After Thursday night's win over the Jets, Tim Tebow is 4 - 1 as a starter for the Broncos. I like Tim for a number of reasons, not least of which is that while he was at Florida my wife actually watched football, when the Gators on TV. However, once again he is under criticism for some of his public displays of his faith. This has brought to mind an article I wrote a couple of years ago while Tim before Tim graduated from U of F. I though it might be appropriate to republish it now.
Tim and Nate
Nobody in my family ever attended the University of Florida, but I was born rooting for the Gators. (I like to tell people that when I was born Florida State was still a girls’ school!). As a Florida fan, I have enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in recent years – two football national championships and two basketball national championships.
Of course, I am a big admirer of Tim Tebow. He’s one great football player. I love the way he stepped up after the Ole Miss game last fall, took responsibility, and said without any trash talk that he would do everything to keep the Gators from being in that position again. He played the part of a man. Besides his football virtues and talents, he seems to be a genuine good guy. I do not know the details of his faith, but he clearly identifies himself as a Christian.
You may have noticed that under his eyes, where football players put black stuff to cut down on glare (btw, does anybody know if that works?), you can see “Philippians’ under one eye and “4:13” under the other. “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” Many Christians have noted that and expressed their approval.
However, I am not so sure. I am not so sure because I do not believe that the Apostle Paul had in mind things like athletic exploits when he wrote those words. It would be against sane interpretation and use of Scripture to think that when Paul wrote “all things” he meant literally “anything a Christian sets out to do.” In the immediate context he is talking about the grace of contentment in all circumstances. It is Christ who gives him the strength to bear all his hardships and to be content whether he has plenty or little. When we take the truth of the text apply it to our Christian lives it means something like, “I can do anything Christ calls me to bear or do for his sake.”
I am glad Tim Tebow is straightforward about his Christian profession, but I don’t think putting “Philippians 4:13” under his eyes helps. I am not much for the public displays of spirituality by athletes – things like pointing the sky as you cross the goal line, or kneeling alone or with others in the end zone after a touchdown. In my view a better testimony would be to play the game like Christian gentleman – hard and tough but without the strutting, chest bumping, and taunting. Why not score your touchdown, put the football on the ground or in the hands of an official, and run off the field to your place with your teammates on the sidelines. And, didn’t Jesus say something about “not practicing your righteousness before men”?
However, I do think there is a right use a Christian can make of Philippians 4:13 in an athletic context. The example of a four year old grandson taught it to me very recently.
His parents signed him up for a soccer league. (BTW, why did Southerners ever let soccer become a sport played by our kids? Baseball, basketball, football, even track, yes, but soccer?) He’s not really the athletic type, but they thought it would be a good experience for him. But his first experience was anything but that. He didn’t understand soccer, and there had not been a single practice. He had learned how to kick the ball at home, but he did not know about how the ball was passed from player to player and advanced down the field. He was lost on the field. And, to make matters worse a kid knocked him down several times, just for the fun of it. His parents saw by the look on his face that he was in distress, but trying to be brave and play.
When I heard about this is broke my heart. I was the kid who very much wanted to play little league baseball. One Saturday morning my Dad drove me to the nearby school yard where kids were signing up to play and getting assigned to teams. I remember sitting there with my Dad what seemed a lifetime, holding my baseball glove, but never getting out of the car. I just couldn’t. Too shy. Too scared. This four year old surely “out-manned” me when he kept trying to play soccer that day.
His parents wisely decided that he would give it one more try and that, if he didn’t want to play after that they would not force him. So on a recent Saturday morning, he was in his room getting on his soccer gear before going to the game. And his mother heard him singing Philippians 4:13, a song he had learned at church.
And, to me, at least it seemed just right. Here was a little boy singing in effect, “I don’t think I like soccer, and it scares me, but I am supposed to go, so I am going believing I can do what I have to do through Christ who gives me strength.” As the saying goes, “Out of the mouths of babes…” A little boy going to do something that intimidates him telling himself that Christ will give him strength. That’s true Christian faith, and it looks to me a lot stronger than mine.