The Place Sports Have
THE Grand Creator is described in the Bible as “the happy God,” and he wants his creatures to be happy. (1 Timothy 1:11) So it should not be surprising that he created humans with the capacity to enjoy play. The New Encyclopædia Britannica thus reports: “The history of sports and games is a part of the history of man.”
The appearance of the ball is said to have been the most significant factor in the history of games. “The observation that animals enjoy gambols with playthings,” says the above-quoted encyclopedia, “suggests that there may never have been a time . . . when a ball substitute was not chased or thrown.”
Interestingly, some instrument has also long been used to bat the ball. “Certainly there were stick games played by the Persians, Greeks, and American Indians,” the Britannica notes. “Polo, a word of Tibetan origin, was apparently well known in some form to the Persians at the time of Darius I (reigned 522-486 BC). Golf, though claimed by Scotland in its modern form, had respectable antecedents in Roman times and in many European countries.”
Early Emphasis on Games
Hundreds of years before the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) was completed, organized sports were popular. For example, games were held every four years at ancient Olympia, Greece. The Britannica reports: “There are records of the champions at Olympia from 776 BC to AD 217,” or for nearly a thousand years! The Olympic Games were so important in Greek life that time was measured by them, each four-year time segment between the games being called an Olympiad. Thus, according to that early method of counting time, Jesus Christ was born during the 194th Olympiad.
The Hebrew Scriptures do not say anything about organized games, although one of the prophets speaks about “the public squares of [Jerusalem being] filled with boys and girls playing.” (Zechariah 8:5) Over a hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Greek athletic contests were introduced into Israel. A gymnasium was set up in Jerusalem, and even some priests neglected their duties in order to engage in the games.—2 Maccabees 4:12-15.
Augustus Caesar, Roman emperor when Jesus was born, had a love for athletics, and games became popular in Rome. However, the events that really interested the Roman citizenry were those that involved fighting, such as boxing and wrestling. These “sports” often deteriorated into violent, bloodletting contests in which men were pitted against one another or against animals in fights to the death.
Sports in the “New Testament”
Yet, such terrible abuses of sports did not mean that playing them was wrong. Never do we read in the Scriptures of Jesus or his followers condemning games or the playing of them. Rather, the apostles often used features of them to illustrate points of teaching.
For example, the apostle Paul evidently had in mind the footraces featured in the Olympic Games when he encouraged Christians: “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it.” He added: “Every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one.”—1 Corinthians 9:24, 25.
On another occasion, Paul said that a Christian should run with determination to win the prize of life. “I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God,” he wrote. (Philippians 3:14) Further, when illustrating the need to adhere to the rules of a moral life, Paul reminded Timothy: “If anyone contends even in the games, he is not crowned unless he has contended according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5) And the apostle Peter wrote that Christian shepherds who fulfill their responsibilities “will receive the unfadable crown of glory.”—1 Peter 5:4.
No doubt young Timothy would have been involved in shepherding young Christians who enjoyed sports. Therefore, Paul wrote him that “bodily training [as a gymnast] is beneficial for a little,” thus acknowledging that the gymnastic exercises practiced rigorously by the Greeks were of some benefit. “But,” Paul quickly added, “godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8; see The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures.
A Proper Place for Exercise
So the Scriptures indicate that bodily exercise can have a proper place in life. Yet, there is a need for balance, for reasonableness. “Let your reasonableness become known to all men,” Paul wrote. (Philippians 4:5) How difficult, though, to find this balance!
The early Greeks overemphasized games, and the Romans featured types that harmed the participants as well as those who took pleasure in the gory spectacles. On the other hand, some in the name of religion have repressed and even prohibited games. The New Encyclopædia Britannica observed: “The puritanical attitudes of the 17th century reduced the amount of fun in Europe and America.”
Sports have recently experienced a resurgence perhaps never equaled in history. “Next to the weather,” says The World Book Encyclopedia, “people probably talk more about sports than about any other topic.” Sports have even been called “the opiate of the masses.”
What are some of the problems that such fervor for sports has created? Are you or your family suffering any adverse effects as a result? How can you keep sports in their proper place?