In less than two weeks, Americans of all types will gather together to celebrate our nation’s unofficial holiday, the Super Bo…oh wait, I’m not allowed to use that phrase due to NFL rules. I guess I’ll just call it “the big game.” Like any good resident of Seattle, I’m bummed that our Hawks didn’t make it to the big game this year. At Sound City Bible Church, we’re still going to have all three of our normal service times (9a, 11a, and 5p) because I’d much rather teach through the book of Hebrews than be blinded with the bright and clashing uniforms of some ponies and kitty cats.
The Religion of Football
For many people, football goes much farther than just a cultural practice. Particularly among the “nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation — football takes the place that religion once held. Think about it.
- There is a weekly “worship service” (the games) where we see our “heroes of the faith” (the players) do great feats that inspire us.
- There are religious texts (sports blogs) and teachers (Sportscenter commentators) who instruct us in the deeper meaning behind the games.
- Tithes are collected (ticket sales and advertising revenue)
- Religious vestments are worn (jerseys)
- Denominations are organized (divisions & conferences)
- Accountability groups are started (fantasy football leagues)
- Prayers are offered (particularly when your team is losing)
So Is Football Sinful?
Hear me loud and clear on this: it is not a sin to enjoy football. The bible says that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). But, for the Christian, we must be careful to not let anything or anyone other than Jesus take the primary place of love, devotion, and sacrifice in our hearts and lives. If our devotion to anything is more than our devotion to God, then the bible clearly says that it is an idol. Not only is idolatry offensive to a holy God, these idols inevitably will let us down. As pastor and author Tim Keller says, “If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”
How Should I Relate?
So, what will you do on “Super Sunday?” Many of your friends, neighbors, and relatives will be gathering on that Sunday afternoon to celebrate this unofficial holiday. How will you respond? As I see it, you have three options: ignore, ingest, or invest.
You could choose to simply ignore the fact that this massive cultural event is happening around you. Some people ignore the game because they are legalistic or fundamentalist in their approach to culture. They don’t want to know anything about our culture’s practices or traditions, they are content to simply let the world around them go to hell in a hand basket. This is tragic, because God cares about people and people exist in cultures. If we want to share God’s love with people, we will need to be aware of the cultural habits and practices of the people around us. For other people, they ignore the game simply because they don’t care about football. This is fine (even if I don’t understand it!) but I can’t help but think that they might be missing an opportunity. The Apostle Peter tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). The “ignore” approach fails to take into account God’s invitation to follow him on his mission to love and redeem people.
Conversely, you could simply eat it up, enjoying the game and the holiday without any sort of critical thinking or intentionality. For people who take this approach, the game exists for their pleasure only. No thought is given to the dozens of people in their neighborhoods who are trying to satisfy a longing in their hearts with the passing pleasures of a sport. Again, it’s not a sin to enjoy football, but the Apostle Paul instructs us to make “the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). The “ingest” approach fails to take into account God’s command for Christians to not be conformed to the patterns of this world (Rom. 12:2).
This third approach avoids the two ditches listed above. Rather than avoiding the cultural phenomenon or simply ingesting it uncritically, this approach seeks to use this opportunity to engage with people who God wants to love and redeem. Let me ask you a few questions.
- How many of your neighbors do you know? What if you invited them over to your house to watch the game together?
- How many of your coworkers do you spend time with outside of work? What if you joined them at the restaurant where they will be gathering?
- How many of you have family members that you haven’t spent time with recently? What if you went to their house and showed up with some really good snacks (please don’t bring bad snacks, Christians; it’s a bad witness).
In any of these scenarios, what if you used the opportunity to get to know your neighbors or coworkers? Even better, what if you looked for opportunities to love these people, to serve them, and to share God’s love with them with both words and actions? Some of you need to consider hosting the best super Sunday party on your block and seek to do so in a way that gives God glory and invites others into relationship with him.