“Jesus did tell the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more,” but that was after He risked His own life to protect her from a rabid mob. And she probably listened, because His willingness to align Himself with undesirable sinners gave Him an amazing amount of influence.”
Sometimes even the most well meaning people cause tremendous harm to others in the name of “preaching the truth.” In my own endeavor to follow Jesus I have spent numerous hours and days annoying the snot out of people I claimed to be “witnessing to.” I would tell the the truth of the gospel, and I would genuinely desire for them to be reconciled to God. The problem was I was unwilling to sacrifice any of myself for them. I wouldn’t spend time with them. I wouldn’t go to their parties. I wouldn’t “get too close.” Back then I was under the false impression that Christian holiness meant not associating with worldly people. I would speak the truth from a safe distance. I eventually had to come to grips with the fact that I really didn’t love these people at all.
The realization came one day when I stopped to help a man change a flat tire on the side of the road. It was 100 degrees and he was dressed very well, obviously late to some important meeting or maybe a dinner with his wife or something. When I arrived on the scene there were two men, one desperately trying to change a tire without getting his nice clothes dirty and one standing, watching and preaching! When the preacher finished his gospel presentation he thanked us for listening, got back into his car and drove away. I’m sure he felt like he had accomplished something that day for the kingdom. I could tell he cared deeply about our souls. However, it was difficult to listen while changing a problematic tire in the hot Louisiana sun.
After he left, the business man had a few choice words to say in contempt of the preaching gentleman (as well as Christians in general!) before thanking me for helping him. All I could muster was, “please know that we’re not all like that.”
Since that time I have discovered that people will listen to just about anything I have to say IF they feel that I care about them and that I’m not judging them or looking down my nose at them. This has been true in just about every situation I’ve found myself in where I had the opportunity to serve someone before I preached to them.
The point I’m trying to make is that, in the minds of many, many people Christians are judgmental people whose biggest concern is being right and fighting for their right to be right. It’s true that Jesus said we would have conflict in the world and that we shouldn’t be surprised if the world hates us, but that’s not the picture that Jesus painted of his followers.
The following article deals briefly with the conflict that is sure to happen to Christians as they follow Jesus in ministry to others. However, the conflict may not be what you think it is . . .
You’re going to have conflict; there’s no way around it. No matter how hard you work to make everyone happy and avoid saying anything provocative, you’re eventually going to find yourself in a dispute. If you want to be mature, you’ll need to learn how to tread the treacherous waters of confrontation.
The more you align yourself with the truth, the more friction you’re going to create. Jesus says it this way, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). He goes on to point out that, in the past, everyone spoke well of the false prophets. There’s probably not a lot of substance in what you’re saying if it causes no tension.
Winston Churchill famously said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Like Churchill, the whole New Testament promises that truth-tellers will find themselves irritating those around them. In fact, we’re reminded not to be surprised if the world hates us (1 John 3:13).
All that said, I think it’s important to understand that just because people are upset with you doesn’t mean you are standing up for truth. It’s entirely possible that you’re just being kind of a jerk. I would be rich if I had a nickel for every time someone used, “Hey, I’m just telling the truth” as an excuse to be cruel.
One of the big problems we have in the American church is how comfortable we are picking fights with everyone. When you make the greatest virtue of “standing up for your faith,” people judge their faithfulness by using conflict as a measuring stick.
If you’re serious about Christ’s message, conflict is inevitable. There’s no way around it. The real question we need to be asking ourselves is, “Who should the Christians be in conflict with and why?”
Who Did Jesus Annoy?
The Christian message doesn’t change, and neither do the structures it challenges. We need to be willing to carry our cross as Jesus instructed us, but we need to know if we’re dying on the right hill.
When we think about the Christian in conflict, we need to look at Jesus. Who did our Lord come into conflict with? Who did He challenge? Who was willing to have Him killed to shut Him up? We can’t interact with our culture in a meaningful way until we answer these questions. If we truly want to be conformed to the image of Christ, we need to be upsetting the right people.
Confronting the Powers
Jesus was marked for death before He was potty trained. Herod was willing to slay an entire town’s children in order to hold on to power. His authority came from the religious status quo, and he wasn’t going to let some Messiah come in and make him obsolete.
The Pharisees, Sadducees and the rest of the Sanhedrin weren’t big fans of Jesus either.
It’s not like Jesus was inciting rebellion. In fact, He encouraged people to submit to their religious authorities (Matthew 23:2–3), but He was disrupting the ability of those authorities to control others through shame and intimidation.
Jesus regularly came into conflict with authority, generally because He was aligned with people. Whether He was overturning the tables of moneychangers trying to bilk faithful worshippers out of the little money they had, or standing between an angry crowd and a woman caught in adultery (who the orthodox would say should be killed), Jesus always took the side of broken humanity.
Sure, Jesus did tell the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more,” but that was after He risked His own life to protect her from a rabid mob. And she probably listened, because His willingness to align Himself with undesirable sinners gave Him an amazing amount of influence.
Jesus spoke truth to power, and power wanted Him put down.
Challenging the Orthodox
The religious rules in first-century Jewish culture didn’t make life better—they made it more difficult. They hurt people.
An important element of that religious culture was associational purity. To maintain purity, one couldn’t associate with the wrong kinds of people. This created its own caste system. Someone who was orthodox couldn’t be seen in the company of women they weren’t married to, races they didn’t like (Samaritans), tax-gatherers, the demonized, etc. Associating with the wrong person undermined your holiness—a holiness they used Scripture to justify.
The problem Christ had was that the Pharisees used orthodoxy to control the behavior of others. In the end, their orthodoxy was pretense. They did the stuff that made them appear devout, but neglected true, private acts of devotion (Matthew 23:2).
Jesus nails this point home in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9–14). Orthodoxy’s temptation is self-righteousness. It is a problem when you define your relationship to God based on how right you are, and not on how zealously you desire to be close to Him. It too easily becomes a belligerent form of tribalism and exclusivity.
Of course we should all aspire to theological accuracy. We desperately need right doctrine and practice. But Jesus stood against the Pharisees who were finding worth and value in orthodoxy and using it to exclude others. The fact that every Christian denomination has their own view of what orthodoxy is should be humbling.
We shouldn’t be priding ourselves on elements of religious devotion that are clearly visible: how often we attend church, our understanding of some theological stream, our lack of profanity, etc. What’s most significant about our relationship to God are things others will never see. The identifiers of a heart submitted to God are found in the secret acts of devotion. And we should be reaching out to the “unorthodox,” even if it sometimes means making the “orthodox” angry.
Fighting the Right Battle
Despite what you’ve heard, Christians are not at war with our culture. Our enemy is any boundary between common people and the Gospel. Instead of coming against power structures, we too often want to align with them in order to legislate and enforce holiness. Jesus went to war with power in order to build relationships with people who needed an advocate.
If you’re getting pats on the back for “telling the truth” to sinners or standing up to them because of your values, be careful. You might be aligning yourself against Jesus.
HT: Jason Bradley, Relevant Magazine