I was recently asked the following question regarding Paul’s illustrations involving boxing:
Just b/c the apostle paul made references to boxing/fighting doesn’t necessarily meant he ‘watched’ them, right? He could of just been knowledgeable of the art or strategies in the sport not necessarily promoting or suggesting it’s ok or good for a christian to engage in it?
My answer is as follows:
That is possible, but unlikely. For Paul to be making a secondhand illustration of something that he never observed would be very unlikely. At the same time, he may have witnessed it, used it as an illustration, but isn’t necessarily approving of the actions involved within the illustration (boxing). Jesus said that he would come like a “thief” in the night. He is not approving of thievery, but using it as an illustration.
This thing with Paul’s sports illustrations is that it is likely suggestive that he was indeed a “fan” of some sorts. He uses them on several occasions and assumes that his readers know what he is talking about…Sports were big in Roman and Greek culture. He also uses the illustrations positively in that he is encouraging Christians to emulate the runner, to be focused like a boxer, etc. As such, I can’t help but think that Paul is highly respectful of the athlete’s discipline, etc. if he uses it in a commending sense to the Christian’s conduct.
Paul’s illustrations are unrelated to the questions of whether Christians should participate in boxing, running, etc. Or whether Christians should be soldiers, farmers, etc, which are some other vocations he mentions as illustrative for Christian conduct. As such, one should be careful in emphatically saying that such illustrations serve as Paul’s stamp of approval for Christian participation.
Lastly, good cases have been developed that Christians shouldn’t seek a vocation or recreation that unnecessarily benefits from another’s harm, even if it is voluntary and understood by the injured party. Gambling is one such example of a recreation that is prohibited by such a principle. Some would say that this principle applies also to boxing. Some would say that it fails to love neighbor and doesn’t seek the welfare of our neighbor.
My take is that this is a conscious issue…regarding boxing. Football involves tackling, which increases the risk of harm, but very few Christians have questioned the morality of Christian involvement in such a sport. I guess the logic is that the intent to hit someone and pull them to the ground is not to injure but to play by the rules. It may involve bodily harm, but that isn’t the intent…so football is okay. As for boxing, many would argue much the same thing. The intent for most boxers isn’t to harm or kill their opponent, but to play the sport. Obviously boxing will necessitate bodily injury, but it isn’t the intent. Some Christians may think that such engagement is wrong, and they may very well be right….and as such, they shouldn’t participate. It isn’t for the lighthearted. I think another guiding principle should be concern for one’s own being…meaning that if a boxer is married with children (not the show), then one really should consider whether risking their well-being in their vocation is good stewardship. This would go for many other vocations as well, including some that are clearly permissible for Christians to work (construction, police, etc). If undue stress is placed upon wife and children because of one’s vocation, then such a person would be bound to seriously consider something else.
Pastorally, I offer guidance and counsel. I also must pray for those who engage in dangerous activities. For most such vocations, society benefits…as in policework, military, etc. They put themselves at risk for a greater good. I don’t see that so much in boxing, fighting, etc. Their physical wellbeing isn’t suffering for a greater good…it’s interests are monetary. But many would say that it is for love of the sport which brings two voluntary contestants together in such an exhibition of skill. I would lastly say that there is responsibility in a civil and just society to take proper means to assure the safety of such contestants, as much as possible. I have been impressed by the guidelines established for MMA. I just recently saw a fight where the referee stopped the fight after 9 seconds because a punch apparently knocked a guy unconscious to the floor. The victim wasn’t happy that the fight had been called, but it was the right decision by the judge. What does concern me about today’s audience is that it almost seems like they want to see blood, they want to see someone crippled, etc. If there were no restraints by the government, the “free market” could very well devolve into the gladiator battles of old, where men would fight to the death. Some would be willing to risk their very lives for the prospects of a huge pay day, as viewers would pay top dollar to see someone killed in the ring. That is clearly something no Christian should participate in or support. I pray that God will continue to restrain the sin of our society.