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Sport and morality

Gavin Peacock

The Lord is the giver of all skill, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship. In the construction of the tabernacle, men and women with skill were active in the completion of that which would glorify God (Ex. 35:10, 25, 31; 36:1). God graciously gave skill to his people in order that they would use it for his glory.
In professional sport the principle is the same. God gives the abilities, in order that the expression of these gifts would echo to the praise of his name. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). So how do we do this, “all to the glory of God” within the rules of a competitive sport, which is very much about beating the opposition and winning the prize? Well it may be all right to say that as long as you play hard and play fair and obey the rules you are playing in a God honouring way. But there is a deeper issue at stake. What is the motivation of your heart before you step into the arena? Is it to glorify God win or lose? Oh yes, you want to win, but does that desire outweigh the desire in your heart that your Father in heaven is glorified in all aspects of the game you play this day. You see sport lays bare the inner person, because in the moment you do not have time to think about your actions or words on the field, they just flow out in the heat of battle and what will always surface is the disposition of your heart. Is it set on God or set on self? Is your heart disposition towards God that his name be hallowed in all you do and say? Your life of word and prayer during the week will dictate your manner on match day.
One high profile incident in the boxing world recently brought to light the issue of morality in sport. Floyd Mayweather beat Victor Ortiz in a controversial knockout in the WBC welterweight fight in Las Vegas last month. Ortiz had landed an illegal and dangerous head butt on Mayweather. Having been penalised by the referee Ortiz came together with Mayweather to apologise and touch gloves. But as Ortiz backed off Mayweather quickly hit him twice in the face knocking him out. Fight over! Mayweather won! The crowd were booing! However, it was technically allowable. The fighter mantra is protect is “protect yourself at all times”. Mayweather then proceeded to publicly call for the firing of  an experienced broadcaster and boxing reporter who questioned his actions . Was Mayweather right or wrong?
Right or wrong is always defined by how it relates to God. Actions and words like this do not glorify God because although they may be allowable in the rules they proceed from a heart that is not right with God and not within the true spirit of the sport. Jesus says that our hearts are the source of sin from which flows wrong words and actions (Matt. 15:18-20).
To my knowledge Mayweather is not a Christian but for Christian athletes, you must not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro. 12:2). Mind and heart in Scripture are closely paralleled. They both denote “attitude” or “motivation”. Christ purchases, this new heart, mind, motivation or attitude in the new covenant, by his death on the cross. He says in Luke 22:20, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” What is this new covenant? Ezekiel says it is a new heart and the Spirit within that causes the obedience of faith (Ezek. 36:26). Christians have this new heart regenerated by the Holy Spirit so that they can obey God and please him and discern what is good, acceptable and perfect in all areas of life. It took the grace filled death of the Son of God to accomplish that. Live in light of that mercy with a heart of gratitude.
Sport played well is designed by God ultimately to redound to the glory of the One who gives the talent. There is a way to play to win so that you are a valuable member of a team, yet with a heart and mind set on people seeing your skill and glorifying God. If God has gifted you in the sphere of sport then seek to please him first and the distinctive character of a Christian sportsman or woman will be formed in you. In this way you will be effectively used in your unique mission field for his glory and your joy. Your life is not your own. You were bought at a price to serve the Lord in sport as much as any other sphere of life. For whether it is natural or spiritual gifts it does not matter. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).