Some cheerleaders in Texas are in the middle of a religious liberty conflict for putting Bible verses on the banner that football players run through at the beginning of games. The inclusion of Bible verses at sporting events has been quite common in Kountze, Texas. Often, the verse being used was Philippians 4:13. It says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
No one seemed to have a problem with this until the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the school district voicing their displeasure. Since that time, the school district and the cheerleaders have been in a legal battle against one another.
These battles have been common, even in the Bible Belt, as the culture moves closer toward full-blown secularism. Christians should not be surprised by this. That’s not to say that we should accept attacks on religious liberty. We just shouldn’t be surprised. In this world, you will have trouble.
Such trouble offers the perfect occasion for examining ourselves. Namely, do we really believe the verse that is so often cited at sporting events? To answer that, we have to look at the context.
When it comes to reading the Bible, context matters. Like any other book, you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to as long as you don’t mind using verses out of context. People make a lot of money for themselves doing this. If you don’t believe me, go turn on your television right now. Go to the religious channels and you’re probably going to find a well-dressed man and his purple-haired wife sitting in front of a gold piano and asking for your money. They’ll use a verse from the Bible to tell you that if you do give them money, you’ll get rich.
I’ll wait here while you run downstairs and take a look.
See, I told you so.
Paul wrote the book of Philippians while in the custody of a Roman government that cared absolutely nothing about his religious liberty. Yet, a major theme of the book is joy and contentment. So Paul didn’t tell his readers that he can do all things through Christ’s strength because he wanted to encourage them before the big game. Rather, he was teaching them that Christ’s strength has sustained him through his trials and triumphs. He is expressing confidence that Christ will pull his people through unjust jail sentences, sicknesses, poverty, and yes, even courtroom battles over banners at football games.
A mentor used to tell me that we are all walking billboards for what we believe in. The government can force the removal of a Bible verse from a sign that people will only see for three minutes. It cannot, however, remove the truth of that verse from a believer’s heart. School districts can try to ban public displays of faith but they can only go so far. They can pat themselves on the back when they censor another sign but there is nothing they can do to stop the public display of a Christian who takes seriously the command to love God and love neighbor. Even death itself cannot stop that. As one early church father said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation can use the power of the law to stop a group of high schoolers from raising a banner about Christ being our strength.
But there isn’t a thing in the world the Freedom From Religion Foundation can do to stop Christians from living under the strength of Christ.
They can take away the banner but they cannot silence the walking billboards.
That’s because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.