A balanced and helpful article for parents who are exercised about this issue.
Believers who would like a black and white answer to the subject of the involvement of Christian’s children in sports will be disappointed in this writing.
Before we get into this subject too far, however, I would ask a question: What is the difference between the ability to use the human mind to direct fingers to accurately strike keys on a piano keyboard and the same mind directing hands to accurately strike a ball?
Some would respond that the goal of the latter is entertainment. Yet it would seem to a clear-thinking mind that both skills (at least in the world) are eventually developed for the ultimate purpose of entertainment.
It is interesting that, while there is no mention of sports when Cain’s descendants turned from God, music is in the list of means used to enable a rebellious society to live apart from God (Genesis 4:16-22). The first recorded use of music was by people living without a relationship with God. Music can be soothing and can produce a calm spirit. And perhaps the intent of Cain’s descendents was to acquire the peace of God without the God of peace. Clearly, this seems to have been the case with King Saul. In 1 Samuel 16:14-17, Saul turns to music instead of turning to God when an evil spirit troubles him.
Thus, whether it be education with all its various disciplines, careers, the arts, or sports, all human endeavors have pitfalls and snares that can trap believers or their children. Consequently, we need vigilance to ensure that no interest whatever is allowed to turn our hearts or the hearts of our children from spiritual goals or be a substitute for an enjoyable relationship with God.
Perhaps there are more temptations in sports than in education, music, or other arts. Lists could be made for and against sports in the Christian context. Some would claim that team sports promote cooperation. Others would say it puts people in an unequal yoke with ungodly people, joining them in a common goal. Some would argue that it gives children the exercise they need. Others would say the energy could be put to better use. Some would say it helps them excel, while others would claim that the Scriptures do not encourage a competitive spirit. In the end, parents will have to use discretion to ascertain what is right for their family, keeping in clear focus that any ability their children have should be directed toward a God-glorifying end.
Being able to observe eleven grandchildren with a little more objectivity than when we were in the hubbub of raising our own, I see more clearly that some children are born with a natural ability for physical activities. Without any special direction or encouragement on the part of parents, some are attracted to sports activities from the moment motor skills begin to manifest themselves. Some children love a book and others a bat. To completely eradicate this inclination would be as impossible as changing the color of their eyes. In such cases the best that parents can hope for is to subdue it as much as possible.
As early as practicable, therefore, it is imperative to teach children spiritual values so they learn that the supreme purpose of life is not personal success and acclaim but rather to glorify God.
Spiritual values do not have to wait until children are believers. From the time they can comprehend simple concepts, truths should be laid in their hearts as dry sticks are arranged in a fireplace. Hence, when the Holy Spirit places the fire of the Word of God under them, they will burst into flame and be consumed in the will of God.
Scripture does not condemn children’s playing. On the contrary, one of the features of the future glorious day for Jerusalem is children playing in its streets: “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zech 8:5). Childhood and play are Siamese twins. Children learn many skills through play. But every facet and phase of their young lives must be directed and channeled toward divine purposes.
A. T. Pierson takes up the subject of recreation in his very helpful book, Godly Self-Control. In the chapter, Regulation of Amusements, he touches on Ecclesiastes 11:9, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” He observes that “In these few words we have the statement of our whole theme – the lawfulness of pleasure and the law of its restraint.”
He further states “Our natures demand rest, relaxation, and recreation. God recognized this need in a night of sleep and Sabbath rest. Having conceded thus much, we must add that if amusement is not to be perverted, it must be restricted” (emphasis his).
It goes without saying that an assembly is a place of spiritual endeavor and should not be organizing nor promoting sports for young believers. Unorganized activities outside the jurisdiction of the assembly may be fine in their place, but youth is a time when a keen mind and a strong body should be largely harnessed for God. Jeremiah reminds us that “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27).
Time, also, is a scarce commodity and should not be squandered in self-indulgence and without useful purpose. Rather than promoting sports, we should be directing children and young people away from one of the many snares of the world.
Ultimately, the aim of all Christian parenting is to bring a wholesome godliness to young lives, and every part of daily living should tend toward that goal. Physical activity (or any other activity) and personal excellence should never be an end in themselves. If we keep divine goals in view and seek divine guidance to reach them, we will know where to draw the line with our children so as not to embitter them with too much restraint nor to lose them to the world with too much liberty.