Should Christians Watch the World Cup?
The short answer to the question is “Yes,” provided that we want to and that we can watch it to the glory of God. Whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we must do all to the glory of God. Of course, the issue is whether or not the 2010 FIFA World Cup glorifies God. Does it? It seems to me that each Christian will want to answer that question for himself. As for me, I have answered the question with 10 ways to watch the World Cup to the glory of God.
10. The World Cup—like no other sport really—focuses our attention on the world. I have a tendency to be “parochial,” meaning that I tend to think like an American, but Christ is reigning over all the earth. So, watching Brazil, Nigeria, and Cameroon play soccer causes me to think of the Christians I have met in those places, remembering the sweet fellowship we share which cannot be separate by oceans, skin color, language, or cultural peculiarities. Soccer unites the world like no other sport, but it cannot unite people like the Christ of John 17.
9. Soccer is more fun when watched in a group. Bars and pubs everywhere draw great crowds for futbol cheers. Christians can join together, too, to watch soccer. While doing so, Christians join together with fellow believers all over the world. Just imagine that in every country represented in the World Cup, there are Christian brothers and sisters. Even in North Korea, there are brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, it might be a good reminder when we see those countries to pray for the believers who certainly are alive there. They are in grave danger from persecution. But Christians are everywhere because Christ has purchased them from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
8. There is also fellowship with some of the players in the World Cup. If you do a little homework, you can find the names of the believers in the World Cup. On the U.S. squad, for instance, the starting goalie, Tim Howard, is a believer with whom we share fellowship. It is always fun to cheer on a brother or sister. (I think that is one reason so many folks became fans of the Florida Gators).
7. The World Cup provides a very stiff level of competition, and competition is indicative of the reality of life in a fallen world. Concentrating on the defense and the incredible power and precision necessary to break through it allows me to think of the manner in which Christ has broken through the most potent forces marshaled by the prince of the power of the air. Competition and struggle are but dim reminders of the one Christ who has defeated all enemies and is now waiting as they are becoming a footstool for His feet.
6. The World Cup is not shy to pronounce a winner. As in most sports, the goal is to be the champion. The World Cup will not allow everyone to go home a winner. There is but one trophy. There will be one winner, and the other 31 teams go home losers. The reason this is helpful to me is that it reminds me that Christ was tolerant in many ways His fellow religious leaders were not, but, in the end, He made it plain that there is 1 way and 1 way only that leads to life (and most would not find it).
5. Related to the “1-way” post above is the reality of triumph. As Christians, we tend to shy away from concepts of triumph, thinking that we ought not to gloat. While it is certainly true that we must not gloat, it is also true that triumph is glorious. Christ has triumphed over His enemies and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:15). I hope the U.S. triumphs over the competition in the 2010 World Cup.
4. Related to triumph is glory. One of the greatest lessons in all sports is the lesson of glory. If sports is about anything, it is about glory. Granted, most of the athletes in the 2010 FIFA World Cup have their eyes fixed on a “perishable wreath,” while Christians seek the greater glory of eternity. Nevertheless, glory abounds as most of the FIFA athletes are pursuing it, while more than a billion people are watching—hoping to see it.
3. Related to glory is the suffering required to achieve it. In Christ, the greatest suffering resulted in the highest glory. The stories of agonizing workouts and overcoming both enemies and injuries reflect—even if only to a small extent—the glory of the triumphant Christ. These World Cup athletes are suffering injury and ridicule in their pursuit of glory. By the time the U.S. wins the World Cup (!), there will have been many trials suffered through and overcome. Their perseverance will be exalted along with their skill. No matter who wins, perseverance will prove to have been a key element of their glorious triumph. And, again, this perseverance is what Christ calls us to and what He Himself modeled perfectly in overcoming sin, death, temptation. According to Philippians 2, it ends with his being exalted to the highest place of Heaven.
2. Related to suffering and perseverance is the constant reminder in soccer that we live in a fallen world. The U.S. goal in the game against Slovenia is only the most glaring example of bias and/or error; it isn’t the only example. So often, referees will get the calls wrong. They are human, and they fail. Unlike in other sports, soccer leaves these errors in as part of the game, and I am glad they do. They are part of life. If you can’t overcome the errors made by yourself and others, you won’t accomplish much in this fallen world. Landon Donovan got it right when he said that these things are part of soccer. Sometimes you benefit from them. Sometimes you suffer loss because of them. But every time you must press on to overcome them. In other words, FIFA allows injustice to be part of the game because it forces teams to overcome. This is real world stuff. Life does not offer us a “further review.” Once a word is spoken or a deed is done, it cannot be overruled or undone. It can, however, be redeemed.
1. And speaking of redemption, the number 1 way to watch the World Cup to the glory of God is to watch for the cross. Central to the game of soccer is the cross, a move in which the competition is lured outside to the ball so the player can quickly cross it back into the box and threaten the defense with a goal-scoring opportunity. The cross makes soccer “the beautiful game,” as Pele is quick to call it. I agree. Soccer is a beautiful game. A central aspect of that beauty is the cross, which causes one player to expose himself to the defense, then sacrifice his ability to score so that someone else receives the goal and the glory. What could be more beautiful? Christ drew the enemy to Himself, took all the venom and poison the enemy could muster, then, at the cross, he sacrificed Himself so that others might become partakers of His glory. Not even soccer is more beautiful than the cross of Christ. Soccer is the beautiful game, but Christ is the beautiful Savior whose light eclipses all the lesser glory of sports.