The following article is an opinion piece that reflects the views of the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.
Demons, Sports, and John
John, scared for his life, was certain demons were hounding his every footstep. At night, as he dreamt, he knew the devil labored to draw him away. He could not be rid of the hellish fiends, which bound his mind and actions in chains of eternal darkness. This is how John Bunyan, arguably one of the greatest Christian authors, accounts his early childhood.
The despair brought upon his mind at nine years-old was his love for sports. Bunyan wanted to play baseball. When he woke up, he wanted to play baseball. On Sunday mornings, he wanted to play baseball. At night when he went to sleep, he dreamed of baseball. He loved sports more than he loved Jesus. “In these days,” he wrote, “the thoughts of religion were very grievous to me. I could neither endure it myself, nor that any other should…. [it was like] a prison to me.” Bunyan’s struggle to love Christ caused him to realize that his temptation to play baseball in lieu of reading God’s Word and loving God was corrupting his soul.
One Sunday, after listening to a sermon, Bunyan was walking home and the idea of Christ’s love for him struck hard. “I remember that one day…. that Scripture came into my mind, He hath ‘made peace through the blood of his cross.’ God and my soul were friends by this blood…. This was a good day to me; I hope I shall not forget it.” He gave his life to Christ. Immediately his love for sports and his love for vain childish games ended.
Sports and the Lord
I’m not sure the church today would even plant in the mind of a child that loving sports in lieu of loving God is sinful.
Let me be clear, playing and enjoying sports is not inherently sinful. The Puritans didn’t think so either. The Puritans believed that any outward expression of love or interest which trumped a love for God and his Word was sinful; they considered sports and entertainment as top temptations toward idolatry and spiritual adultery. Our immediate temptation is to scoff at the Puritans. They’re too legalistic, too old fashioned, too boring. As the March Madness, the Masters, and the Kentucky Derby come to an end and baseball ramps up, perhaps its time for us to reflect on what we really love.
The Puritan’s warnings against leisure and sports used to seem hopelessly legalistic to me. As I view the apathy of our nation towards sin and the emotionalism poured into bowl games, tournaments, and championships, I can’t help but wonder if they were right. We can serve only one master. While the outward action of playing sports is not inherently wrong, our actions are not judged by themselves. God judges the outward action by the inward disposition of our heart.
I have a hunch our overindulgence in entertainment and sports, especially on the Lord’s day, does not come from the virtue of hard work and a competitive spirit, which made America a strong nation. More likely our overindulgence in sports and sports related news comes from two vices, gluttony and sloth.
Gluttony and Sloth
The Puritans thought of gluttony and sloth in ways a bit different from us. We tend to think a glutton only in terms of fat and food, sloth in terms of laziness and lax behavior. The Puritans believed that gluttony related to an internal disposition, consuming anything in place of Christ. A glutton for sports finds time to consume sports morning, noon, and night. Likewise, the Puritans thought of sloth not only as lazy behavior, but in terms of frantic obedience to another master; being slow to obey God and quick to obey anything else is sloth. If we know God’s commands but are slow to obey them because of our sports schedule, we’ve become sloths.
Taking this view of vice helps us to understand the Puritans and ourselves better. What do we love to consume? What are we quick to obey? For many of us, the buzz of a text message demands quicker obedience than God’s call to dwell with him. The necessity of Sunday games demands more reverence than worship.
Bunyan concluded that we ought to “make the Lord’s day the market for [our] souls; let the whole day be spent in prayer, repetitions, or meditations; lay aside the affair of the other part of the week; let the sermon [you have] heard be converted into prayer.” If his words appear as legalistic to the reader as they first did to me, let us remind ourselves of the excitement we poured into our brackets and into the swings of Tiger Woods and the lack of heart we poured into worship and biblical discipline.
“This one consideration would always kill my heart” Bunyan concluded, “my sin was point blank against my Saviour.”
 All quotes taken from John Bunyan, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”, in The Complete Works of John Bunyan, 704–721.
Contributing author: Sean Wegener
Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.