Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.1 Corinthians 9:24
Is playing a game a Christian virtue? Can a Christian play games without fear that they are somehow not engaged with something worthy of the gospel?
This is an important question for me, because I love to play games! I particularly enjoy playing board games with friends. But do I somehow switch off my Christian discipleship when I play a game, or is there something of value for Christians in playing games? The buddha, for instance, looked down on games playing as a waste of time. It wasn’t something that helped a person on the path to enlightenment, so wasn’t something worth spending time on.
I believe that playing games has something of intrinsic value to Christian believers. It is something to be embraced rather than avoided. However, there is a danger that as Christians we can look down on anything that isn’t obviously pursuing the kingdom or advancing the gospel. Why play a game when there are people perishing and the lost are going to hell? It’s a compelling argument, and there is certainly an element of truth in it. However, to buy into that mindset completely is to pursue a Buddhist philosophy rather than a distinctly Christian one.
There are people who are lost and who need the gospel, and we need to do all we can to reach them with the good news of Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t want to detract from that for a minute. But playing games is not incompatible with a kingdom mindset. Indeed, I think it is an integral part of it.
First, playing games enjoys God’s good creation. Stopping to play a game, for no reason other than the sheer fun of it is part of what it means to rest. Although we have kingdom work to be part of, we have kingdom rest to enjoy too. Stopping to play, and to enjoy playing, rests our bodies and our souls, giving us the energy we need for the work of the gospel. But even more, stopping to play reminds us that the work is ultimately God’s and not ours. If we don’t have time to play, perhaps we have fallen into the trap of thinking that the work of the kingdom depends on us. It does not. If this is a danger for you (as it is for me) then why not take time today to play a game?
Second, playing games helps a kingdom mindset. Throughout the Bible, games (and athletic competition in particular) are used as an illustration of living for Jesus. We are told to ‘run the race’, ‘compete’, ‘win the prize’ and so on. Games show us the goal and focus that is to be our attitude as we live for Jesus Christ.
Obviously there are differences: we don’t compete against others to win the the prize that God has in store for us. Indeed the prize is already won by Christ and not by us! But there is something about having the end goal in mind and being committed to the task that games illustrate and playing games helps us to build. “Run in such a way as to get the prize” says Paul to the Corinthians. Which tells us that it’s possible to run in way that thinks of the prize as unimportant. We can run the race as Christians, but not be committed to the goal. Paul turns our attention to athletics as a picture – look at those competitors, he says. They want the prize. They commit to it. Will we do the same? Will we play the game and play it wholeheartedly, not only for the fun of it, but because it shows us the kingdom?