You walk into church on Sunday morning with your gym bag in hand. As you take your seat, you notice a few disapproving looks from some of the older members. “Why do you have your gym bag with you?” they seem to be thinking. “Don’t you know Sunday is a day of rest and worship?”
You’ve attended this church your whole life. You love God and want to honor Him with your life. But you also love sports. Playing them, watching them, talking about them. Sports are a huge part of who you are. So naturally, you want to get in some time on the field or court on Sundays too.
But then the guilt starts to creep in. Is it wrong for me to play sports on Sunday? you wonder. Should I be spending the entire day in church or Bible study or prayer instead?
This issue has been a source of debate among Christians for decades. There are good arguments on both sides. As with any question of conscience, Christians can thoughtfully disagree.
Let’s explore what the Bible really teaches about activities like sports on the Sabbath. And how you can honor God with your hobbies while still keeping the Sabbath day holy.
- The principle behind Sabbath rest is ceasing regular work to focus on spiritual renewal. Sports may or may not violate this, depending on your heart motivation.
- Jesus opposed legalistic man-made rules about the Sabbath, emphasizing that the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit.
- Each Christian must prayerfully decide whether sports activities on Sunday violate their conscience and hinder their spiritual growth.
- While sports are not inherently sinful, they can become idolatrous if they distract you from pursuing Christ wholeheartedly. Evaluate your motivations.
- Consider setting aside Sundays as a day of worship, rest, and service to others. Play sports on another day instead. But avoid judging those who view this differently.
The Heart Behind the 4th Commandment
To start, we need to understand the big picture purpose behind the 4th Commandment:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11 NKJV)
This commandment goes all the way back to Creation. After six days of fashioning the universe, God set aside the seventh day as a day of rest. Later, in the Ten Commandments, God formalized this pattern for the nation of Israel, commanding them to set aside the seventh day as a mandatory day of rest and worship.
The core motivation was spiritual. God wanted His people to take a break from their regular work routines to instead focus on Him, restoring their souls through prayer, worship, and time in His presence. The Sabbath was to be a sacred time set apart for pursuing spiritual renewal and rejecting worldly distractions.
Of course, this commandment was given thousands of years before sports like football, basketball, and soccer were invented. The specific activities God prohibited were forms of occupational work and profit-making commerce. However, we can draw timeless principles from this commandment that apply to any potential distraction from setting aside spiritual rest and worship.
The key questions to ask about sports on Sundays are:
- Heart Motivation: Why do I want to play sports on Sundays? Is it purely for enjoyment and recreation? Or does it stem from idolatrous attitudes where I value sports over God? Be brutally honest.
- Level of Distraction: Will playing sports prevent me from genuinely focusing my heart on God Sunday morning, both during church services and in my personal time with Him? If so, it violates the Sabbath principle.
- Proper Priorities: Is sports an idol that consistently takes me away from pursuing Christ wholeheartedly? Be willing to sacrificially lay down anything that hinders your walk with God.
With the right heart motivations, playing sports on Sundays need not violate core Sabbath principles. But beware of letting it become an idol. Evaluate your conscience prayerfully.
Jesus Opposed Legalistic Sabbath Rules
It’s important to remember that Jesus Himself frequently challenged the legalistic man-made rules the Pharisees added to the Sabbath command. He wasn’t afraid to break their extra rules if it meant ministering to people’s needs and showing mercy.
For example, Jesus healed a man’s paralyzed hand on the Sabbath, defending His actions to the critical Pharisees by saying:
“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9 NKJV)
And when the Pharisees condemned Him for healing a woman crippled for 18 years on the Sabbath, Jesus responded:
“Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:15-16 NKJV)
Clearly, Jesus opposed strict legalistic rules that lost sight of the purpose of the Sabbath—to do good and show mercy. He emphasized that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NKJV). God established it first and foremost for our benefit, not as a religious burden.
So if you play sports on Sundays with the right heart motivations, don’t let legalistic Christians make you feel guilty. Jesus Himself likely would have opposed such rigid judgmental rules. The key is keeping your heart focused on honoring God.
Each Christian Must Decide for Themselves
Because there is room for interpretation here, each Christian must prayerfully decide for themselves before God whether participating in sports on Sundays violates their conscience or hinders their walk with God.
The New Testament gives instructions on handling disputed matters of conscience like this. Romans 14:5 tells us:
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (NKJV)
And Colossians 2:16 warns:
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (NKJV)
In other words, don’t let others impose their personal standards of right and wrong on you in these matters of Christian freedom. But also respect the convictions of other Christians who view activities on Sunday differently than you.
As you ponder your own decision, consider asking yourself:
- “Do I emerge from sports more spiritually renewed and ready to pursue Christ, or more distracted and fatigued?”
- “What do godly mentors I respect think about sports on Sundays?”
- “Could I make Sunday a day focused on worship, rest, and service to others, and play sports instead on a different day?”
Let your conscience guide you as you seek God’s wisdom. But avoid a legalistic mindset.
Idolatry is the Real Concern
When considering sports on Sundays, the real concern is idolatry. Anything – even good things like ministry, family, or hobbies – can become an idol if it distracts you from pursuing Christ wholeheartedly.
That’s why Exodus 20:3 prefaces the Sabbath command by saying, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” The principle behind Sabbath-keeping is letting nothing rival God for first place in your heart.
So beware of sports becoming too big of a priority in your life. If you spend more time playing than praying, more energy debating teams than discussing Christ, then sports may be an idol hindering your walk with God.
1 John 5:21 warns plainly: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” An idol is anything that we love or pursue more than God.
- “If I had to give up either Christ or sports, which would I choose?”
- “Do I enthusiastically make time for sports but struggle to make time for God?”
- “After a game, am I more excited to discuss play-by-plays or praise God?”
Your honest answers will reveal if sports have become an idol in your heart. If so, repent. No hobby or entertainment is worth losing your closeness with Christ.
Keep Sundays Focused on Christ
In the end, for many Christians the wise choice is to keep Sundays focused on worship, rest, and service to others. This allows sports to have a healthy but limited role in their lives. They don’t necessarily see recreation on Sundays as intrinsically evil. But they’ve chosen to reserve that day for pursuing Christ with fewer distractions.
I would encourage you to consider setting aside Sundays as well for activities like:
- Attending church services morning and evening
- Singing worship songs or listening to sermons at home
- Reading the Bible, praying, and journaling
- Inviting non-believing friends to church
- Serving on ministry teams at church
- Visiting elderly shut-ins to encourage them
- Enjoying a meal with family or small group and discussing God’s work in your lives
- Taking a nap or going for a relaxing walk to de-stress
Of course, this is just one way to keep the Sabbath. You may prefer a different approach. The key is that your schedule reflects Sunday as a sacred day focused on spiritual renewal.
Playing sports interferes less when it’s limited to another day of the week instead. Saturday or Monday evenings can become game nights. You still get to enjoy the sports you love without the spiritual tug-of-war over Sundays.
It’s a disputed issue without a definitive right or wrong answer. Much depends on your motivations and impact on your personal walk with God. But beware of idolatry. Evaluate your heart. And focus Sunday on pursuing Christ wholeheartedly.
Apply these principles prayerfully. Discuss them with mature believers. Study God’s Word more. Then follow your conscience.
But avoid a judgmental attitude toward other Christians who view sports on Sundays differently. As Romans 14:4 reminds us, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” We must all follow our personal convictions before the Lord.
So go play that Sunday game if your conscience permits. But play first and foremost to the audience of One. Keep growing in your love for Jesus above all else. Let that be your guiding focus. Then you canjoy Christian freedom without compromising your devotion to Christ.
By keeping Him first place in your heart, you can honor God with your hobbies while still keeping the Sabbath day holy. The right priorities will keep activities like sports in their proper place—as blessings to enrich your life but never distract from living all for Jesus.