My husband, Scott, is a minister. That calling marked his life even before he finished high school. It was evident early in his life, not only to Scott but to people around him as well. My husband is also a Florida Gator fan. No one can explain that. I won’t even try. When Tim Tebow was quarterback for the Florida Gators, Scott found a connection between his football and his faith that made him especially excitable on game days.
Following his spiritual intuition, Tebow changed the message on his eye black from his usual Phil. 4:13 to John 3:16 for the 2009 BCS national championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners. The Gators won that championship. Over the next 24-hours, John 3:16 hit the top of the most-Googled item list with more than 92 million searches.
That’s 92 million searches for a single Bible verse. If anyone is going to read only one verse of the Bible, John 3:16 is probably the verse to read. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It sums up the gospel. That verse alone can inspire us to consider God’s love, Jesus’ sacrifice, and our own eternity. It’s a good place to start.
There are definite benefits to focusing on a single Bible verse. However, I think we often have a tendency to create our own less than accurate context for a single verse if we fail to read the verses that come before and after it. John 3:16 is a good example. If it’s the first time you’ve heard those words, you might not know that it is Jesus himself speaking them. If you have heard them before but are not as comfortable or familiar with more of the Bible, you’re likely to think that they were delivered to a crowd of people. That’s probably because these days it’s a popular verse to share in public gatherings, like Tim Tebow at a college football game. If you read all 36 verses of the third chapter of John, you will see that Jesus is having a one-on-one conversation with Nicodemus, a religious leader who was having difficulty understanding the “born again” concept. Nicodemus waited until after dark, a time less likely to be seen, to go and talk to Jesus about it. It wasn’t a Jumbotron kind of conversation.
A couple of weeks ago, Brantley Strickland wrote a column seeking submissions from clergymen to help enhance the Faith & Values page. He asked for “a few good men.” As a woman, it sparked something in me that felt a little bit like it was time to change the message on my eye black and get in this game. When it comes to spiritual matters, sometimes a woman needs to hear from another woman, not a few good men.
Gender is a sensitive issue in religious conversations. Perhaps that’s why we often choose to isolate single Bible verses and manufacture a context to fit our social and cultural situations. Ephesians 5:22 is another one of those verses, albeit not nearly as popular as John 3:16. It talks about being a submissive wife. If you don’t read the preceding and following verses, you will miss the fact that the whole book of Ephesians is about unity. It’s about working together and how it takes all of us, men and women, to get the job done.
If you haven’t read it, Ephesians has only six chapters which could be easily read in one sitting. The last chapter in the book of Ephesians talks about putting on armor, and the way I read it, both men and women need to suit up. Those words are there because in this world there is a fierce opponent to unity. Game day is here, men and women. Get your helmet. And maybe a little eye black.
This article was originally posted August 24, 2014 on The Press and Standard's website: