by Lee Anderson Jr. —
Some hobbies are private activities. We pursue our individual interests alone because we take pleasure in them purely for what they are. And while we might be happy to talk about such hobbies with others, our investment in them remains a very personal matter. However, there are some hobbies that have a social dimension to them. Whether the hobby in question concerns doing something, making something, collecting something (or anything else, for that matter), the social component is what makes the hobby what it is.
Regardless of the nature of the hobby, for those pursuits which have a social dimension, we ought to look at using that social time in a way that accords with God’s word. As we saw in the last part of this series, Scripture teaches that all human beings are created to be God’s image bearers (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6; James 3:9) and that they are made to live in community with one another. By pursuing hobbies that allow us to cultivate meaningful and caring relationships with others, we can further the Lord’s purpose for human community and thereby glorify Him. How is God honored by our social activity? That depends, in part, on whether our social engagements are with fellow Christians or with nonbelievers.
In spending time with fellow Christians, God calls us to encourage one another. This instruction is not a generic one (indeed, given the breadth of application of the word encourage, it may relate to almost anything). Rather, the biblical directive expressly concerns urging fellow Christians onward in their walk with Jesus Christ, to grow in their confidence in the faith, which can produce progress in sanctification (see especially 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13). This is not to say that our hobbies themselves must concern distinctly “spiritual” activities; we do not have to focus all our personal interests on Bible study and hymn writing. Instead, it means that, when our hobbies entail social interaction with believers, we should wisely use the time to offer (and graciously receive!) the encouragement we need related to spiritual matters.
Perhaps two Christian friends enjoy fishing together. During their calm mornings on the lake, they chat about things related to fishing—bait, reels, water temperature, and so on. But they also take time to talk about prayer requests, about what they have encountered in their individual Bible reading, and about what the Lord has been teaching them in their lives. This is the blessing that shared hobbies afford us when we spend time with other believers. We have the opportunity, through the deliberate setting aside of our time, to engage deeply with fellow Christians—people with whom we share a belief in the most precious of all truths—with the purpose of encouraging one another, building one another up in the faith. In this, the hobby itself still remains important; it is the point of contact between two or more believers (who sometimes may not have otherwise connected with each other) and, as we have seen, it can be a way of glorifying God in its own right. But, ultimately, many find that healthy Christian fellowship is the most valuable aspect of sharing hobbies with other believers.
But what about hobbies we share with nonbelievers? A Christian will not have the same level of camaraderie with a nonbelieving friend as with a believing friend, because their spiritual commitments concerning the most important things in life (namely, Jesus Christ, His death as a substitutionary payment for the sins of humanity, and His resurrection as the guarantee of the hope of eternal life for all who trust in Him) are fundamentally different. Nonetheless, believers and nonbelievers can still enjoy hobbies together. Christians ought to use this time, as the Lord allows, to engage in conversation (at appropriate times) about spiritual matters, with the aim of testifying to the truth of the Gospel. The Bible instructs believers to be active in sharing the faith they have in Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19–20; cf. Revelation 22:17). While some Christians may have a specific calling and giftedness in this area (Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5), all believers have a duty to speak of their experience with the saving work of Christ.
Coming together with nonbelievers because of a mutual interest or hobby can sometimes be the perfect occasion for witnessing to the Gospel. However, be cautious. Don’t feign interest in a hobby just to spend time with nonbelievers in hopes of witnessing to them. That sort of less-than-genuine approach comes across as inauthenticity of character, which makes the message we seek to testify about appear suspect. Similarly, make sure to take a real interest in the lives of the people with whom you share the truth of Jesus Christ. There are fewer things more hurtful to a person than finding out that a Christian “just wanted to convert them” but did not actually care much about them as a human being—a person with real feelings, interests, ambitions, concerns, and fears. To that end, don’t awkwardly force the Gospel into discussion about a hobby. Yes, we must have some urgency in conveying the message of the Gospel; eternal destinies depend on it! However, in a conversation, unnatural or forced interjections about spiritual things may actually derail efforts later on to explain the Gospel more fully.1 We should be fervent in our witness, but also trust that God will provide exactly the right opportunities to testify about our faith in Christ. Furthermore, we must remember that, in sharing the pursuit of a hobby with nonbelievers, even when there is not a readily available opportunity to share the Gospel, just by being with them we will have the chance to display our faith through a life of integrity (which, as we saw before, can be extremely pertinent with some hobbies) and to show them the love of Christ through authentic care for their interests and needs.
Not all of our hobbies present opportunities for much interaction with others. However, for those of us whose hobbies do have a social dimension, we should take care, whether we are with believers or nonbelievers, to live out what God has called us to. In every opportunity the Lord gives us, in the time we spend pursuing hobbies with fellow believers, we should strive for mutual encouragement in the faith. And in our time with nonbelievers, we should endeavor to be witnesses for Christ, showing them the love God has for them, as expressed most vividly in the Gospel. Hobbies certainly have value in and of themselves and can be used to glorify God in a host of ways. A hobby does not need to be a group activity to have real worth. Still, it can be a treasure to pursue hobbies with others, believers and nonbelievers alike; and the moments spent together can be truly precious.
1A Christian teacher once told me that, if I were to attend a baseball game with an unsaved friend, I should not force the Gospel into every element of conversation. Were my friend to ask if I wanted a hotdog, the appropriate response is either “Yes” or “No,” not, “But Jesus is the bread of life.” Although we should avoid the kind of timidity that keeps us from sharing the Gospel, broaching the topic in such an awkward manner by forcing it into exchanges about other subjects often has undesired effects. Instead, we should follow the example of Jesus in John 4:7–26, who carefully and gently steered His conversation with a Samaritan woman toward spiritual matters.