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January 10

Tebow and Christian Unity

John Haralson

Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He is also an outspoken Christian. He is not a good NFL passer by a long shot. Statistically, he is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league this year. Most football pundits think that he will not succeed in the NFL.

But he keeps winning.  He knows how to lead a team and a locker room. Whatever the “X-factor” is for a winning quarterback, Tebow has it.

On Sunday, he led the Broncos to an overtime playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are the closest thing the NFL has to royalty. It was a huge upset and a big win for Tebow—the guy who isn’t supposed to succeed in the NFL.

What makes him something of a national spectacle, though, is the way he practices his Christian faith both on and off the field. He prays everywhere, verbally praises God in the middle of games, and begins every interview by acknowledging Jesus’ work in his life.

Off the field, his life is a model of Christian consistency. He preaches regularly, is involved in mission work in the Philippines, and spent at least one college spring break working at an orphanage. People who know him best all report that he is the genuine article. The world would be a better place with more people as genuine in their faith as Tim Tebow.

But here’s where it gets somewhat troubling for me. On Sunday, I found myself rooting for the Steelers. Deep down, I wanted Tebow to lose. You have to understand that I loathe the Steelers. I respect them a lot, but I generally can't stand them. I have never cheered for them to win a game until two days ago when they were playing against Tebow.

Why did I want Tebow to lose? I think it had to do with the way he expresses his faith. I just can’t imagine myself living out my faith the way he does. Don't get me wrong, I want my "walk" to match my "talk" like his does. But his overly forward Christian posture is problematic for me.

For example, he awkwardly inserts Jesus into conversations that don’t really have anything to do with Jesus. I try to avoid this behavior in my life. He also prays regularly in front of tens of thousands of people. He prays on the bench, on the field and in the end zone. I'm all for prayer and want to pray more in my own life. But didn’t Jesus say something about going into your closet to pray?

Anyway, you get the picture. For me, the bottom line for me is this: I just can’t imagine living out my faith in the way he does. And not only can I not imagine it—I don't really want to express my faith that way. I have no doubt Tebow is sincere and loves Jesus. But I am just of turned off by the way he expresses his faith. This is why I rooted against him.

Upon further reflection, I think this is a sin and I need to repent. Tebow is a fellow Christian, and this should  mean something to me with respect to how I think of him. I think I am supposed to be significantly more favorably disposed towards him. To put it a different way, I think I need to treat him like a brother.

Don't get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I have to agree with him or try to emulate the way he expresses his faith. It also doesn’t mean I have to want his team to win. But I do think it means I shouldn’t root against him because of the way he expresses his faith. I need to get over myself.

Here is why I think this is significant. Jesus says that unity in the church is of tremendous importance. In a very important prayer at the end of his life, Jesus prayed that the church would display unity (John 17). This means that even when we disagree about important things, we still act like family. Moreover, the church’s unity is supposed to be one of the ways that the world knows that Jesus is for real. If Christians can’t respect and love one another, why should the world want to hear about Jesus? In other words, living out our familial bond with other Christians is one of the most effective evangelistic strategies we Christians have.

As I think about practicing unity with other Christians, I realize that it is somewhat easier for me to extend grace to Christians who are a bit more “liberal” in their beliefs than I am. It is more of a challenge for me to extend the same kind of grace to Christians like Tebow who are more “conservative” or “mainstream evangelical” in their convictions. However, it doesn’t matter what kind of Christian it’s easier for me to extend grace to. I have to extend grace to them all. It is simply another outworking of the gospel that is supposed to be evident in my life.

So I have learned something from Tim Tebow. I've learned more about my ability to be judgmental of other Christians. I've also learned a little bit more about practicing unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ even when they don't see the world exactly the way I do. Lord have mercy on the church.

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