Jesus on Tebowing: Matthew 6:5-6

I really don’t know much about Tim Tebow. I haven’t ever watched him play because I don’t really have time to watch pro football since Sunday is a workday for pastors. Sunday afternoon is a time to reach out to visitors and make pastoral care visits. And whenever I get done with that, I sleep. Plus, ever since my family moved to Durham from Houston in 1992, I’ve been more of a college basketball guy than a pro football guy. But I do remember thinking it was really cool when I was a teenager to see football players who would kneel in the end-zone to give God glory instead of spiking the ball or doing a dance.

To some degree, it sounds like Tim Tebow is just doing what Christian football players have always done, though it sounds like he might be doing it more often. Or maybe he’s doing it in an environment in which the culture wars are more bitter and polarized than they were twenty years ago. Or maybe the buzz has come about because Christian bloggers like me need material to generate hits for our sites about so we desperately try to manufacture controversies like the persecution of Christian celebrities. The Tim Tebow controversy has also become an excuse to land some indirect digs on Islam, because if Tebow was a Muslim, nobody would dare criticize him for praying in public (they would just be calling for the FBI to bug his helmet).

But in the midst of all the hoopla and Tim Tebow fans posting pictures of themselves “Tebowing” (praying on one knee) all over the Internet, nobody seems to have adequately dealt with the Biblical passage in which Jesus pretty unequivocally slams public displays of religious piety. It’s from the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most ignored Biblical texts in American Christianity:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:5-6]

How does this passage apply to how Christian celebrities should conduct themselves in public? I imagine that people like Tim Tebow see public religious displays as opportunities for evangelism. But how do you balance that with the need to take Jesus’ words seriously? Is it merely a question of what’s going on in the heart of the Christian celebrity or is it the impression that their religious exhibitionism creates? My concern is less with Tebow’s sincerity, which I don’t really question, than with what Tebow’s fans come to think being a Christian is about.

If Tebow starts losing and gets benched, is that automatically “religious persecution”? If he keeps winning, does that mean that if you pray hard enough, God will make you win (and if you lose, it’s because you weren’t praying hard enough)? The gospel is compromised when Christianity is reduced to being a tribe in which we cheer for our tribe and boo for the other tribes. Unfortunately this is a phenomenon that the whole Christian celebrity industrial complex has created. Tim Tebow happens to be a young Christian quarterback who turned pro when jesus.com culture is at its zenith. A lot of the controversy isn’t really his fault.

I do think that Tebow needs to do a better job of rebuking the idolatry of his fans if he wants to show it’s about God’s glory. It should not be acceptable to a Christian quarterback for his fans to create jerseys with his number in which his name is replaced by “Jesus.” That’s over the top.

In any case, I can’t say that I haven’t seen any fruit from Tim Tebow’s witness. I have a buddy who gets frustrated with the Bible sometimes because of Paul’s convoluted language in his letters and the long-winded-ness of prophets like Isaiah. But he gets Tim Tebow. He’s been reading Tebow’s biography and sees him as a role model. I can’t hate on that. I imagine God is using Tim Tebow in a lot of other peoples’ lives like my friend, so all I can say about that is praise God!

About Morgan Guyton

I’m the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.

  • http://halehawk.wordpress.com halehawk

    As a Florida Gator fan, and as a retired pastor, I can say that Tim Tebow is a remarkable role model in many respects. He not only displays his Christianity verbally and on the football field, but in every aspect of his life. He is a positive role model for any Christian. I pray that God will protect him from the temptations that will certainly come his way; and that God will continue to use him to lift up Jesus Christ.

  • Kevin Quinley

    I must confess that I am a Tebow fan. You can check out my review of THROUGH MY EYES on Amazon.com.

    • Morgan Guyton

      Cool. Yeah it sounds like his book has reached a lot of people.

  • Morgan Guyton

    Hope I was fair in my treatment of this topic. It has to be very hard to be a Christian celebrity in America today.

  • Martie Wilson

    I don’t follow football, but it sounds like the guy is a positive role model, something we need way more of. Maybe some kids will think, if Tim Tebow is a Christian then it must be alright, and like you said, be a “stepping stone” to finding out more about Christianity. Even if he isn’t praying behind closed doors, I think he is doing even better by showing that praising God is nothing to be embarrassed about, bringing attention to Christianity in a positive way, and being a good role model. We sure see enough pictures of Muslims praying in the streets, I sure don’t mind some facetime for a Christian praising God, would like to see more.

  • Morgan Guyton

    Fair enough. I’m willing to go along with that. But what do we do about Matthew 6:5-6?

  • Donnie

    What about Matt 5:13-15?

    • Morgan Guyton

      Good point. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.” Of course if I wanted to quibble, I could ask whether this “light” is really a public display of religious piety or “good deeds” themselves. I think it is a good counter-balance though. It doesn’t cancel out Matthew 6:5-6, but it provides us with a more richly nuanced perspective.

  • TebowFanSortOf

    Maybe Tebow should remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy… Tebow could do more for Christ by giving up football and observing the Sabbath the way God commands us to…

    • Morgan Guyton

      Dang! That would be serious. For real though, I’m kind of ambivalent about the whole thing. I really don’t want to be a hater. I just hope Tebow can build some true Christian fellowship with his teammates and with guys on other teams. One thing I saw that was powerful was guys from two different teams circling up to pray together before a game one time. I can’t remember if Tebow was a part of that or not, but that’s a different kind of witness. I think if you’re going to be a witness for the kingdom in such a public space, you can’t just have good intentions in your heart. You’ve got to think about how people are going to interpret what you’re doing and be strategic in what you do.

      • Larry Wilson

        I think you were referring to the PSU/Nebraska game after the Paterno scandal. In that case, it wasn’t about one person, and it wasn’t about football.

  • Bryon

    I’m not Christian, although I was raised in it. I was looking for more details on the “when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others” scripture and came across this page. It says exactly what I thought it did, which is completely contradictory to what I see Tebow doing in his highlights which makes me roll my eyes and think, more hypocritical christian stuff again, and makes me glad to not subscribe. Apparently the author feels somewhat the way I do about it yet chickens out at the end in favor of the hypocrisy. If the bible is the word of god, something I think is overstated being that the bible was conceived, written, edited and translated by mere mortals, but still, if it is supposed to be the actual word of god, then isn’t Tebow and every other Christian who thanks god for their Grammy or Oscar trophies, or players gathered on the field of play to pray for whatever they felt they needed to pray for after playing a game, or the pointing of their finger to the ceiling after scoring a basket, aren’t they in some sort of violation against the scripture and god itself. Or is this one of those things that can be written off, sort of how the previous comment says the Sabbath isn’t being respected by playing those same games on the day of rest? “It’s in the bible” is my christian friends’ reasoning for everything… well, Matthew 6:5-6 is in the bible. What about all of the other inconsistencies with how Christians ignore the parts of the bible that don’t fit into their lives these days? This is what bothers me about Catholics as well, subscribing to the parts of scripture/church that suits them, while ignoring the parts that don’t. Makes me wonder why any of it is taken seriously at all… meanwhile, god is supposedly wasting time answering prayers about scoring touchdowns and baskets and getting good parking spaces… Feels a bit silly when I see it happen and apparently Jesus or god or god Jesus didn’t think it necessary also. (smh)
    What about these ignored scriptures… (http://www.11points.com/books/11_things_the_bible_bans,_but_you_do_anyway)
    Leviticus 19:27 reads “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.”
    Leviticus 11:8, which is discussing pigs, reads “You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.”
    Genesis 38:9-10: “Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.”
    Leviticus 19:28 reads, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”
    Leviticus 19:19 reads, “You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.”
    Mark 10:9 reads regarding divorce, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
    Mark 10:11-12, “And He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.’”
    Deuteronomy 23:1 reads (this is the God’s Word translation, which spells it out better), “A man whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off may never join the assembly of the Lord.”
    Deuteronomy 23:2 reads, “No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”
    1 Timothy 2:9 “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.”
    Leviticus 11:10 reads, “But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you.” beyond shellfish and pig, it also says you can’t eat camel, rock badger, rabbit, eagle, vulture, buzzard, falcon, raven, crow, ostrich, owl, seagull, hawk, pelican, stork, heron, bat, winged insects that walk on four legs unless they have joints to jump with like grasshoppers (?), bear, mole, mouse, lizard, gecko, crocodile, chameleon and snail.
    Deuteronomy 25:11-12 “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.”
    Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

    Great book!

    • Morgan Guyton

      Thanks for commenting Byron. Maybe I did chicken out. Wow I’d never read Deuteronomy 25:11-12 before. That’s crazy. I don’t know dude. I believe that the whole Bible is inspired by God, but written by humans. Is it all historical? No, it never claims to be. Is it all applicable to life today? I think every verse has some utility for us even the crazy ones, but some verses particularly in the Old Testament obviously can’t be taken in their literal sense. What I try to do is find the logic behind them. What causes the writer of Leviticus to eschew mixing cattle or seeds? Is there some kind of principle behind it that makes sense even if the literal command is no longer applicable? Anyway, my prayer for you is that you will figure out what you believe rather than spending your whole life mad at the legitimately stupid things that fundamentalists in your past tried to force down your throat. For most of my twenties, my religious self-identity was simply anti-fundamentalist because of how I grew up. Now I’m in a place where I want to transcend that and not just be a reactionary hater anymore. I don’t know if your story is at all like mine. I’m sorry if I’m projecting. Bless you brother!


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