The football season is in full swing. High school football fills the dark and increasingly cool Friday nights. College football is underway and tonight the NFL season kicks off, culminating in Super Bowl 50. Here are five lessons believers can learn and be reminded of this football season:
It does not take long to watch a football game and marvel at the strength, speed, and skills of those on the field. Football players are able to run at incredible speeds and make crushing hits. They have fine-tuned their bodies for their craft by diet, training, and practice. The apostle Paul reminds his readers that, “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8; See also 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.) The discipline displayed on the football field can serve as a reminder for believers to pursue eternal matters.
Football reminds everyone that there is something wrong in our world. Referees govern the field to ensure that order is maintained, penalties are enforced, and the game is correctly called. Even the referees are not immune to error, so instant replay is introduced to ensure that no mistakes are made. But even with all the angles in HDTV and 4K, some calls are still not easy to discern and may not always be correct. Each missed called is the reminder that no one is perfect. Injuries plague the football field. Each ACL torn, hamstring pulled, and concussion diagnosed is another reminder that something is wrong in our world. It is a world that even the most athletic, disciplined, and wealthy people cannot escape (Romans 8:18-23). When fans react against a missed call or cringe over an injury, they are responding to the imperfection in our world. Football will not allow us to escape the reality of our broken world.
Let’s be honest, there are some really bad teams in football. But the caliber of the team does not matter to many folks because it is their team. They remain committed because, “That’s the school that I graduated from!” Or, “This is the team that I grew up watching.” Many people will structure their lives and weekend around watching their team play. Dedicated fans will sit outside for 3-4 hours in the rain, snow, and sub-zero wind-chills for their team. People long to be devoted to something or someone. Saint Augustine wrote in The Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” The human heart longs for significance in something bigger than itself. For many people, football provides a sense of significance for 16 weeks a year. The loyalty demonstrated by football fans may be a subtle rebuke for the apathy and indifference to Christ and His Church by many believers. Yet, the loyalty fans display is a desperate attempt to silence the groaning inside their souls for significance.
Football brings crowds of 70,000+ people together for a few hours. Fans wear odd colors, paint themselves, and join others in unison to cheer on their team. In their book, A Matrix of Meaning, Craig Deweiler and Barry Taylor write, “Fans flock to stadiums for a touch of the divine. Sports unite communities, inspire prayers, and offer transcendence.” Football is, by nature, a communal sport, both on and off the field. Most people do not sit and watch football by themselves, but go somewhere to watch the game or have others come over to watch the game, especially the “big” games. Football is a testament to unity in diversity. Players, coaches, and fans are from all different backgrounds, education, ages, and locations. Yet the players and fans are united together because they are part of one team moving toward one purpose. Perhaps football better visualizes the values of Christ’s vision for the church of unity in diversity than many local churches do (Ephesians 2:11-22; Revelation 7:9-10).
Football is about celebrating achievements. There are cheerleaders and cameras everywhere to capture greatness at every angle for everyone to witness through replays and highlights. Commentators express, “Did you see that?! That is unbelievable!” Or, “Let’s see that again in slow motion. Wow!” The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the best college football player. The MVP is given to the person with the most “value” in the NFL. Each week, ESPN has the top 10 plays. Fans boast of their team’s new coach, veteran quarterback, dynamic running back, tough defense, and their home field advantage to anyone willing to listen. Even the opposing team and fans will praise a player or team for a great play, game plan, or outstanding performance. Football reminds us that the soul was meant to praise. Humans will find something or someone to praise (Rom 1:18-32). The soul is starved when praise is directed anywhere other than the Creator.
Football awakens the groaning in humanity’s soul but does not and cannot satisfy it. The eyes of faith see behind the veneer of discipline, brokenness, loyalty, community, and praise. Faith sees and directs people to the Eternal One, Jesus Christ, for whom their souls were created to enjoy.