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Questions and Answers

Is it possible to engage in sports without becoming overly competitive? Certain sports foster aggressive activity but others like ping pong seem to be less aggressive. What about playing board games such as “Monopoly” or “Trivial Pursuit” or various card games?

Outline of the Answer
• The Issue is Competition
• Something Very Right about Humility
• How Will You Explain It?

 
In regard to whether sports and games interfere with living a holy life, the issue isn’t aggression, it’s competition. Because all games are a form of competition to one degree or another, listen, then, to what Saint Paul tells us:

  

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but everyone for those of others.

  

—Philippians 2:3-4

So, if you take Saint Paul seriously, imagine playing ping-pong without hitting the ball back, so that the other person can accumulate all the points he wants. Imagine playing bridge without doing anything to obstruct the other players in claiming all the points they want. Imagine two teams of men joyfully walking from one end of a field to the other, helping each other to accumulate all the touchdowns they want. In the eyes of the world, it would be boring, wouldn’t it? Well, in the eyes of the world, Christianity is boring. That’s why the Roman Empire made a sport out of killing Christians: it made Christianity into something exciting.

Consequently, theological writers have been saying for ages that each person must fight the spiritual battle in his own heart, without regard for what others do. If you’re always comparing yourself to others—whether at work or in recreation—you will either be feeling inferior and jealous or superior and proud. Only when you stop concerning yourself with what others are doing can you be truly humble.

It cannot be said more simply or more clearly:
Competition is fundamentally opposed to love.

 
Something Very Right about Humility

So let’s not waste time arguing about whether there is anything “wrong” with this game or that game—as if there were some secret pleasure in it that we have to pretend we don’t want while in the depths of our hearts we secretly desire it; this sort of self-deception only leads to a puritanical attitude, which is a heresy.

The point here is that there is something very, very right about humility as a core aspect of Christianity. Christ calls us to die to ourselves—to set aside our pride—so that we can focus on the real problem: ourselves. Anything that uses competition to develop our talents misses the point; our talents should be developed to serve God. Instead of always thinking about how to “rack up points” for ourselves at the expense of others, we should open our hearts to genuine concern for others.

  

Now, physical activities such as hiking, running, skiing, and bicycle riding, when done noncompetitively, can promote health and self-discipline, so they can be good in that sense—as long as they do not fall into the trap of vainglory.

  

 
How Will You Explain It?

Just remember one thing though. Someday you will have to stand before Christ, and, as he scrutinizes your record in the Book of Life, he will say, “What’s this? I was cold and hungry with no place to lay my head, and you were in Palm Springs, at a fancy resort, in opulence and luxury, playing golf and eating gourmet food, for no other purpose than personal pleasure? How do you explain that?”

Well, how will you explain it?

So, if you do spend money on games and entertainment (resorts, sports equipment, user fees, transportation costs), then be sure to donate at the very least an equal amount of money to charity. That donation won’t make up for any neglect of your own spiritual development, but it will pay some of the cost of your failure to spend the time praying for the poor souls who have no one to pray for them.

Read an opinion of dissent . . .

 


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