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Christian education - Sports, Marriage

Does God picks sides in sports and politics...and marriage?

The reason most people tune into the NFL playoffs is to watch large men fight over a small ball. But in 2015 there was also another battle going on, of interest even to those who can’t tell a pass from a pick. After their January 18 semifinal game that year, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a debate of sorts about whether God chooses sides in sporting contests. Though they were down most of the game, Seattle won by outscoring Green Bay 21-3 over the final six minutes. Afterward an ecstatic Russell Wilson credited God for his team’s remarkable comeback: “That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special.” Wilson’s statement seemed to imply that God wanted Seattle to win – that He was on Seattle’s side. As might be expected, losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a different perspective: “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome.” So does God pick sides in football games? Is God on our side? A few thousand years back a similar sort of question was asked right before a different sort of contest. Israel was about to attack Jericho when Joshua saw a man with drawn sword standing in front of him.

Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

Neither? It’s a curious answer – why wouldn’t the commander of God’s army side with God’s people? Because that would be getting things backward. Yes, there are two sides, but the dividing line isn’t drawn where we think it is – it isn’t a matter of us versus them. No, it’s all about God. Instead of expecting God to back our team we should start trying to be a part of His. Aaron Rodgers had it right: God isn’t for or against any football team. He doesn’t pick sides; He is the dividing line. The question we’re faced with is only, are we for or against Him? What does that look like? That’s the real question, and one we’re to consider any time we’re called to battle. In the political arena, many a Christian candidate has lost his way by asking God to support their campaign rather than ensuring their campaign sides with God. It’s only when getting elected becomes something secondary that siding with God can become our first priority. In marriage, we’re not called to battle, but battles do come, and it gets that much the worse if one spouse, or both, thinks that God is on their side. No, God isn’t going to side with your stubbornness. He doesn’t think you’re being principled; He knows you’re just self-centered. So stop thinking of yourself, and start thinking about Him and what it looks like to play for his team in your marriage. Then you’ll forget about being right, and worry about being biblical: being forgiving, submissive and self-sacrificial. There are also battles in basketball, baseball and every other sport too. When our kids are playing for their Christian school’s team they need to understand that God has a team out there on the floor, and there might well be a team opposing Him too, but that division won’t be shown via uniform colors. Players who want to side with God will make his priorities their own. So they can set their sights on scoring 20 and winning the championship game but that can’t be their ultimate goal. What’ll be more important is trying to do all that God’s way: playing with self-control, hearing the coach, respecting opponents and, despite the mathematical difficulties, giving 110%. Conclusion So God wasn’t siding with the Seahawks. That’s getting it backward. We are called to be on His team and called to play, and to campaign, and to love, and to battle His way. Let’s see things rightly and live our lives seeking His way.

This originally appeared in the March 2015 issue under the title "On whose side? Battling Christians should pick the right team"

Christian education - Sports

A Good Coach is Crucial: the potential and danger of school sport teams

“They’re nice, but not a priority.” Ask Reformed parents about our school’s sports teams and that’s a response you’re likely to hear. It's an understandable answer. With all the effort that has to go into finding and hiring good teachers, and developing curriculum, and fundraising school building projects, there may not be much energy left to think through how our sports teams can best be put to use. However, sometimes that means that the coaches are simply whoever is willing. And being willing is a good attribute; that's a virtue, certainly. But what other qualifications should we be looking for? If we're going to have sports teams in our schools they need to be a priority. And that's because these teams can be a potent force for good in our schools, or just as potent a force for evil. Without proper guidance, school sports teams may do more harm than good to our sons and daughters. Sports are good Sports can do harm? That may strike you as a bit over the top. After all, one of the arguments frequently used in favor of having these teams is that sports are said to build character. There’s a lot of history to this argument. 2400 years ago Plato insisted that physical activity made a man both physically and mentally tough. A little more than 400 years later the apostle Paul linked perseverance (Heb. 12:1), and self-control (2 Cor. 9:25) with athletics. In the 1800’s the Muscular Christianity movement promoted physical activity across North America believing that good Christians could be created by developing good athletes – the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was started by those that believed sport developed character. These last two groups thought that sport was intrinsically moral. They believed that just by playing a sport you would pick up character traits like teamwork, daring, discipline, cooperation, courage, perseverance, loyalty, and self-restraint. Sports are bad The biggest problem with this approach is that these character traits don’t make you moral. Sure, many of them would be useful to a Christian, but how many of them would also be equally useful to a mafia bodyguard or mob hitman? Teamwork, daring, discipline and cooperation? Those look good on anyone’s resume. These traits themselves could be seen as morally neutral. It’s what you do with them that counts. The fact is, rather than being intrinsically good, sport has a tendency to reinforce negative behavior. Without guidance, sports can teach kids that winning is all that matters. Athletes may learn that cheating or cheap play is only wrong if you get caught – kids will even learn how to retaliate without getting caught. They'll start dehumanizing their opponents by viewing them primarily as enemies to be conquered. And left on their own, kids will learn they can get away with griping about the refs too. After all, authority figures only deserve respect when they get the calls right! Sport’s potential This dark side to sport is why it needs a higher priority in our schools. Sport is a moral quagmire for even the most upright players. There are moral challenges every time a student steps out onto the court, field, or ice. Yes, students will be confronted with moral challenges in other areas of school life, but many will be of a more black and white variety. In any of their classes they will have to decide if they are going to do their own work, and their own test…or whether they'll cheat. It’s black and white. Even the students that do cheat know what they’re doing is wrong. They might still succumb to sin, but they don’t have to figure out whether they’re sinning. But in sport there are vast areas of gray. Kids have to contrast caring for their opponent with figuring out how to get past him to score the winning goal. Jostling is involved in most team sports, but how much physical contact is too much? Or for that matter, too little? Just how far do you go to win the game? It is this grayness that makes the playing field either one of the most potentially useful environments for character development, or one of the most harmful ones. An attentive and intelligent coach will force his players to work through these challenges, and will guide them back when they make the wrong decisions. He will bench his best player even if the ref didn’t notice the player’s cheap conduct. He’ll allow players to respectfully query the ref, but nothing more. He’ll explain that without opponents there is no game and won’t tolerate any bad sportsmanship. He’ll sit his team down to discuss the gray moral areas and the challenges present on the playing field. He'll encourage them to fail boldly, to get back up after messing up, and to stop caring how they look. He'll teach them that it really is how you play, and not whether you win or lose that gives God the glory. He'll talk about what it means to be a supportive teammate, and be others-focussed. He’ll teach them to turn the other cheek even when the opposition is playing cheaply or the refs are missing calls. A good coach will brag about how many good sportsmanship awards his team has won. He won’t leave them on their own, and he won’t let them learn the bad lessons of sport. But a bad coach…he'll just let the kids play. Conclusion Sports teams are a lower priority in most Reformed schools and that has to change. It isn’t so much that every school should have countless sports teams but if we are going to have them, then we need to be mindful as to how we are going to run them. It's important enough that if we can't find enough quality coaches, we should consider having fewer teams. Left to its own devices sport can be pretty bad…but in a Christian school, with an attentive Christian coach, it can also be an awesome means for young men and women to develop and grow athletically and spiritually....

Christian education - Sports

Sports teams are important for our Christian schools

Sports teams in a Christian school are sometimes seen as an expendable extra that requires a lot of time and effort. Some may even argue that the energy spent on these extracurricular programs detracts from the Biblical instruction that is our focus. However, team sports can be a very important part of a Christian school and their benefits should not be underestimated. For example, they provide an excellent means to teach Christian living and build Christian characteristics in the personalities of the students. Through these activities, athletic talents and abilities can be developed and recognized publicly. Sports teams can also be an effective way to build a sense of community by enhancing relationships between students, students and teachers, and the school and supporting families. The larger community can also be enhanced through school sports teams as athletics can serve as a method of witnessing. Implementing Christian principles Interactions on a playing field can be a great place to put Biblical principles into practice. The different scenarios that arise supply ample opportunity for teaching moments, especially lessons aimed at attitudes pertaining to a Christian lifestyle. During the sports action, attitudes such as caring for the opponent, playing honestly, and smiling under pressure can all be encouraged. Coaches can instruct their players to keep unwholesome talk from their mouths, to speak truthfully, and to say only things that are up-building to others (Eph 4:25-29). It is one thing to teach these in a Bible class and another to put them into practice in a pressure situation. Sport teams provide a controlled, supervised environment in which to monitor and encourage these proper Christian attitudes. Being a part of a sports team enables students to learn the art of losing gracefully (not trying to place blame on others, not making excuses) as well as winning gracefully (congratulating the other team, giving praise to God, not boasting). Overall, the athletes can be encouraged to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27) and make their faith evident to all. The teaching of respect for sport authorities is especially relevant for young Christians who are in the process of understanding the act of submitting to the authority of God. They can practice this attitude through interactions with coaches, referees and others in such positions. Respect in the sport domain includes following the command to do "all things without arguing and complaining" (Phil 2:4). What a teaching opportunity to put this into practice when the referee makes a call we do not agree with! Being on a Christian team will also help keep the stress of competition in perspective. Students will be taught that winning is not the most important aspect in athletics and definitely not a goal to obtain using means such as cheating or dirty play. Here also, students may enjoy the fact that sports teams in a Christian school will not pressure their athletes to play and practice on Sunday. This is an obstacle that young people face when they participate in community teams which frequently incorporate Sundays into their playing schedule, especially at the higher levels. Nurturing athletic talent Another benefit of the inclusion of sports teams in Christian schools is the development of athletic talent. We believe that we are all given gifts and abilities by God. For some, their strongest talents lie in athletics. When we instruct students to develop their gifts to the fullest, we should strive to provide a means and support for doing so. Sports teams are one way to grant such an opportunity. Public recognition of these athletes is a way to praise God for His wide diversity in granting abilities. This recognition is especially important for students that may excel in the sports arena, but struggle in other areas of school, such as academics. Celebrating athletic talents is also an important lesson for spectators to learn. Sports is a venue where students can be taught to compliment each other and look for the abilities, not the disabilities in their classmates. We must all learn to speak positively about each other and put our emphasis on building others up. Building relationships The third thing that school sports teams do is build a sense of community. This is evident primarily between the students themselves. Sports teams boost peer interaction by providing an avenue for fun. As opposed to class-time, which is primarily for working and being attentive, sports allow for a time of release and downtime. During this less-structured time at school, friendships can be fostered and peer pressure can be motivated towards a positive, wholesome goal. Sports teams also allow for unique interaction between teachers and students that may not arise in the classroom setting. Rules in the extracurricular arena are not as strictly defined, and the teachers and students have an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level. These friendships can build mutual respect that then transfers back into the classroom, promoting a very positive learning environment. A third area of the community that is strengthened by sports teams is that of parents and school. In our parental schools, this bond is an especially important one to foster. By being involved and supporting the school teams, the parents can stay in touch with activities at the school. Parental involvement also sends a supportive message to the teachers who often dedicate a lot of extra time to these activities. Parental support of the sports teams is also an excellent way for parents to strengthen the bond between themselves and their child. Supporting your child's team shows interest in his or her life. Watching your child play opens many doors for communication. For instance, you can discuss different plays, acknowledge accomplishments and analyze upcoming games. Increased communication, such as this, can only serve to strengthen the parent-child relationship and form a bond between the generations. Witnessing through sport Besides building up our own Christian community, school sports teams can serve as a way to reach out to our neighbors. For some people in our larger community, interacting with the athletes from Christian schools is as close to church as they will ever come. These people see the name "Christian" on our jerseys and scrutinize closely to see if our athletes, coaches and fans behave differently from them. What an opportunity to let our light shine! Our athletes must be taught to put Christian principles into practice and show exemplary sportsmanship. Coaches should discipline themselves to be even-tempered, positive and respectful. The coach can often set the tone for the team and proper Christian leaders should be encouraged to become involved to do this mentoring. A final aspect of our witnessing through sports involves the spectators. The command to say "only what is helpful for building others up" (Eph 4:29) applies especially to this group. Things such as coarse language, constant criticism and disrespect for referees are unacceptable for a Christian spectator. We should be careful to send the right message and let God's love shine through us! There are so many ways to praise God, and opportunities to focus on Him in the realm of sport. School sports teams should be supported by the community so that Christian teaching does take place and proper Christian leadership does occur. It is very important for Christian teachers and parents to become involved. In this way we can instruct and encourage our youth in ways that are pleasing to God. There are many benefits to the physical training that accompanies sports teams and if we maintain the proper focus in our Christian schools, then we can use these means to also promote godly training (1 Timothy 4:7b,8). Let's take the challenge and strive to run the race, not only physically, but also spiritually, so that we may win the prize of the imperishable "crown that will last forever" (1 Corinthians 9:24,25). This article first appeared in the May 2000 issue of Reformed Perspective....