JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) — Denver Broncos quarterback and former University of Florida football star Tim Tebow has been getting a lot of advice lately about how much he should be talking about Jesus.
In November former Bronco quarterback Jake Plummer said about Tebow, “I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ then I think I’ll like him a little better. I don’t hate him because of that, I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff … like you know, I understand dude where you’re coming from.” In other words, Tim, tone it down.
Just before the turn of the millennium, another Christian quarterback, Kurt Warner, was the Cinderella story of the NFL. Never in the history of professional football had a player so rapidly ascended from unknown to Super Bowl champ and MVP. When the lights were shining the brightest and the platform was the largest, Warner seized the opportunity to boldly proclaim his faith in Jesus Christ to millions.
For a decade, through ups and downs, Warner was consistent in his bold public witness. During the postgame celebration of the 2009 NFC Championship, a game in which Warner led the Arizona Cardinals to victory, Warner declared before millions watching on TV, “Everyone’s gonna get tired of hearing it, but I never get tired of saying it. There’s one reason why I’m standing up on this stage today…that’s because of my Lord up above. I gotta say thanks to Jesus. You knew I was gonna do it; I gotta do it.”
So one would think that if anyone is excited about Tebow’s bold witness, it would be Warner, right? Well, not necessarily. Not long after Plummer’s comments, Warner weighed in on the issue with the Arizona Central’s Dan Bickley: “Put down the boldness in regards to the words, and keep living the way you’re living. Let your teammates do the talking for you. Let them cheer on your testimony.” Again … tone it down, Tim.
Is this the same Kurt Warner who told the masses, regarding his very public verbal witness for Christ, “I never get tired of saying it” and “I gotta do it”? Why the change of heart? Warner explains, “There’s almost a faith cliche, where (athletes) come out and say, ‘I want to thank my Lord and Savior.’ As soon as you say that, the guard goes up, the walls go up, and I came to realize you have to be more strategic. The greatest impact you can have on people is never what you say, but how you live. When you speak and represent the person of Jesus Christ in all actions of your life, people are drawn to that. You set the standard with your actions. The words can come after.”
Sounds a lot like the words commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel. Use words when necessary.” Sounds really good. Sounds strategic. The only problem is that it’s not biblical.
Jesus Christ opened his ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news … to proclaim liberty … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18). Apparently Jesus was not strategic enough; the people tried to throw him off a cliff.
The apostles and early church did not pull back from their consistently bold public witness. Religious officials warned them not to talk about Jesus. Peter and John replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). In other words, “We gotta do it.” And they did it.
The prophet Jeremiah could not tone it down: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).
The Apostle Paul certainly could not tone it down. Arrested, imprisoned, whipped, beaten, mocked — no method worked to mute Paul when it came to talking about Jesus. To him, to tone it down was unthinkable: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
The New Testament pattern and the natural response to the Great Commission is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with boldness. Tim Tebow’s bold public witness is right in line with the prophets, the apostles, the early church and the Savior.
Tone it down? No.
Keep it up, Tim.
Brett Maragni is senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel of Jacksonville, Fla., and a frequent columnist for BP Sports (BPSports.net).