Jesus and Tim Tebow, Part 1

Our guest blogger today is Wade Phillips, who blogs at “A Good Infection“.  He’s a TV news anchor in MS and a husband/father/deacon/SS Teacher combo!
This is the first in a series of posts on life and faith, that was triggered by a recent segment I did on WMOX radio about Tim Tebow . . .
Let me lay my cards on the table from the beginning. I really like Tim Tebow. I like him for a number of reasons. Some of them are related to his faith, some of them are related to his football skills, and some of them are related to the how entertaining he has made this year’s NFL season, on and off the field. But generally speaking, I really like the guy, from what I have seen. He seems to be a guy who is doing his best to glorify God through his life as an NFL quarterback. I’m guessing he would be the same way if he was a dentist. But this season, and the way Tebow so publicly lives out his faith, have given us plenty to think about and talk about, when it comes to issues of the Christian life. Over the next several posts, I’m going to try to flesh out some of what I think about those issues. These posts won’t be mainly about Tebow. They’ll be mainly about the questions that I think arise from this apparently sincere Christian with a huge personality and an even bigger fan base, living out his faith in such a public way.
Let’s start here: are his public displays of devotion toward Jesus too much? Are they violations of Jesus’ commands to pray privately, and not publicly? Or is he simply being “salt and light” to the world? Is this what public Christian faith is supposed to look like? Is this the way all Christians ought to do it? Should I be “Tebowing” before I go to break every night? These are not unimportant questions. They’re the kinds of questions we should all ask, not about Tebow, but about ourselves.When people talk about Tebow, and his “public” prayers, they often bring up Matthew 6:5-6:
 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

At first glance, the issue may seem pretty cut and dry. Jesus said don’t pray publicly, but to go in your room and shut the door and do it there. So keep your prayers private. But is that really what he said? Is that really what this passage means? I don’t think that’s exactly what it means. Jesus command to do our praying privately cannot be a complete prohibition on public prayer. How can we know that? Well, it’s simple. There are too many examples of public prayer in the Bible. There are numerous examples of Jesus’ praying publicly. One of them comes in John 11, a passage I’m currently studying as my Sunday School class works its way through John’s Gospel. Just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he prayed the following:

“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” – John 11:41-42

That’s an obvious public prayer. And Jesus did it. I could cite numerous other public prayers throughout the Bible, including Jesus on prayer on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) So it’s obvious that there is no blanket prohibition of these kinds of prayers. What to make of them then? Should we pray in public, or shouldn’t we? Is Tim Tebow being “salt and light,” or is he being “like the hypocrites?” I honestly don’t think there is any way of knowing.

Let me explain. This passage in Matthew 6, in Jesus Sermon on the Mount, is not really a prohibition on public prayer. It’s a prohibition against hypocritical prayer. Notice the progression of what Jesus says. 1 – Don’t pray like the hypocrites. 2 – They love to pray on street corners, where they can be seen by others. So the question is not so much about where the hypocrites prayed, but what their motivation for that kind of praying was. They prayed on street corners because they loved to be seen by others. They loved what other people thought about them when they publicly prayed. They did it so people would think highly of them. And Jesus called them hypocrites. Why did he call them that? Because their public prayers were not a reflection of what their heart was really like. He called them “whitewashed tombs,” another time. Clean on the outside, rotten on the inside. Their public personas did not reflect their private realities. That’s the heart of hypocrisy, and that’s why their prayers were so disgusting to Jesus.

So what’s the takeaway here? I think it’s this: in comparison to your private prayer time, your public prayers ought to be limited and careful. You should check your motivations before you pray publicly. If you have prayed publicly very often, then you probably understand the temptation to pray as an exhibition for the people around you, rather than pray as an act of worship to God. So public prayer can be wrong, but it can also be “salt and light.” How do you know the difference? Maybe this: if you are tempted to pray in public because you want everyone to see how pious you are, then maybe you should avoid doing it altogether, to avoid breaking Jesus’ commands. But if you’re tempted not to pray in public, because you are afraid of what other people would think, then maybe you should do it, to practice being salt and light.

So what about Tebow? Which one is he doing? Is he praying like the Pharisees, or he being salt and light? It all goes back to his motivations for doing so. And I don’t know his motivations. Neither do you. Probably, it’s like all of us. We are a mix of motivations. Sometimes they are pure, and sometimes they are less than pure. Thankfully, because of the very Jesus who sets the rules, we are also given grace when our motivations aren’t exactly what they ought to be. I get that grace. So I’m going to give it to Tim Tebow.


  1. Dave Miller says

    This is going to be “International Tim Tebow Day” at SBC Voices. Wade Phillips has shared his three part series with us, which will be posted throughout the day. All Timmy, all the time!

  2. says

    It seems interesting to me that Jesus, in response to the bad examples of praying to be seen, and praying hypocritically, Jesus did not tell us to pray earnestly, or pray for Godly reasons, or pray briefly. He said go do it in private. That was a rather plain statement.

    When I am called to deaconly duty of the morning invocation, I don’t. I lead the congregation by asking them to pray for specific things pertaining to the morning service. People have always expressed appreciation after, and the silence during their prayers is stunning.

    • Christiane says

      We love Tim Tebow. He hurts no one. He bears criticism without striking back. Before the world, he is not ashamed to kneel in prayer. We love him as the child of God he is. May God keep him close always.

      But I do know also that silence plays a role in prayer, too, BOB.

      Henri Nouwen wrote:
      “Many voices ask for our attention.
      There is a voice that says, “Prove that you are a good person.” Another voice says, “You’d better be ashamed of yourself.”
      There also is a voice that says, “Nobody really cares about you,” and one that says,
      “Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.”

      But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small Voice that says,
      “You are My beloved, My favor rests on you.”
      That’s the Voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that Voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen.

      That’s what prayer is.
      It is listening to the Voice that calls us “My beloved.”

    • says

      It seems to me that the point of that prohibition was praying for show, not simply praying publicly. Jesus prayed publicly in John 17. Public prayers were part of worship. Jesus was confronting attention-seeking.

      One fat man’s opinion.

  3. says

    I’m not a sports fan. Yes, I know that is shocking. However, I am pretty stunned at all the negative attention Tebow has received, surprisingly, from Christian quarters. I’d expect it from the atheists out there, but his brothers and sisters in Christ? I’ll be blunt and honest, I am tired of Matthew 6:5-6 being leveled at him. If we are to take that totally, comlpetely and explicitly as a literal statement, we better be ready for some severe pain and anguish when we impose the same principle to Matthew 18:8-9 –

    “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

    How can we read one set of words from Jesus figuratively and the other literally? We have to put his words in context. Context. Context. Did I say context? Yeah, context. In Jesus’ condemnation of “public prayer” he leveled his ire at the self-righteous Pharisees. It was not a doctrine established for the church altogether. Why is that so hard to understand?

    I have prayed publicly at social events, I have prayed with friends, aqcaintances and strangers in the Wal-Mart parking lot when they have a need. I pray in jail alot amidst large groups of inmates. Am I violating the teachings of Christ? Why in the world did Paul lay out standards for public prayer to the Corinthian church? Why must we be so legalistic about this stuff?

    I’m sorry Bob, I cannot do anything but respectfully disagree with you sir. I have been part of a church (and to frequent conferences) where “prayer leaders” offered up suggestions for quiet prayer and “lead” public prayer that way, and it left me fairly empty. I’m not ruling that out as one way of conducting public prayer, but it should not be the only way.

    I’ll finish with this – what does it say about our character as Christians when we find ourselves ripping and tearing at a public Christian figure over his expressions of faith. Are we that inundated with a PC mindset? Are we that judgmental? Why can’t we cheer him on and appreciate his public display of faith instead of tear him down. Maybe we need to dig into the words of Ephesians 4:29 –

    “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

    Thanks so much Wade for a balanced look at this!


  4. Wade Phillips says

    Thanks Dave, for posting this here. And thanks everyone, for your feedback.

    I just can’t see how anyone could use Matthew 6 as a complete prohibition on public prayer. There are two many examples in scripture. But I think it is a very important warning that we all need to hear about the state of our hearts during those times when we do pray publicly.

    I’ve heard some public “prayer-jackings” in my life, where the prayer was about everything but talking to God. I don’t want to do that, though its hard not to be tempted to show your knowledge or your piety when you pray publicly. So it’s tough. We should be very, very careful. I try to take Jesus’ warning here very seriously.

  5. Michael Patton says

    Seems to me that the command of Jesus found in Matthew 6:5 & 6 is pretty explicit. It’s one thing to lead a group of worshipers in prayer; it’s quite another to intentionally pray alone in plain view of the public. The motive behind a Christian’s behavior should never be so easily called into question. Tebow’s time with God could be spent far more effectively in private, without the distraction of a throng of screaming fans. Unfortunately, Tim’s persona resembles that of an attention-seeking grandstander rather than that of a humble witness. There are far less controversial ways to let his light shine for the Lord. It is not a Christian’s job to incite controversy; rather, the purpose of one’s actions should be to try and bring folks together. By praying in private, Tebow compromises nothing as regards his beliefs. A simple statement of faith given to the media would let the world know where he stands. Along with leading a clean life, that’s all that is necessary. God Himself is wholly capable of taking it from there.

    • Bryon says

      I am not a Christian, although I was raised one… I now border on agnostic for a multitude of reasons… but my wife is devout. she and I have had an ongoing discussion about praying/thanking God for silly things and athletes and entertainers that feel compelled to do so as well. My argument is that I don’t think God/Jesus/Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy really care if you give thanks for having made a basket or a touchdown or won a Grammy or Oscar trophy. Praying to or thanking Santa Jesus for getting you a parking spot close to your destination seems ridiculous at best. Not being a Christian, it makes me wonder why this must be done outwardly at all if not for the show of it all. If God knows your heart, then it would know that you were thankful, if you were truly thankful. What does taking a knee during the game after each play accomplish??? Nothing, I say. If I was delivering a mid-game prayer, I would imagine that it is not required to take a knee to “show” that you are praying. I don’t finish a big job at work and feel compelled to “Tebow” because it was just doing my job for which I get paid. There was no God involved… and I think what I do is much more difficult than throwing a ball on a giant grassy field on Sundays, no less. And while were at it, why is he not resting on the Sabbath? So, forgive me if I think it less pure of him to “perform” this ritual after each good play… it sure doesn’t look like “salt or light” to me… it looks like someone either so obsessed with praying that they are willing to pray about unworthy things like making football plays, or someone dead set on spreading their faith through meaningless outward acts of faith, like kneeling. Couldn’t the same outcome be accomplished without the kneeling and pointing to the sky, sort of how the scripture says? I thought Christians were measured by their works, not how often the take a knee or point to the sky to give thanks… is it really that serious? If there is anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s to beware of those that feel the need to tell you that they’re Christian, rather than those that just are Christian. Tebow strikes this nerve with me.