Picture this: People gathered together each week for one cause — clapping, singing, worshiping. They donate their hard-earned money, and their time, too, knowing they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Heaven, they believe, surely will be something like this.
Were you picturing a church? It’s actually a football stadium – and it happens each fall and winter in cities across America.
What happened that caused us to misplace our worship? We go to church and sing a few songs, check our watches waiting for the preacher to be done, and then rush home and cheer on our favorite team. And if our team loses, our world is shattered. Sadly, for so many Americans, football has become an idol.
The most-watched television event in U.S. history is … a football game. When Seattle defeated Denver to win the 2014 Super Bowl, 111.5 million Americans watched, placing it at No. 1. Second place on the list? A football game. Third place? A football game. In fact, Super Bowls account for the 21 most-watched events in American television history.
So, what about cable television? After all, Super Bowls are only on broadcast TV. Well, the most-watched event in cable TV history, too, is a football game. When Ohio State triumphed over Oregon this year in the college football national championship, 33.3 million Americans watched – a cable record. The semifinal games drew an average of 28 million.
And we didn’t even mention television contract rights. ESPN pays $1.9 billion each year to televise NFL games, FOX $1.1 billion and CBS $1.0 billion.
How did we get here?
There is nothing wrong with football, but we somehow have shifted from enjoyment of a good thing to the making of a false god. We now derive our joy and value from whether our team wins or loses – and not from the God of the Bible.
In a word, we now commit idolatry in the name of fandom. That’s what sin does; it takes something good and distorts it into something else, drawing our eyes off of God. It is the very thing Satan did in the garden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-5).
Cotton Mather once said, “Faithfulness begets prosperity, and the daughter devours the mother.” What did he mean? Faithfulness can lead to prosperity, but prosperity will cause us to become complacent and to replace a desire for faithfulness with a desire for more prosperity — and we will sacrifice faithfulness in the name of prosperity.
Football is a child of American prosperity. Billions are paid in advertising, each team builds a new stadium in an attempt to out-do the last team that built a new stadium, and player contracts are astronomical for the sake of entertaining the fan and winning games. This is all possible because football is extremely profitable.
Where it gets personal, however, is when we realize football’s prosperity is due to us. Football makes billions because we have elevated it to a God-like status.
The first commandment God gave Moses read, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). When we elevate something to a level that it receives the affection that only God deserves, the praise that only God deserves, and the attention that only God deserves, we break the first commandment and sin. When we allow a game and our team’s performance to affect our mood while being indifferent toward the work of God in our lives and the lives of others, we break the first commandment. When we neglect our time with God and His people for the sake of something temporal, we break the first commandment. When we care more about the advancement of our team than the advancement of the Kingdom of God, we break the first commandment.
It would be bad enough if it ended there. But there is a more insidious thing that happens when we establish a lifestyle of obsession over something other than God: We teach others to do the same thing.
Truth is, you are always preaching – whether it is with your words or your actions. There are always eyes on you and ears listening to you … and sometimes those eyes and ears are very impressionable. Perhaps they are your own children.
Moses told the Israelites, “You shall teach [God’s law] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). When we obsess over football, we are doing just the opposite, teaching our children that idolatry is an acceptable way of life.
Please understand: Watching football does not equal idolatry. However, when football (or any sport for that matter) becomes something that defines you, affects you, consumes your thoughts, and controls your wallet – then it is bordering on idolatry.
What if we cared as much about the advancement of the Kingdom of God as we do about our team advancing the football down the field? What if we showed the same heartfelt elation over the worship of God as we do cheering for our team?
As the Super Bowl approaches, consider putting football in its rightful place: a good thing to be enjoyed, but not a god thing to be worshiped. We were made to worship. The question is: What will you worship?