Recently, I read a Christian newspaper recounting the testimonies of world cup rugby players. It was encouraging to find some of the finest exponents of the game today, declaring their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The history of famous people giving their testimony to their faith in Christ has been a mixed blessing.
Testimonies are powerful because they are concrete and personal. We all like a good story especially about people. So the story of somebody’s encounter with Christ is of great interest. It is also easier to understand abstract concepts when expressed in the concrete reality of somebody else’s life.
We all have a sense of knowing famous people – even if it is only through public media or watching their exploits on the rugby field. Fame gives opportunity for these men to tell their story in the world’s media as well the Christian media.
These testimonies enable people who inhabit the rugby world to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ. They hear that people whom they respect in their world serve Jesus as their Lord.
The opinions of famous people have disproportionate power in the community at large. Some years ago, an actor told me of his growing interest in Christianity. He always followed Bob Dylan in his journey through life. As Dylan had professed faith in Jesus so this actor thought he would check it out as well.
However, that shows the problem with the testimony of the famous. Why follow them? Will you move on from Christ when your hero moves on? What if the reasons for your hero becoming a Christian are stupid? What if an equally famous person gives testimony to a different faith?
With information filtered through public relations and media, we know very little about the real lives of the famous. A leading South African cricketer and a legendary Aussie Rules player both professed faith in Christ, only to be exposed in serious immoralities. They may have been telling the truth about their faith but their failure to live by their confession bought great discredit to the name of our Saviour, and great cynicism about Christian testimony.
So with mixed feelings I read the various testimonies of today’s present rugby heroes. And within the testimonies I found something that was extraordinarily convincing. It was not a testimony to Christ but to one of the other footballers. It occurred in two different articles. For two men, one an ex-All Black the other a current English star, told of becoming Christians because of the transparent life of a team-mate Va’aiga Tuigamala.
Pat Lam described playing with Va’aiga “Up until this point, I thought I was a Christian, but I soon realised that I didn’t have the same kind of personal relationship that Va’aiga had with God.”
Jason Robinson said “When I watched Va’aiga he was the happiest man in the place. I used to look at him and wonder why he always had this big smile on his face. He’d bring his kids to the game and they were always so happy. What was it that he had?”
The article described how “Jason questioned Va’aiga about his Christian faith. Va’aiga explained how he could receive God’s forgiveness and ask Jesus into his life, which Jason did.”
“I knew almost immediately why Va’aiga was so happy: God was number one in his life and after that everything fitted.”
These two men testify to the reality of the changed life of their team-mate. This is a great testimony to the work of God in the life of somebody they knew personally.
Here is the challenge to us as Christians. We may be encouraged by knowing that two famous footballers love and serve Jesus, but we are challenged by the changed life of their ex-team-mate Va’aiga.
The really important testimony occurs between people who know each other personally. It is the testimony of the genuinely changed life that is explained by the gospel.
It is like the challenge of Jesus to his disciples: “let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.”
These footballers saw Va’aiga’s good works and recognised that it was not just him, it was not just a happy personality – it was the work of God in his life. They saw a work of God that they did not have in their lives.
Is that what our friends, neighbours, family, colleagues and team-mates would say about us?