In a recent Barclays Premier League soccer match from England, I saw a banner declaring, “Chelsea is our religion. Stamford Bridge is our church.” That catchy motto, however, is not limited to that south London club or its stadium. Most of the teams in the world’s best soccer league have similar sayings. And, while I understand that it is, in most cases, an exercise in hyperbole, we need to recognize that there is danger there. And that danger resides in the reality that there is a fine line between being a rabid fan and worshiping the athletes or teams we cheer for.
For most fans, the balance between passionate support and unhealthy idolatry is seldom lost. But for others, it is more of a challenge. Our heroes on the field, court, or track can become an obsession that requires more from us than is appropriate. This kind of imbalance is sometimes seen in the extreme level of time commitment required for fantasy leagues and those otherwise fun and enjoyable participatory activities. In any case, the line gets crossed when we begin to take time away from the truly important elements of life and instead spend that time on sports in inappropriate and unhealthy ways.
The spiritual reality to this is all too clear. It has been said that our spiritual enemy, Satan, is not so much interested in having us worship him as he is in having us worship anyone or anything other than God. This is at the very heart of idolatry. Idolatry is not necessarily some hocus-pocus religious thing involving statues or carved images. It is the elevation of anything other than God to the point of supreme worth or attention or allegiance in our hearts.
In describing the conversion of the followers of Christ at Thessalonica, Paul said, “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).
The reality of their life with Christ was underlined by the fact that they had once given their hearts to idols, but now they were fully devoted to Christ. Yet, while that marked their conversion, it does not mean that they (or we) would never be vulnerable to such idolatry again. Just the opposite—which is why John wrote: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
There would not be any need for that warning if we were not vulnerable to the siren song of idols—whether they be religious idols, relational idols, or sports hero idols. What makes this so critical is that we were made for so much more. We were made for our Creator, not for things we ourselves can create with our own hands. We are called to higher ground, as Paul told the Corinthians: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ ” (2 Cor. 6:16).
The point is clear. Why should we settle for idols when the Creator Himself desires a relationship with us?
Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain