You are the Light of the World
What is the implication of this mountain teaching for Nigerian Christians? As much as the teaching is not meant for the crowd, but for the disciples who came to the Master Teacher, so also is it not meant for ‘musclemen’[xi] but for muscular Christians. In other words, the message is not meant for all Nigeria athletes and spectators, but for those who are born again among them. Therefore, for any Nigerian athlete and/or spectator to be involved in relational evangelism, such must have come to the Lord Jesus as the Savior and Lord. Moreover, one should not allow the corruption and ungodliness in the world of sports take the place of one’s commitment to Christian morality, health and manliness because Christians are supposed to be the light of the world. If others will see their good deeds and glorify their Father in heaven, Nigeria Christians, both athletes and spectators, must consciously be committed to:
1. Christian Morality;[i] focus on doing good. Christian athletes and spectators should not allow the flesh and the world to control or dictate what they do on the pitch and/or outside the pitch. Nigeria Christians should allow the Holy Spirit to work through them and grow the fruit of the Spirit in them. A consciously growing Christian athlete or spectator would not allow the flesh and the world to be in charge in his/her life. Such will not allow sexual immorality and/or any form of impurity to defile and/or deface his/her body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3: 16; Galatians 5:19 – 23). Nigeria Christian athletes and spectators should flee pre-marital sex and/or extra-marital sex as the case may be in their participation in sports. They should also realize that their bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit, should be and remain pure. None of them should also inscribe tattoo, which is presently in vogue in the world generally and particularly in sports on their bodies.[ii] Christian athletes and/or spectators should not be involved in any form of betting or gambling which is now referred to in Nigeria as Naira Bet, Fortune Bet, 1960Bet or any other bets of such. Naira, Fortune and 1960 Bets are situations where spectators (and probably athletes) predict the result of a match, especially football, with their money with the hope of multiplying the money. If the prediction is eventually wrong, the ones who predict results lose ones’ money. This is common in various sports/football viewing centers in the country. It is evil and shameful. Andrew Parker and Mike Collins suggested ‘Rational Recreation’[iii] as a way out of these mishaps in the world of Sports. Rational recreation is “the will of the social elite to reform society by re-directing the energies of the masses away from the vagaries of drinking, gambling, and disorder and towards new forms of social behaviors”[iv] (Emphasis added).
Pope John Paul II, at a seminar held in Rome from November 11 to 12 in 2005, said,
“. . . in addition to a sport that helps people, there is another that harms them; in addition to a sport that enhances the body, there is another that degrades it and betrays it; in addition to a sport that pursues noble ideals, there is another that looks only for profit; in addition to a sport that unites, there is another that divides . . . .”[v]
One could say the then Pope of the Catholic Church was referring to rational and irrational recreation in his statement. In other words, the Church in Nigeria through her leaders should endeavor to, through thorough teaching of God’s words, counsel, and prayers, re-direct the mentalities and energies of Christian athletes and spectators, that they in turn may go and re-direct the mentalities and energies of the masses from social vices and godlessness to godliness and Christ-likeness. “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character. Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God – I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34).
“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2: 11 – 12; Emphasis mine).
2. Health;[vi] focus on living good. Physical activity, physical exercise and physical fitness are three terms that describe different concepts. However, they are often confused with one another, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that result in energy expenditure. It can be categorized into occupational, sports, conditioning, household or other activities.[vii] Physical exercise is the activity of exerting your muscles in various ways to keep fit. It is a subset of physical activity. What distinguishes it from the general physical activity is that it is planned, structured and repetitive in nature.[viii] Physical fitness is a set of physical attributes related to a person’s ability to perform physical activity successfully, without undue strain and with a margin of safety. Its attributes are either health- or skilled-related.[ix] The degree to which people have these attributes can be measured with specific tests.
Naturally speaking, sporting activities, physical activities, and/or physical exercise helps the body to be healthy and enhance physical fitness.[x] Research has shown that regular physical exercises, not necessarily physical activity, can help one reduce the risk of having, not necessarily preventing one from having, various health challenges,[xi] which includes the following among others: Heart disease, Stroke, High Blood Pressure, Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes, Obesity, Back Pain, Osteoporosis, and Old-Age Disability.[xii]
However, the Scriptures do not categorically tell us to engage ourselves in physical exercise but in spiritual exercise, which is of both ephemeral and eternal benefits to the spirit-man: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4: 7 – 8; Emphasis mine). Meanwhile, because God wants us to be in good health (3 John 2) and physical exercise keeps us in good health, one can conclude that God wants us to exercise our bodies that we may be in good health. Therefore, Nigeria Christians of all age ranges, and youth in particular, should endeavor to exercise their bodies regularly that they may enjoy good health and be strong enough to live for Christ and preach the gospel to the erring world.
Nevertheless, it is rather unfortunate that in recent time, we often hear that some professional athletes are using hard drugs and substances to enhance their performances on the pitch of play. This is referred to as Doping in sports. Doping “may refer to any substances or method currently banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).”[xiii] Apart from the fact that this is evil in the sight of God, it is unacceptable in the world of Sports and even dangerous to the body.
On the other hand, spectators also use hard drugs and hard/alcoholic drinks to stimulate themselves while watching the game or while in celebration mood after their respective favorite teams might have won their games. This I refer to as Irrational Recreation.[xiv]
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths each year, and approximately 320,000 young people between 15 and 29 years die each year from causes related to alcohol, a 9% of deaths in this group of age.”[xv]
Hence, Nigeria Christians who intend to shine their light in the darkened world of sports should not join the world to use any of these alcoholic drinks and hard drugs to enhance performances during competitions and should not use them for celebration after they might have won because it is dangerous to their health and evil before the Lord. Nigeria Christian athletes and spectators should flee Irrational Recreation.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6: 14 – 16a; Emphasis mine)
3. Manliness;[xvi] focus on quality life. The dictionary meaning of manliness is to have qualities associated with men such as courage and strength.[xvii] Participation in sports avails one the opportunities to learn some basic principles of life. Qualities such as teamwork, honesty, self-control (or self-restraint), perseverance, disappointment, commitment, service to others (or servanthood), sacrifice, courage, encouragement[xviii], self-esteem, stress management,[xix] “temper, fairness, honor, unenvious approbation of another’s success and all that ‘give and take’ of life which stand a man in good stead when he goes forth into the world . . . ”[xx] among others. However, because the list seems to be inexhaustible, C. S. Lewis’ series of radio talks during the World War II, as documented by Steve Connor, where he gave seven virtues[xxi] to life, summarizes what manliness is. Manliness is for the Christian to possess Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude, Faith, Hope and Love.[xxii] Nigeria Christian athletes and spectators should rather focus on improving these qualities in them than just playing or watching sports for fun and material gain. “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8; Emphasis mine).
Good knowledge of teamwork in sport would help the Christian become a good team player in other works of life than sport. Lack of self-control would always cause one to manifest an out-burst of anger and/or other moral vices both on the pitch and outside the pitch. Defeat in sports often goes hand in hand with disappointment. Nigeria Christian athletes and supporters should be able to accept defeat in sports with good fate rather than having ‘it is either I win or you burst’ mentality. God must always be glorified in our participation in sports, as either a player or a spectator.[xxiii] If Nigeria Christians have all these qualities in increasing measure, they will help to have improved relationship with people around them and thereby help them sharpen their relational evangelism call and skill in the nation.
Religious crises in Nigeria have made One-on-one evangelism very difficult for Christians. Relational evangelism is a valid evangelism tool for Nigeria Christians, especially Christian athletes and spectators. However, it is rather unfortunate that the lifestyles of majority of these sports-minded people in the contemporary time do not reflect any form of godliness and Christ-likeness. The light of Christian athletes and spectators is now fading out because of negligence and worldliness. Sports Ministry “is to keep pace with secular sporting provision, whilst distancing itself from the moral dissonance which it often promotes, that is arguably the most pressing challenge for modern-day sports ministry.”[xxiv] Therefore, Nigeria Christians, both athletes and spectators, should be consciously committed to Christian morality –doing good, health –living good and manliness –quality life as the Bible teaches; “. . . among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2: 12).
Maranatha! Jesus is coming back again.
Rev. Samuel A. ALABI
Sports Ministry Unit,
Youth and Students Ministries Department,
Nigerian Baptist Convention