Today in my old home city of Philadelphia a victory parade of epic proportions is taking place. For those of you completely out of touch, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl on Sunday! I probably must also explain to some of my dear European friends that the Super Bowl is the championship match between the top two American football teams each year. Yes, I know they should probably call the sport by another name, since the foot is used so infrequently . . . but the Super Bowl is a big deal in the U.S. and the Eagles had never won it before. What’s more, they were up against the best team, perhaps, ever to play the game, the New England Patriots. The Patriots have won the Super Bowl five times in recent years.
I got up to watch the televised drama unfold in the early hours of Monday morning. The game was all anyone could ask for in terms of suspense and entertainment. Even being ahead eight points with only nine seconds left in the game, Eagle’s fans could not be certain of victory—not against the resilient Patriots! I and countless other fans (on both sides) held our breath on the last play of the game until the time ran out and the dream of Eagle’s fans everywhere finally became a reality.
Even many who are not normally Philadelphia fans were cheering for the Eagles, who found themselves in the underdog position against their powerhouse rivals. For this week at least the world’s new favorite color is green, and without a doubt, green will be the predominant color on display today in Philadelphia.
But as the cameras rolled after the game, and coaches and players on the winning team were being interviewed, I noticed something else on display. I was struck by how often I heard the words, “First, I want to give glory to God and to my Savior, Jesus Christ.”
I think there has always been something of a dance between American sports and Christian faith, and it is typical for an athlete here and there to tip his hat heavenward, so to speak, but this time the proclamations seemed to be as genuine as they were prevalent.
I had seen a video posted online several months ago that covered the faith story of several members of the Eagle’s team, and I was impressed then by the earnestness of faith professed. And I continue to be impressed by the interviews I have seen this week, in which athletes have redirected the focus of the conversation from the glory of the win to matters of faith and the glory of God. One player actually referenced the story of Gideon from the Old Testament and expounded on it for a few moments before encouraging his interviewer to read the Scripture for himself.
Eagle’s quarterback (and star player of the game), Nick Foles, has expressed his intention to go into pastoral ministry when he retires from football, citing that winning disciples for Jesus is ultimately the most important thing. In an extended interview in which the topic was his Christian faith, Nick was asked what led him to faith in Christ. His answer: Envy. He saw something in the lives of his Christian teammates which made him envious. He wanted what they had.
His answer struck me almost as a rebuke. It is, at the very least, a challenge to those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus. Does our Christian faith incite envy in those around us? Are our friends and family and colleagues compelled to want what we have in Christ? Or is our Christian faith so joyless or loveless or without flavor as to arouse little interest? Or worse, do we behave in such a way as to bring shame on the name of Jesus? Does bitterness or a sharp and critical tongue or constant complaining undermine the faith we profess?
The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans speaks of his ministry to the Gentiles in terms of inciting his own people (the Jews) to envy. He writes, “I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” (Romans 11:13-14)
The apostle’s hope was that Israel would see Gentiles coming to salvation in Messiah (Christ) and become envious. After all, the gospel of Messiah was Israel’s own message. How could it be that others were finding new life in that message and the Jews not?
Envy as a motivation to follow Jesus Christ: Why not? If your life is a recommendation to the faith you profess as follower of Jesus, won’t others be compelled to want what you have? Won’t they be motivated to understand at least what makes life in Christ different from their own lives?
Let me be clear. I do not mean to imply that followers of Jesus live charmed lives or that Christians do not experience sorrow or fear or stress or hardship or temptation. (On the contrary, Jesus and the apostles indicate the life of Christian disciples is likely to be harder.) Nor, do I encourage Christians to pretend ugly things do not exist in their lives, as if never letting the world see us struggle is the way to arouse envy. The life to which Christ calls us is not an easy one, and Christians are not immune to the life struggles that everyone else faces, nor should they preach such a gospel.
But if our faith is in God and our salvation secure in Christ, then there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ. That hope alone should be apparent in how we approach life and navigate its struggles. But all the virtues of Christ living in us by His Spirit should be growing in us and increasingly visible to others: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Christian, people are watching your life. Do they have reason to envy what you have in Jesus?