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Christianity and combat sports

By Dr. Chris Surber

With the recent McGregor-Mayweather super fight, a number of Christians are asking. “Should Jesus followers be involved with or even watch combat sports?”

Some people argue that the Bible tacitly endorses combat sports when the Apostle Paul uses them in New Testament analogies. “So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.” (1 Corinthians 9:26 NLT)

Shadowboxing is a common training technique for boxers.

We’ve got to be careful how we interpret passages of Scripture like this. I once used someone having been bitten by a venomous snake as a part of a sermon illustration. That doesn’t mean I endorse snake dancing.

Whether in the Bible or when listening to any preacher or teacher, we need to listen for the point of an analogy. The use of combat sports in an analogy isn’t the same as an instruction to participate in them.

On the other hand, if the Bible were adamantly opposed to combat sports we’d expect it to say so, or at the very least, biblical authors would have avoided those kinds of analogies.

The Bible doesn’t directly endorse or outlaw combat sports. We need to look deeper. Here are a few basic biblical ideas to consider.

I’ve been interested in the martial arts ever since Daniel Larusso won the All-Valley Karate Tournament with a crane-kick. From 10 years of military service and training to my current involvement with Karate for Christ, I’ve always found personal value in the martial arts.

In middle and high school I had a lackluster boxing career. Every time a win inflated my ego, a loss would come with a curing dose of humility.

Participation in the study of combat sports holds the great benefit of deflating someone’s ego, because there is always someone who is better. You can puff your chest all you want, but in the ring or on the mat, the truth comes out.

The discipline it takes to rise to the professional level of MMA or boxing is really impressive. I think Christians can appreciate and apply the principles of combat to our spiritual warfare. (Ephesians 6)

That’s the point of Paul’s analogy. Be disciplined in discipleship like a fighter is in training for a fight.

For kids to participate in reasonably paced, sensibly risk assessed combat sports to learn self-confidence and humility — as long as it’s not overly aggressive and it’s done in a careful way — can be a beneficial addition to their character development and personal physical health.

The problem comes when we allow ourselves to build up men like Connor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather as false idols.

Mayweather is the unashamedly greedy owner of a strip club. McGregor’s foul mouth and arrogance are not something I want my children emulating. Where is a class act like Evander Holyfield when you need him?

In my spiritual life, I’m not just shadowboxing, either. In the gym, if I’m careful to keep Christ at the center, I can strengthen my resolve and my body for the spiritual combat for the glory of God.

With a careful and reasoned approach, there is nothing wrong with combat sports for Christians.

The Rev. Dr. Chris Surber is the pastor at Liberty Spring Christian Church. Email him at chris@chrissurber.com.