OK, here is an article which I can pretty much assume will cause many people – including many Christians – to get really upset with me. In fact, going from past experience, I can almost guarantee it. Some folks will be furious that I dare to even pen a piece like this. Some will even want to never have anything to do with me again.
Yes, for some at least, it will be that serious. But as I will explain, if this is the reaction they have, then it is more than likely that the problem lies with them, and not with me. I have simply touched a sore spot here, and they don’t like it. I hope I don’t get hated on here, but I have a feeling that some folks will.
So what am I rambling on about here? Today 100,000 worshippers will descend upon a holy shrine in Melbourne for an annual pilgrimage involving one of the major religious traditions in Australia. And millions of other devoted followers of this religion will watch it all from a distance. This annual event is the high point of their calendar – almost a holy day.
I take it most of you now know exactly what I am talking about here. For the tiny handful of folks in Australia who have no clue what I am on about, and for most folks overseas, let me spill the beans. Today is the Grand Final of the Australian Football League. And for many, this is the most important day of the year.
Now that I have many of you hating on me big time for daring to step on your toes, let me say this: I have nothing against sport as such, and I do enjoy watching it some myself. And it can always be exciting when your fav team makes it to the end of the season to play for the top award.
Thus I do not begrudge AFL fans and the Grand Final taking place today. But my point remains nonetheless. And if what I say here offends you greatly, then maybe you need to take a good hard look at your own self, and not just lash out at me.
The truth is, for millions of Australians, sport in general and the footy in particular has become an idol. Let me remind you what the Christian believes in regard to idolatry. It is putting anything ahead of the one true living God. In 21st century Australia there are many such idols.
As A.W. Pink once put it, an idol is “anything which displaces God in my heart. It may be something which is quite harmless in itself, yet if it absorbs me, if it be given the first place in my affections and thoughts, it becomes an ‘idol’. It may be my business, a loved one, or my service for Christ. Any one or any thing which comes into competition with the Lord’s ruling me in a practical way, is an ‘idol’.”
Power, money, success, fame, fortune and so on are just some of the idols of our day. And there is no doubt that for many football is a very real religion: it consumes all their passions, it excites them like nothing else does; it is what they live, breathe and talk about, and their lives go up or down depending on how their particular team is performing.
If their fav team wins today, there will be rejoicing in the streets, partying and celebrations the likes of which have not been seen since the end of WWII was declared (or since last year’s game!). There was pandemonium in the streets in 1945, and in a few hours we will see similar scenes here.
And for those whose team is on the losing end, there will be overwhelming amounts of grief, depression, anger and misery. I would not doubt that some fans might even entertain thoughts of suicide. It is that serious for some. Footy is that much of a god for so many.
And even if your fav teams are not playing today, there will be millions of people hyper-animated and hyper-ventilating today, screaming their heads off, and showing more emotion than they otherwise would do all year. This much enthusiasm can be a mark of idolatry.
So let me now speak to believers here. We expect non-Christians to come up with all sorts of false gods for which they will dedicate their lives to. But for Christians it should be a different matter. Yes, as mentioned, by all means enjoy sport – either as a participant or a spectator – and have a fav team that you support.
It can be a nice bit of relaxation and leisure for many believers. Nothing wrong with that. But I think I can very safely say that for too many Christians, today – and other days – can be an idolatrous time. They will be utterly absorbed in the action and show more passion and desire for this than they have shown God all year.
Even the word “enthusiasm” is of interest here. It comes from the Greek words “in God”. It is in God and God alone that we get enthusiastic and thrilled to bits. Sure, we can appreciate other neat things in life, but God should be our chief source of praise, excitement and worship.
Yet too many believers will be far more concerned about their fav team than they are about God. They will actually praise and adore their team more than they ever do God. They will be utterly fanatical about their team and their prospects for success than they ever will about their faith and their Lord.
As such, they are idolaters. Sorry, I can feel the angst and the anger already welling up in some of you. But let me call it as it is. Indeed, simply take the following test and see how you come out in all this:
-If sport gets you far more excited, passionate, devoted and thrilled than God does, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If you can scream yourself hoarse every weekend at a game, but never say a word at a Sunday worship service, you may be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If you can spend all week talking about your team and how they did and what you hope from them, but never talk about Jesus Christ in public at all, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If you can get together with other believers and party all night because of a sporting outcome, but you will never stay up all night for a mid-weekly prayer meeting, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
-If the thing you think about, talk about and emote about the most is your particular sporting team, but not the Lord Jesus Christ, you may well be guilty of the sin of idolatry.
Just sayin’. Don’t shoot me – I am simply the messenger here. I know many Christians indeed love the Lord, and they enjoy their sport, but it is a secondary love for them. They do have their priorities right. I am not here talking about such people.
But let’s be honest. I think we all know of people who are at best very lukewarm about the Lord and very half-hearted about their faith, while they are hyper-passionate about their sport. They live, breathe, eat and sleep sport, but Christianity is but a secondary item at best.
These folks are idolaters. I say this on the authority of the Word of God. And recall that there are all sorts of idols out there. You may have no love of sport whatsoever. But there may well be other things in your life that command your supreme loyalty, attention and devotion.
Whatever that is, if it is not the Lord Jesus Christ, that for you is idolatry. Again, if you are greatly upset right now, please do not lash out on me. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you are getting all hot under the collar right now, and want to send in a nasty comment to me, maybe you need to spend a few minutes on your face before God.
Ask him if there is anything in your life that may in fact need to be changed. Ask him if there are indeed any idols in your life. It is all too easy for any one of us Christians to make idols out of things. I am just as prone as this as anyone else.
So please, no attack comments here thanks. For the third time, sport can be a really good thing. I too enjoy it, and I too can have fav teams or individuals. There is nothing amiss with a healthy interest in such things. But any honest believer will know that for many, there can well be a very unhealthy and dangerous interest and devotion to such things.
That is my concern here. So enjoy the rest of your day. Enjoy the footy if you are there at the MCG, or if you are watching it on TV. My wife and I might hit the shops this afternoon while the streets and stores will be almost completely deserted!
And for any partisans out there: Go the Tigers! And, Go the Crows!