Sport is brilliant, but it's not always straightforward, it can be challenging to live as a Christian within the world of sport. AskCIS is our series where we think through the questions you send in to help you live and speak for Jesus in your sports club or team.
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Dear Christians in Sport,
I’ve been playing competitive sport for many years and I keep wrestling with this question – does God care if I win or lose? I don’t pray to win or for the opposition to lose but I do wonder whether God really minds either way. Does the Bible have anything to say on this?
- Jamie in England
This is a key question for any sportsperson to grapple with.
Our word ‘competition’ is rooted in the Latin word competere, which means to strive together, to push one another on. In other words, part of the way that sport works is that through the adversarial system of having a winner and a loser two parties, are pushed to improve attaining ‘faster, higher, stronger’ (as the Olympic motto puts it). To say ‘I do not mind whether I win or lose’ is to undermine the goal of the activity and therefore in some sense to undermine sport as a whole.
The apostle Paul implies this in 2 Timothy 2:5 when he argues:
“Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”
Notice that Paul openly talks about ‘competition’ (and does not say it is a bad thing) and assumes that victory is a worthy end for the athlete. So if we care about winning and losing (and we do), does God?
Ultimately we want to say he does care because he knows that the result of individual games and competitions put our lives on different trajectories. He is sovereign and we are told in Romans 8:28 that:
“In all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
If we believe God is in charge of the universe and he works all things for our good, this has to include our sport.
They key here is defining properly what Paul means here by “good.” For us we think “good” is winning all the time, breaking world records and getting promoted.
But Paul continues in verse 29 as he says:
“For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
The “good” God works in us is making us more like Jesus – having our character changed so we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
The uncomfortable truth is that the Spirit often cultivates these characteristics in adversity. Have you thought that God might be more interested in your godliness than your success?
He can use the pain of defeat, the shame of a loss, to remind us of our identity fixed and secure in Him as our Father. He can use the joy of victory which fades quickly, to remind us of the everlasting joy of heaven to come.
As we either win or lose, God is blessing both the “winner” and the “loser” with another opportunity to worship God in how we respond to him and to those around us. He even uses the outcomes to allow those who don’t yet trust in Jesus to realise their need for him as they see the hollowness of both victory and defeat at being able to provide lasting satisfaction.
Yes, categorically yes. He cares because he loves us and longs us to be more like him.
Do you have any burning questions about sport and faith?
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