Everyone has an opinion on Tim Tebow. Easily one of the most beloved and most controversial NFL players in a long time, Tebow’s outspoken faith has made him a target for analysts, commentators, and sports writers alike. Recently, Tebow received criticism from two other quarterbacks, Jake Plummer and Kurt Warner.
In an interview with 910 AM in Phoenix Plummer said he admired Tebow’s wins in Denver, but he went on to say:
“I wish he’d just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates. 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 time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.”
Tebow responded to Plummer on ESPN’s First Take:
“If you’re married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife ‘I love her’ the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity? And that’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is the most important thing in my life. So any time I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I’m gonna take that opportunity.”
What makes a large chunk of America uncomfortable with Tebow is that, for them, religion simply isn’t significant enough to merit his level of devotion. They would be comfortable with a Christian Tebow who was concerned mostly about his performance, his money, his stuff, his women, and his press. When Tebow cares more about the gospel than the goal line it convicts a culture that has lived for personal success and forsaken meaningful devotion to God (or devotion to anything larger than themselves).
Enter Kurt Warner. Widely known and celebrated as a Christian athlete, the former quarterback voiced his opinion on Tebow to the Arizona Republic. He said:
“You can’t help but cheer for a guy like that. But I’d tell him, ‘Put down the boldness in regards to the words, and keep living the way your living. Let your teammates do the talking for you. Let them cheer on your testimony.”
Unlike Plummer, who took his Tebow opportunity to fire a shot at the Denver quarterback, Warner seems to genuinely care about Tebow’s witness. He added:
“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.”
Is Kurt Warner right? Should Tebow “put down the boldness” because “the greatest impact you can have… is never what you say”? Warner expresses what has become a popular position among many Christians – evangelism is done primarily through actions and words are at best a necessary evil and at worst a turn-off to anyone seeking Christ. There have been books written on “relational” or “servant” evangelism in which the Christian is to live or act in such a way that people are won to Christ without a word.
Aside from a few crazies, you would be hard pressed to find any Christian who argued our actions and how we live doesn’t matter. Let’s be clear: in Tim Tebow’s case the issue is not between words and actions. He isn’t preaching Jesus and getting arrested on the weekends. His actions match his words. The issue is how and when the words come, if at all. So let’s test with the Bible our own assumptions about evangelism and Kurt Warner’s advice – “You set the standard with your actions. The words can come after.”
Jesus’ ministry begins not with healings or feedings but with preaching (Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:14, Luke 1:15). Not with actions, but with words.
When the Spirit launched the church on the day of Pentecost they didn’t start a soup kitchen but went into the streets preaching the good news (Acts 2:4).
When Paul arrived in a new city he established his ministry by speaking in the local synagogues and meeting places (Acts 13:14-16, 14:1, 16:13, 17:2, 10, 17).
The ministries of Jesus, Paul, and the church all began with words. This is not to say actions don’t matter. Actions came later and gave power and legitimacy to the words. But the biblical pattern is not actions occasionally supported by words, but words reinforced by action. Kurt Warner’s opinion that our greatest impact is not in what we say is not supported by Scripture. After all, Jesus is the Word of God sent into the world (John 1:1). As God’s greatest impact came through His Word, so much of our greatest impact can come through our words; backed up by our lives. We shouldn’t “put down boldness” when it comes to words but, like the early church in Acts 4:29, pray, “Grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness.”
Relational and servant evangelism give power to our words. But our hesitancy to open our mouths about God and the gospel may be due to our embrace of the culture’s view of religion and faith. Like many of Tebow’s critics, we have come to believe our faith is a private affair and Christ isn’t worth the personal sacrifice and devotion necessary to boldly proclaim him. Such a faith would get in the way of our personal success and happiness, so we comfortably believe our silent lives will manage to attract Jesus a few followers. This is not enough.
Hopefully, Tebow will balance his words and actions in such a way that glorifies God and testifies that his faith is not trivial but vibrant. May his witness be good news to the lost, encouragement to the faithful, and conviction to the apathetic – and only a minor annoyance to the analysts. Let us use our words and actions to do the same, no matter what field we play on.