached the highest levels in their sport often make public declarations about this.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
‘The mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.’ This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.’
Where to find it:
About these words:
Words written about 520 years before the birth of Jesus. They announce God’s plan for humankind to like a city in which war and work have given way to leisure and sport.
And they said…
Tim Tebow, American football quarterback, currently playing with the New York Jets:
On the field I’m trying to play for the glory of God. But then also I’m trying to give everything I have and compete and win. So I think more than just winning or losing, [God] cares about where our hearts are when we’re playing.
Kaká (Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite), midfield footballer for Orlando City and Brazil:
One needs to have tranquillity, calmness. I will not brawl, because I am not a brawler. I am not supposed to be punching people on the field or swearing. I seek to be a role model in the club. I seek to demonstrate what God has done for me and so that he can do it in other lives as well.
Bernhard Langer, German golfer who was twice Masters champion but famously allowed the USA to defeat Europe on the final stroke of the 1991 Ryder Cup:
It was a great disappointment not to get a gold medal, especially as we led for three quarters of the race. But I never pray to win. I don’t think … I should expect to win just because I am a Christian. My life is in God’s hands and God’s gift to me has been my potential to achieve this standard. So I try to use my ability as best I can.