- Biblical Characters
- Book Review
- Doctrinal Explanation
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Radical Church
- Radical Faith
- Radical Life
- Radical Reading
Proverbs twenty-six, especially verses four and five, came to mind today because of an exchange with a self-style prophet. When dealing with such fools, one finds it hard to know the right course of action to take. Verse four discourages answering a fool, while verse five encourages answering him. This apparent contradiction is not lost on most who read the passage. Interestingly, it comes across as a “darned if you do; darned if you don’t” sort of situation. It appears that no matter what one does in response to a fool, it will not go well.
The entire chapter is about avoiding interaction with, and the dangers of close proximity to fools. Unfortunately, the internet in general (and social media in particular) seems to be a magnet for fools and any time spent online will lead to discussions with them. While I would never support some sort of internet censorship, I do think we as Christian should know how to respond. Before I lay out some pointers on how to respond, let me tell you that I come to these conclusions as one who too often did not respond well. I’ve been burned in the flame war. I’ve been called names and done a fair share of name calling myself. I have ruined relationships with people because the anonymity of the internet made it possible to act in a way that I would never have done face to face. Sometimes, I fear that I have been the fool others were trying to correct.
In thinking about Proverbs 26:4f I wanted to share some thoughts about dealing with fools and especially about what this passage tells us. The book of Proverbs, like Ecclesiastes, is part of a genre known as Wisdom Literature. Wisdom Literature is mostly poetic and meant to provide practical guidance for the day to day living of life. This type of literature is common throughout the world and can be found in most cultures. Much of Proverbs is written in the form of an elder telling a youth how to behave and how to respond to the world.
In English poetry, the primary tool used is rhyme and rhythm. A major attribute of Hebrew poetry is parallelism (sometimes defined as a logical rhythm). In parallelism one line, or thought, will be repeated with an identical, supporting or contrasting line or thought. We see this poetic feature throughout the Old Testament, including Proverbs. Here is an examples to consider:
Proverbs 25:16f (NIV)
16: “If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit.”
17: “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house—too much of you and he will hate you.”
Some will ask how this is parallelism, since one is about overeating honey and the other about not making a pest of yourself. Actually, they are both about moderation in pleasant things. Just as too much of something wonderfully sweet will become repulsive, too much of you—no matter how sweet you may find yourself—will become repulsive. An interesting version used by Dave Ramsey is: “If you eat enough lobster, it starts to taste like soap.”
Psalms are full of examples of parallelism. Let’s look at Psalm 51 (one of my favorites) for examples:
5 (NIV): “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
7 (NIV): “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
You can see the parallelism in both passages. In verse 5, David speaks of being sinful at the moment of birth, and in the next breath he takes this further by pointing out that he was conceived sinful. Both are related, but he has taken the first statement and made it stronger. In verse 7 he speaks of being cleansed by God as being truly clean then steps it up by saying “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” It is easier to understand if we consider that in the first part he speaks of ceremonial cleansing (with hyssop) and then speaks of the action of a fuller doing laundry. The word for “wash me” describes the action of a fuller, who would put clothing into a vat and then stomp the filth from them and add uric acid to bleach them white and dissolve the grime. So verse 7 is literally “Stomp the filth out of me and I will be whiter than snow.” This juxtaposes the spiritual cleansing making one ceremonial clean and the practical cleansing of garments.
The examples also show that in parallelism the compared lines or thoughts do not have to say the same thing in the same way—parallelism is not simple repetition. Sometimes, like in Proverbs 26:4f, the two lines are set up to contrast. However, there are enough details to get some great meaning out of verses 4 and 5. Let’s lay them out here before looking at them (both are from the NIV):
4: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.”
5: “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
Notice that in one you are told a bad thing will result if you answer the fool, and in the other you are told a bad thing will happen if you do not answer a fool. In each case following the command is meant to prevent the bad result. When you start to break this down you will actually see that there is no contradiction. It shows the bad situation possible when interacting with fools. This problem alone should be enough to steer us away from them, when possible. Yet, we can discern from it how to respond in those situations where you inevitably deal with fools.
Understand from the passage that if you interact with a fool, you are going to look foolish and if you simply ignore him and let him go on his way, he will likely take that as tacit agreement with his views. So the question of “Then how should I respond to the fool?” is better asked as, “Should I risk looking foolish to help the fool or should I allow the fool to assume I agree.” The answer to this will differ according to the situation. If the fool is someone you are responsible for (meaning that you will be held responsible for the fool’s actions or that you are responsible for making them wise) then it is better to look foolish and intercede. If the fool’s actions will endanger others, and you could stop it, then it is better to risk looking or being foolish by stepping in. However, if the person is simply a fool for whom you are not responsible, and his actions or words do not endanger others, then it is probably best to let it go and leave the fool to his foolishness. We all have the same amount of freedom and that includes the freedom to be a fool, co long as our foolishness hurts only us.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I was given this book, I assumed it was another trite pablum-filled tome that exemplifies so much of Christian publishing today. I could not have been more wrong. The point of this book is that the best Christian life is found in treasuring God and not the things or stuff he could provide. The author takes the reader through the dangers of a life lived From God, Under God, Over God, and even For God. He expounds a life lived WITH God then uses 1 Corinthians 13 to apply this to a life lived with the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.
His main point is that God is to be our treasure and our life. No other life will satisfy and any life, no matter how mundane, if lived with close communion WITH God can be satisfying and contented.
I suppose the most surprising part was the section decrying the Life FOR God, because I am from a very mission’s minded background where what you are doing for the Kingdom is stressed, and satisfaction is to be found in meaningful service. I wish I had read this book twenty years ago. It could have spared me years of discontent and many times of wandering in the wilderness feeling I just wasn’t doing enough for the kingdom.
Micah 6:8 NIV: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
This passage, one of the easiest in scripture to memorize and quote, condenses the commands of God into a short easy to remember formula. Just as the whole law is often said to be a commentary on the commands to love God and to love your neighbor; Micah 6:8 records the heart of Christian ethics, and all the rest can be seen as commentary or exposition applying the teaching found here.
The passage starts with a question, “What has God required of you?” and goes on to give a three-part answer, illuminating three categories of action: (1) my behavior towards my fellow man, (2) my response to my fellow man, and (3) my walk with God. All three are prescriptive—telling us “do,” rather than “don’t do.” We are “to act justly,” “to love mercy,” and “to walk humbly with God.” Let’s look at each of these in turn.
To Act Justly
To act justly is to act in way that is equitable. It is to guide one’s actions by the standard of justice. When I interact with others, in business or in life, I discover myself bound to them. Perhaps I am bound to behave toward them in a specific way. It may be a debt of finances owed or property held in trust. It could mean I owe you certain consideration. So in our interactions, justice requires I consider others in my decisions. It may require that I act towards you in a certain way—honor and respect for example. It may leave me owing you payment, or property.
To act justly means that whenever you act, in the final reckoning, that action balances the scales. When I make a choice to pay a bill or not pay it, the question of right and wrong is “do I justly owe that bill?” If so, then one who acts justly pays the bill. If, in our station and place in the world, I owe certain behavior towards you—respect, deference, etc.—then to act justly is to behave towards you in this way. It is this which Paul has in mind when he commands us to “give whatever is owed” in Romans 13:7a. In that passage he mentions taxes, revenue, respect and honor. Yes, the context is how we behave toward governing authorities, but it is based on this idea of acting justly. We do this towards governing authorities because we must do this towards all people. If I owe you a certain amount of money or a certain amount of respect and withhold it from you, then I have acted unjustly. The scales are unbalanced, with my side having more because I am retaining something that belongs on your side of the scales. Yet, this is not the end of the passage.
Close insistence on justice in all situations lead us to an eye for an eye and infliction of punishment against those who offend against us. These are biblical concepts, but don’t forget the next part.
To Love Mercy
If justice is balancing the scales, mercy is allowing the scales to be unbalanced to our own detriment, the other person’s good. Notice that it doesn’t just tell us to “do mercy.” No. It tells us to actually love mercy. We are to enjoy, and find pleasure in not holding others to account. We are to love forgiving wrongs and debts without demanding restitution. We are to enjoy freeing others from what they owe us. This doesn’t mean allowing oneself to be victimized. It actually shows different values. When I love mercy, it is not loss to allow someone to retain what they justly owe me. I get my pleasure, my value, out of forgiving them. You can actually tell what someone loves by what they insist on. One who loves money will insist they be paid back every penny owed them. One who loves their place and prestige makes sure that everyone gives them the respect and honor that their status requires. One who loves mercy will make sure to take opportunities to extend mercy. If I love to be merciful in matters of debt, I gladly forgive debts. If I love to be merciful even when others abuse me, I gladly forgive those who abuse me.
Justice guides my actions towards others; mercy guides my reaction to others. Both ultimately have to do with how I respond to ethical situations in life. To determine how I should behave towards another, the key is justice. What do I owe? What is just to do? What is just to give? What is just to pay? But “loving mercy” is the key to my response to other’s actions and to debts owed to me. He owes me, but if I love mercy, I choose to forgive the debt. He hurt me, but since I love mercy, I choose to forgive the trespass. He disrespected me, but out of love for mercy, I choose to overlook it. In the end, I hold myself to doing right by acting justly and forgive others when they fail “to act justly” towards me. Both are my choices, and interestingly are things that I can actually do. I cannot undo the things you have done to me. I ultimately have no control over what you do, but I have control over how I choose to respond.
It is better to be merciful to those who hurt us, while striving hard not to hurt others. Now, some might say that this puts me at a disadvantage. They may say, “I force myself to do justly, while others do not care about doing right, so—in the end—I lose.” However, this overlooks an important part of this ethical equation. To simply stop there, I am to be pitied, because my ethics makes me a potential victim. However, this passage also speaks of our walk with God. It is this that balances the scales, when the other person refuses to do so.
To Walk Humbly with God
Walking humbly with God is actually tied to these previous two. They are our relationship with our fellowman and this command is our relationship with God. However, it tells us to walk with God, but where do we walk? We walk upon the earth, among our fellow men. We live out our life before the divine, but we live it among the mundane. When we walk humbly with God, we do not demand our own from Him. We allow that God is in control of our lives and we humbly accept what he brings in to our lives. When others mistreat us, we trust God to handle it. When others cheat us and act unjustly we know God has allowed it for our good. It means we trust Him to handle things in the end. However, the humility is an important part of this. One reason we are quick to demand our way and to demand people treat us a specific way is because we hold ourselves in high regard. “I deserve better!” We as Christians know we do not deserve better. We know that we deserve death and damnation. We know that it is true “There but by the grace of God go I” but should also know it is equally true to say, “There but by the grace of God was I.” When others mistreat us, we can lean upon God. We can trust that the things He allows into our lives serve a purpose and the purpose is far more glorious than the life we would have planned for ourselves. We can look at life’s situations and say, “You apparently want me to go through this Lord. So be it.” This is humbly walking with God.
Take a Step Back
This takes our ethics in a different direction from what is often assumed by the term. There are various schools of normative ethics (a system of ethics with a formula for determining right from wrong, and with a process for determining a course of action). Many of these ethical schools have tried to show that Christian ethics fall within their camp. Rather than doing this (personally, I see Christian ethics as closest to Virtue Ethics, but that is not important here), I will point out some things this passage tells us about Christian ethical behavior.
As I said before, our action towards others is guided by justice and our response to others is guided by mercy. I also said that this is within the context of a humble walk with God. But some will claim that if we take this to a certain length we could actually be enabling sin and even harming others. What if I know a person who borrows money to pay a bill, but is unable to pay me back? To act mercifully, I would forgive the debt. Of course, since the Bible says that the borrower is slave to the lender and I have no desire to enslave anyone, I always give money and never lend it (I am talking about individuals, not the bank). But let’s take the illustration a bit further. How do I respond when the person comes to request more money? Do I lend or not. If I do not, am I being unmerciful? Mercy is how I respond to what others owe me—through a debt or through their action. There is nothing merciful or unmerciful about giving someone money. Giving is grace or generosity, not mercy. Mercy tells me to forgive what they cannot or will not pay back. It does not tell me whether to give in the first place. Now, you may say, “What if they need the money to pay an important bill? Wouldn’t it be unmerciful to not give them help?” Mercy has only to do with what you owe me, not what you owe another. Giving them money to pay a bill is still generosity and not mercy. Mercy would be if the one they owed forgave the debt so they didn’t have to pay the bill. So what about the part of the passage that determines my actions, instead of my reactions? What about Justice? If I refuse to give to another person something I do not owe them, then am I being unjust? Of course not!
Now, many will complain that this reduces an ethical view derived from this passage to nonsense or uselessness because we have very quickly found an example of an ethical problem that it does not answer. However, this is not true at all—it has given an answer to the problem. We have shown that our ethical standard of acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God does not require us to take any action in this case, neither does it forbid us from taking an action—this is an answer. Ethical systems can show us an action is required, is forbidden or is neutral. In this case we are free to decide to give or not give and neither course of action would be unethical. Of course, you can also bring in the part about walking humbly with God and prayerfully seek direction from God. Does He want you to give? You could also dig deeper into the situation to see if there is some unmentioned fact which would require one direction or another. This has nothing to do with the usefulness of Micah 6:8 to guide our ethical decisions, but simply shows that deeper knowledge can change one situation into a very different situation.
So consider the depth of Micah 6:8, God requires us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him.
“Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Gal 5:2-6 NRS)
When I was younger I was in a denomination that constantly talked about people who had “fallen from grace.” This term was used for those believed to have lost their salvation. It was usually thrown at those who did not behave as the church required—those who had fallen into sin. I always find it interesting how terms and phrases are used and why they are used this way, so I wanted to find out what “falling from grace” meant. In studying the scriptures I was surprised to find that the term only appears in one passage—Galatians 5:4. As much as my earlier churches had used it, one would think the phrase was sprinkled throughout scripture as a central theme. It is amazing how someone can take one idea, in one passage and make it the center of their theology.
The phrase, “fallen from grace” is in scripture, so it is a scriptural concept. However, when you take it in context, it is nothing close to what it is often used to mean. It does not refer to someone who gets saved and then falls into a pattern of sin leading to their loss of salvation. If you look at the context you see that falling from grace means trusting in one’s own legalistic actions for justification. It is trying “to be good enough through one’s own actions in keeping the law.”
Paul uses circumcision to stand for all law-keeping justification. He does this because circumcision has long been a stumbling block to Jewish converts and had even become a matter of discussion among diaspora Jews—some had stopped circumcising their children because of the social handicap it caused. Using this, Paul gives a very graphic, if not disturbing, image. Paul says that those who seek to be justified by being circumcised (law-keeping) have “cut [themselves] off from Christ.” Think about that for a moment. In circumcision, the foreskin is cut off. Paul is saying that those who seek justification through cutting off their foreskin have cut themselves off from Christ. In a manner of speaking Paul is saying, “If you seek to be justified before God by cutting your foreskin, that same cut actually cuts you away from Christ.” The only justification before God is found in Christ, through grace. In effect, you spiritually make yourself the foreskin removed and discarded from the body of Christ. Seeking justification through any other means, actions, sacrifices, behaviors is to be cut off from Christ, to fall from grace.
The problem is that most of those misusing the term are also using it to inflict upon people what had been inflicted upon the Galatians. Paul says that anyone who proclaims a different gospel (a gospel of law-keeping) is to be considered accursed. He goes on to say that following their example and teaching is to become legalists, bound to keep the whole law (something Paul tells us elsewhere is impossible, and something incapable of saving anyone) and to be cut off from Christ. The churches I knew as a child who used this term actually twisted it 180 degrees to mean the exact opposite. They used it as a bludgeon to force law-keeping and to inspire legalism. “Do this or you might fall from grace.” “Make sure you remove this from your life or you might fall from grace.”
When sharing the gospel, make sure it is the actual gospel. Make sure you share the gospel that gives freedom. If you are sharing a gospel that binds rules and observances to a person as a requirement of being justified then you are a modern equivalent to the people Paul wishes “would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12 NIV)
In the gospel, there are no deeds that one must do to be justified. There are no deeds one must do, no observances one must submit to in order to be saved. In the gospel, salvation is through the divine act of Christ. Does this then make us free to sin? Does this eradicate the standard of sin? Absolutely not! However, we do not keep observances to be justified. We do not keep rules in order to be justified or saved. We observe what Christ commanded us to observe and obey what he commanded because of what he has already done for us. This is not “easy-believism.” This is actually far harder, because it discounts the benefits of any action on my part. We all want to believe that we were saved because we were good enough. We want to be able to write the book—“How I did it on my own.” We all want to know that we made it to heaven because God was impressed. It is this conviction that is easy for sinful humans. To admit that there is nothing I can do to be saved, nothing good within me, nothing I can do to be good enough, is hard.
When sharing the gospel, make sure it is the gospel and not law. Make sure you are bringing people to Christ and not actually cutting them off from Christ. It is a shame when one replaces bad news for good news when one replaces “evangelism” with “legalism.”
Please comment below if you have anything germane to add.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 NIV
What has Christ freed us from? What is this yoke of slavery that Paul speaks of?
Taken in context of Galatians, Paul is referring to the demands of legalism. The issues Paul is specifically concerned with are circumcision (as part of salvation), and special religious observances (as part of salvation). While discussion of the law and how much is still in force are major dividing points in the church, this is not what I want to address at this time (though I promise to do so again, soon). Simply put, the legalism that we have been freed from is any extra-biblical requirement placed upon us, meant to make us more acceptable to God. Circumcision was being demanded for gentiles as necessary for acceptance by God. This was very contrary to the gospel. The gospel taught that salvation and acceptance by God had nothing to do with the conditions, actions, or nature of the person saved. Salvation and acceptance by God was tied to the nature of God and his sacrificial acts to secure salvation.
Paul commands us to not let ourselves be burdened with a yoke of slavery. For modern readers this doesn’t have nearly the impact experienced by our ancestors. To us, slavery is something alien. It is a word that we throw around in a way they would have laughed at. We speak of being a slave to our jobs, or other modern conditions. In ancient times when two groups went to war, the conquerors could do whatever they chose with the conquered. If the Romans chose to enslave the population they would build a “yoke.” This was made of three spears: one on each side and a third tied above as a cross bar. Those being enslaved would walk through this structure. You entered one side free and came out the other transformed into a slave. This was “submission to the yoke of slavery.”
The thing to keep in mind is that everyone enslaved in this way, chose slavery. Yes there were other ways to be enslaved that didn’t involve choice—such as children sold into slavery or found abandoned on the town dump—but when Paul speaks of letting ourselves be burdened with the yoke of slavery it is this ceremony of conquest that he has in mind. By walking through, they were choosing slavery over death. The conquered could choose to fight on and die, or could choose slavery.
When Paul tells us not to submit to a yoke of slavery, he is saying: “Do not choose to walk through into slavery.” We are to resist the legalists. We are to choose a spiritual fight rather than surrendering to those who would enslave us to their legalistic false gospel. Submitting to legalism in the name of peace is not a virtue. When the ancients chose to walk through into slavery, it was seen as proof of their lack of virtue. Such people were believed to be slaves by nature. A person of virtue, one truly fit for freedom, could never choose slavery. Any person not a slave by nature would have to be killed to end the struggle.
We Christians, freed by Christ, must resolve never to be enslaved again. We were set free by Christ, and it is time we demonstrate our place as Christ’s Freedmen. We do this by resisting the demands of the legalists. We do this by refusing to allow any, other than Christ, to place rules and burdens upon us. If we allow any other to burden us then we have chosen to walk through the yoke of spears into slavery. We demonstrate that we are not fit for freedom, but are by nature slaves.
If you have anything germane to add, leave a comment below.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26 NIV).
The creation of man in the image of God is central to Judaism and Christianity. This view of humanity permeates all of scripture from Old Testament to New, and is the foundation for the ethical and moral teachings of the Bible. James bemoans those who praise God with the mouth and then “curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9 NIV) with the same mouth.
But what did the author mean when he says, “God created mankind in his own image”? I’m most familiar with three different views. I see each of them as deficient and would like to explain why before giving a very different view of “man as divine image.” (1) Some see this as a result of the anthropomorphic view of God—man looks like he does because God looks like this. (2) Some Christians claim it refers to the spiritual dimension of man, because just as God is spirit, man has a spirit. (3) Some take this further, even using a tri-partite division of humans (spirit, soul and body) as a representation of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
First, let’s discuss the anthropomorphic view. It was quite common among the ancients to view their gods as being like humans—with eyes, arms, legs, fingers, toes, and gender. Many believe this is what the author of Genesis 1 meant. Is the author claiming Adam looked like YHWH? I would say this is unlikely, because while the cultures around did see their gods as being humanoid in appearance, they were not always cast in a humanoid image. Many of the ancient gods were displayed in mixed images, with human bodies and animal heads, or simply as animals. We actually see an attempt in the Old Testament to represent YHWH—the God who delivered Israel from Egypt—as a golden calf. In Exodus 32, during the absence of Moses, the people demanded Aaron to give them a god (Exodus 32:1). Aaron collected their jewelry and used it to cast a golden calf. He even tells them that this idol represents the god who delivered them out of Egypt (Exodus 32:4). He goes on to tell them, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD” (Exodus 325 NIV). It is often believed that Aaron gave them another god, as an act of idolatry. However, keep in mind that Aaron was not punished as the people were, but still served as High Priest. This tells us there was something different from Aaron’s act in this and the people’s act. The people demanded a god or gods. Aaron gave them an idol but tells them the idol is the god who delivered them from Egypt and dedicates a feast to the LORD. Note that Lord is all caps. This is because the Hebrew word is YHWH. The people cared little for whom they would worship. They just wanted a god to worship and protect them. Aaron sought to give them what they wanted, while staying faithful to YHWH. He tried to represent YHWH as a calf. In other words, Aaron erroneously set up an image of YHWH for the people. This will be important when we look back at the image of God—man.
Another explanation is that the image of God is meant to refer to the spiritual nature of man. Just as God is a spirit, man became a living spirit. People will often quote the King James Version of Genesis 2:7, “and man became a living soul.” Actually this really only says that this was how man came to life, and nothing about his spiritual condition. Most modern translations of this passage simply say that in this way man became a living creature or a living being. Those who try to defend this position will claim this shows man as different from animals because humans have spirits and animals do not. However, I don’t think there is enough evidence in scripture to definitely support this contention. I’m not saying it is possible animals have spirits or that humans are nothing but higher animals. What I am saying is that there is insufficient evidence that the ancients, to whom God gave Genesis, believed animals had no spirits. Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 shows that both man and animal have the same breath and both die. Solomon even ends that passage with doubts about whether the spirits of man and animal have different fates. Keep in mind, that Ecclesiastes was written to express doubts, and is not an exposition of salvation or even of the spiritual realm. It does however show us that there had not been full revelation of salvation and the afterlife. Much of this was not given until the inspiration of the New Testament. However, it does show that some of the ancients believed animals and humans both had spirits. I am not saying they do, but only recording what it appears some of them believed. There is no reason to believe that being made in the image of God refers to the spirit of man, or is meant as setting apart man as a spiritual being.
The final view to consider is the contention that this is based on the tri-partite division of man (body, soul and spirit) as an image of the triunity of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). However, there is no reason to believe this is what is meant by man being the image of God. While the Triune nature of the godhead is easy to defend from the whole of scripture, there is no reason to believe this concept would have meant anything to the believers prior to the revelation of the New Testament. To use this as a reference to the Trinity is to re-interpret it in a way that renders it meaningless to the original readers.
There is, in my opinion, a far better view of the creation of man as the image of God. This view is based upon the culture of the time and what the original readers would have thought when considering the term “image of God.” When the ancients spoke of an image of a god they were speaking about the physical representation of the god. This was usually in the form of a man-made idol, but in some religions other things might represent the god. Of course, you have to understand when the ancients worshipped before an idol they were not actually worshipping the clay, stone, metal or wood object. They were worshipping the god represented by the image through interaction with the image. To offer food to the god, they placed it before the idol. To offer valuable garments to the god, they dressed the idol. To anoint the god, they anointed the idol.
Genesis 1:26 implies this view of man as his image when God says, “Let us make man in our image that he may rule over [the rest of creation].” He didn’t say, “Let’s make man that he may rule.” Our ruling upon the earth is part of our place as the image of God. This does not mean God was creating us as little gods. Neither does it mean that man is worthy of worship, or that the animals would worship God through veneration of mankind. What it does mean is that man was created, in his pre-fall condition, as the representation of God upon the earth. God would rule the universe through the creature he placed over creation—his image, humanity.
The implications of this are far more ethical than metaphysical. Attempts to make “made in the image of God” as a metaphysical statement in emulation of the spiritual nature of God or of the Trinity are stretching at best. We actually gain two realities from a representative view of man as the image of God. The first is the reality that man was created to rule the universe as God’s representative—as caretakers of God’s creation. In this way, we were meant to be God’s agents in the universe. The second is the ethical reality. The way we treat our fellow man is the way we treat God. We interact with God through interaction with our fellow man. When we love our fellow man, we are loving God. When we hatefully abuse our fellow man we are hatefully abusing God.
When God revealed to Moses that we were created to be his image upon the earth, he was removing any possibility of setting up idols to represent him. Just like it was believed the ancient gods inspired workmen to create an idol and in this way the god had chosen his or her own representation, the God of Moses has shown that he ordained his representation upon the earth. No other representative of him would suffice. God gave us a location in the world where we could interact with him. This location for interaction with the divine, in our pre-fallen state, was our fellow man. Had we not fallen (the implications built into this statement are mindboggling at best), this human agency would not have replaced our personal interaction with God, but likely would have been an outgrowth of it. It is the fall that ripped this blessed agency from us. It is the fall that made us no longer a fitting representation of God. The fall made us a shadow of what we were meant to be. Because of the fall, God had to ordain another representative of himself and other ways for us to interact with Him—such as the tabernacle, the covenantal ark, the temple and finally the perfect son of God.
While we no longer represent God perfectly as his image upon the earth (though with the indwelling Holy Spirit given by Christ we are growing back into that image), one part of our status as the image of God has always remained. The way I behave toward my fellow human is actually how I behave toward God. When I love another, I love God. When I hate another, I hate God. What I do to my fellow man, I do to God. Sins against the person beside me are sins against the God of heaven.
To recognize the image of God in our fellowman is to recognize that behavior towards him or her is behavior towards God. It is to see our sins against another person as not only equal, but identical, to sins against God Most High. You want to love God, love your fellow man.
We too often see those we read about in scripture as two dimensional. By this I mean that we see what they experience and the context in which it is experienced, but we forget much of the human element. Have you ever thought about what must have been going on in Saul’s head during the three days of fasting and prayer after his encounter with Jesus? Have you ever wondered why he was struck blind? What did this convey to the Jewish man (Saul) who experienced it?
We can easily see that the experience was life changing for Saul. We know he was a different man after meeting Jesus than he was before meeting him. Yet, Saul spent three days waiting, fasting, praying. He didn’t know if he would see again. He didn’t know if the one who appeared to him would forgive him. He had no idea what his future held, no idea if he even had a future.
In our day, with the opportunities available to the blind we still feel a sense of fear at the idea of losing our sight. I have bad eyes and have since I was nine years old. In High School an optometrist told me that at the rate my eyes were deteriorating I would be blind by time I was 28. Praise God this didn’t happen! Yet, at 46 I was diagnosed with early cataracts (which can be corrected when they get bad enough) and was warned that I am very close to having glaucoma (which can’t be corrected), so the possibility of losing my sight is very real to me. It’s very frightening, but I know that in today’s world there are many opportunities and tools for the sightless. The situation was very different in Saul’s day. Saul had much to lose, and the loss of his sight would have ruined him.
In those days the opportunities for the blind were very few and the public opinion of the blind was not positive. There were no jobs for the blind. The sightless were cast upon the generosity of others—either from family or through begging. For a Jew there were some very specific problems. The blind were seen as cursed by God (see John 9:2 for an example). Saul would understand that every one of his people who saw him would assume that he was guilty of some vile sin for which God had struck him. For a man whose whole life had been wrapped up in living according to the law of God (Gal 2:14), this would be shattering. His fellowship with the people and access to God would have been undermined as well. The blind could not enter the temple, but were required to stay outside with the most defiled. Saul appears to have been a member of the Sanhedrin, since he tells us in Acts 26:10, “and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” Many scholars agree that this vote shows Saul as being a member of the Sanhedrin. As a blind man, this power and authority would have been ripped from his hands. By experiencing Jesus, Saul had been cast down from a place of power and wealth into the role of a blind beggar cursed by God and barred from access to the place of God’s presence. This had to be going through his mind during those three days.
As a member of his society, Saul would have understood this. As a scholar of the Old Testament, Saul would also have been familiar with the imagery of blindness applied to a sinful people consciously refusing to see the truth. Saul would have understood that the Lord was showing him his own willful blindness to the truth. He would have understood this as a demonstration of his active rebellion against God—the same God he believed he had been serving. Not only did Saul’s reality get changed by this experience of the risen Christ, but his whole self-image was demolished. Saul the Pius was reduced to Saul the Cursed.
Imagine three days of inflicted blindness; three days of extreme depression; three days not knowing what would happen; three days to think the worst, when suddenly one of the people you had intended to arrest claims arrives to strip away the curse and lift you back out of the pit. Jesus had taken away everything from Saul, and through the hands of a disciple, Jesus gave it all back. It was not returned to Saul the persecutor, but to Saul the servant of Jesus.
Sometimes, when life is darkest, when we feel the most defiled and broken down, we have actually arrived at the point where Jesus is ready to remake us in his image. Don’t hang on to your expectations of the past, to your lost dreams of the future. Realize that everything he put you through, everything he let you got through made you into the disciple he chose to serve him.
This morning in my devotional reading, I finished the Gospel of John. After meditating for several days on the interchange between Jesus and Peter in 21:15-19, this morning I went on to the last exchange of the book—Peter’s question to Jesus about the apostle John.
Peter has just discussed his own love for Jesus. Keep in mind that earlier Peter implied his greater love for Jesus by promising that even if all the rest abandoned him, Peter would stand with him. Of course, Jesus went on to demonstrate Peter’s own weakness by abandoning Christ even worse than the others. However, this was not the end of Peter; it was also not the end of Peter comparing himself to other disciples. Jesus had just discussed Peter’s own love for him and the task Jesus was giving him: “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” and finally “Feed my sheep.” Jesus went on to predict that Peter would die and how he would die. Peter was greatly blessed by the Lord he recently rejected. He was promised a prominent role in caring for the church. Just as important for Peter, as Jesus had previously predicted Peter’s rejection, he now predicted Peter’s faithfulness unto death. Finally, Jesus reiterated the call of Peter with the oft used command “Follow me!” Peter was forgiven; he was restored; his call was reiterated; his end was predicted.
You would expect, with all of this, Peter to be satisfied. You would expect him to take his calling and be happy to walk forward serving the Lord, but we see a brief moment where it appears Peter’s nature comes out again. Peter, at this point, saw John and asked, “What about him?” Just as many times in the past, Jesus got direct with Peter. Jesus said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22 NIV). Jesus told Peter, “That’s none of your business.”
Rather than being concerned with what Jesus was or was not going to do with John, Peter was to keep his mind on what Jesus was going to do with him. In the same way, it is very easy for us to get concerned with what God is or is not doing with or through others and forget what God wants to do with or through us. It is especially difficult when we don’t have the blessing of being told the end, by the one who will bring about that end. We wander through life, with little knowledge of what the future holds. We only have the promises of scripture to stand on and the faith that Christ has plans for us. We see our own ministry and it is too easy, too tempting, to compare our own flock, our own field to that of others. It is tempting to weigh our value for the kingdom by comparing our work to the work of others.
One of the worst groups for doing this is pastors. We teach our people to work for God and be happy in that work, but trust the results to Jesus. Yet, in unguarded moments—and even some very guarded ones—we compare ourselves to others. I have experienced this in many ways. When two pastors meet they often start getting to know one another with two questions:
- How many people attend your church?
- How many people can your facility seat?
While we do not consciously compare ourselves to others, it is natural to make those calculations and in groups and associations of pastors you can almost see a pecking order develop, with pastors of larger churches coming to the fore and those of smaller churches being pushed to the periphery. When a group of pastors gather, this practice is so common and so pronounced I have taken to comparing it to the dogs getting to know one another—I’ll let you visualize that yourself.
This is unfortunate. Some of the best men of God, some of the most dedicated servants of the kingdom and, yes, even some of the most gifted teachers and preachers in the world are the pastors, elders and leaders who work in small churches. This is not to disparage the larger churches or to somehow turn the table to give greater value to the small church pastor. Personally, I think there is a place for the mega-church. The mega-church does some good that the small church could never do. However, when a pastor or church member judges a church by how it compares to another we lose something very important. We are each called to different fields; to different flocks; to different ministries. These callings are always based on God’s sovereignty. God sovereignly decides who will labor in what field and we as his servants can simply report for duty, grab the plow and start working. To look at the field another has been called to and compare oneself is demotivating for the pastor, degrading to the people served by him, and disrespectful to the one who called him. While it is normal for a pastor who has fifty people to look at the one with thousands and say, “I want that someday,” or for the pastor of thousands to look at the one with fifty and say, “I remember those days,” it is not right when the two compare themselves and conclude God must love one more or trust one more than the other, because of some innate condition in either of them. God does not decide your call because of what you are worth, but because He chose to call.
If God has called you to a field, keep your eye on it. If you are in a small church it is not because you are worth less than the large church pastor. If you are in a large church, it is not because of some greater value to the kingdom. God has chosen each to serve Him where he wants them. Put your hand to the plow and work. Let the master worry about what is being done in His other fields.
Recently, I was at a conference in Tampa with representatives of churches and ministries from all over the world. At one point an evangelist got up to address the assembly. While bemoaning a too common lack of boldness in the church she said, “The problem is there are too many wussy Christians.” Since I love language and finds words and the way we put them together fascinating, it struck me as interesting that in such a setting, among all those church people, this person had publicly used a word that I would have expected to bring gasps of shock, yet the only reaction I heard was agreement. My surprise is not a statement about whether that word is or is not appropriate. My surprise is caused by a lifetime of interaction with church people, who—let’s admit it—are often quicker to take offense than others. Had she used the original form of the word (with an initial ‘p’ instead of a ‘w’) the response would have unquestionably been very negative. This brought me back to a question I have been wrestling with for some time: “What makes some words bad and others good? Why are some expressions more acceptable than others?”
About 20 years ago, I knew a young youth leader (They’re always young, aren’t they?) who would occasionally pepper things he said in church with the word “crap.” He told me he did this intentionally to gauge the reaction of the audience—to see who was and was not offended by the word. He saw it as sort of “a legalist detector.” Of course, I thought it was silly and, though the word did not offend me, it was obvious that the practice occasionally interfered with his ministry.
My fascination with the standards of offense has been fueled by experiences with people from other cultures and regions. I find it interesting that people from different regions, though speaking the same language, can so greatly differ on what words are acceptable and which ones are not. For example, I’m from Texas and had my first experience with different cultures, like a lot of young men, in Basic Training in the Army. We had people from all over the US and even some from other countries. One morning, a recruit from the Northeast asked me for a “fag.” Of course, I didn’t know what to think and was quite confused (and even a bit alarmed!) until I learned this was a regional term for a cigarette.
Before continuing, I need to give a disclaimer. In this article I will be writing about words that offend. First, some will wonder why I need to mention the words at all instead of simply addressing the concept of swearing, without the actual words. This is not possible because of the intent of this article and the way I need to handle the subject. Because of what I intend to discuss, I will be forced to include some offensive words, in one form or another—perhaps some that I would personally never use. Of course, some of these words will offend a few (kind of like my earlier use of the word “crap”), while others could potentially offend everyone who reads them. In mulling over this, I have struggled with how to handle the actual words—some considered quite vulgar—in my writing. Should I simply write the actual word and not worry about the feelings or perceptions of the reader? Should I use wingdings to replace letters? Perhaps I should say “the S-word,” “the D-word” or “the F-word” in place of the actual words. Should I “spell them out”? That would be an interesting idea because since this is written you could say they are all spelled out rather than spoken. So, I know that won’t work. Perhaps I could change a vowel of the word or the order of letters, in effect making it another word—perhaps saying “carp” instead of “crap.” Each of these has its own problems. I can’t really use any of them, because these are some of the practices I want to discuss. I want to ask and answer, why do we handle certain words and concepts the way we do and how should we as Christians handle them in the way we communicate? To work through this I choose to replace certain letters in some words with the underscore. For example: sh_t and f_ck. Consider this a placeholder for the word, and not a use of the actual word itself.
So what makes a word offensive? Is it context? Is it the word itself? Is it the reason for which the word is used? Could it be that certain words are sinful?
That last question brings up an important concept for those of us who believe God defines right and wrong, good and bad, sin and not sin. What words would offend God? Keep in mind that there are thousands of human languages and God understands them all. I was once asked by a Korean woman, “How do Americans pray since God speaks Korean?” I figured she was joking; she had to be joking; “Please tell me she was joking!” Nope, she wasn’t joking. She had never considered that God might speak other languages than her own. Now, while we may find this funny, it is important for this discussion. Many people, who would quickly admit that God understands all languages, will still act as if a certain combination of sounds is, or itself, offensive to God. Keep in mind that human language includes millions of words (one thought concept expressed in different unrelated languages will have many combinations of sounds used to represent it ), but the human voice can produce only a limited set of sounds. Some of these sounds are more common than others and certain ones are easier to combine than others because of the geometry of our mouths and throats. Those easier sound combinations find their way into various languages in a wide assortment of languages. One example I like to use is the combination of “C” and “A” or “ca.” We find in “caca.” While most people who know anything about Spanish know that this word means excrement, there is some debate about whether it is vulgar or not. Should it be considered the equivalent of the English word “sh_t” or “poop”? No one really seems to know for sure. Vulgarity or not, it is entertaining that in Korean this word is used as the proper way to address the President of the Republic of Korea. A Korean would say, “Yes, Caca,” or “No, Caca” if questioned by their President. I bring this up to show that the idea God would be offended by certain combinations of sounds is ludicrous. If there is sin in words, then it must be in how the words are used, the context in which they are used or the purpose for which they are used, not in how the words are formed. Discerning the proper way for a Christian to communicate in any language will not be found in some Biblical version of George Carlin’s “Words you can’t say on television.” There is no list of “Words a Christian must never say.” Don’t assume I mean that anything we say is acceptable and there is no Christian standard for speech, but we’ll come back to that.
Does this mean we simply judge a word not by the sounds that make it, but with the way it is used? Alright, let’s consider that. If this is the standard then why do some find it acceptable to replace one group of sounds with another group and use it the same way? For example, I have heard Christians say, “Oh Fudge!” when frustrated or disappointed, even when these same people would be offended if someone said, “Oh F_ck!” I remember a church board member saying, “That is freaking expensive!” No one on the board seemed to care. Had he said, “That is f_cking expensive” he would have been in trouble. At the very least it would have raised a few eyebrows. I have even heard children use such pseudo-swearing around their parents with no reaction. When my own children have tried this I have pointed out that they are still swearing because no one is fooled by the other word. So, why aren’t these words as offensive as the words they replace? What makes it acceptable to use another group of sounds in the same exact way as another group of sounds that would offend if used that way?
Perhaps this word-swapping is acceptable because people speak this way to prevent offense. This would mean, once again, that it was the intention behind the word that matters more than the actual word used. Yet, did a speaker using the original word (for example “f_ck” instead of “fudge”) with the intent to offend or did they simply express themselves in a habitual way, without considering that it might offend? Perhaps with some cases of offensive speech the person didn’t even know the word was wrong. If you believe this phrase is wrong, no matter the intent, you also have to condemn the person who swaps into it another word. Be consistent. I don’t really care if you take offense, just do so consistently. If it is wrong to say “What the hell,” so is saying “What the heck!” If it is wrong to say, “I don’t give a f_ck,” then it is equally wrong to say, “I don’t give a frick!” Do you take offense at the first, but use the second? If the latter is acceptable, please don’t complain when someone else uses the former.
I mentioned the possibility that the person may not have known the word was offensive and I have an illustration to show this. I know an American who married a Korean woman. She didn’t speak much English when they met, so this man taught his wife most of her English. Unfortunately he was a soldier—with a soldier’s mouth—and not a Christian. One time they were visiting another couple who had a small baby. When the baby needed a diaper change this woman offered to help. While changing the diaper this Korean woman looked at her husband with a large grin and said, “The baby took a sh_t.” Her husband almost wet himself laughing because of the offended, hurt, appalled, mortified, disgusted (I’m struggling for a strong enough word for this woman’s shock) look on the face of the American mother. This Korean woman had no idea the word she used was offensive. Her knot-headed husband hadn’t properly taught her (Yes, I admit to being that knot-head—“My name is Ken and I’m a recovering knot-heat”). So did the woman say something wrong? Sure. Was she wrong for saying it? No. How could she be? She was speaking the only way she knew. She was using the way she thought was right and proper. Many of those who speak offensively don’t realize they are being offensive. Rather than being quick to bristle up and get offended perhaps we should just let the person speak. Your ears are not going to bleed because of obscenity. I have been a soldier, a Sheriff’s patrol chaplain, a jailer and a prison guard. If bad words spoken, yelled or otherwise cast at you could do injury, I would have been dead decades ago. This is not to say you should simply accept and excuse anything that is said. However, it is important to remember that you are responsible for what comes out of your mouth, not what comes out of mine or anyone else’s (except your children, of course). What you say says a great deal about you and can permanently tarnish another’s opinion of you. But what you hear others say in your proximity can do nothing to you.
People are quick to get offended, especially when they don’t understand. Several years ago a popular conservative radio host described someone as “niggardly.” Since he was white, and a hated conservative many people got angry, assuming he had used a word based on a racial slur. However, the word is not even based on that slur. Niggardly means stingy and comes from niggard (a stingy person) and this came to us from the Middle English nyggard. The racial slur is not even related, but comes from the word for black (negro in Romance languages). The offense to this person’s use of the word comes from erroneous assumptions by those who heard it. A similar thing happened to me when I worked at a prison as a Corrections Officer. One morning an offender came to my office window looking very unhappy. I asked, “Why the sour puss?” This term refers to someone’s frowning face and comes from the Irish word for mouth: pus. This person assumed I had questioned his genitalia. Did the radio host say something wrong? No. Did I say something wrong to the offender? No. However, people got offended in both cases. Their offense was born of their own ignorance. Perhaps when someone says something that seems offensive, we should realize that it may not be offensive in reality. It may have a meaning we are not familiar with, or it may not mean what the speaker thinks it means. From the offender’s reaction, I learned that, even though the phrase “sour puss” should offend no one, perhaps I should stop using it in the prison—a place not known for housing people with the most expansive vocabularies.
Some words are more offensive than others. Some will offend a few, others will offend most. The youth leader’s use of the word “crap” is an example of the former. Some find this word very vulgar and offensive while others find it innocuous. I still remember a cousin telling me she was old enough to use the word “crap,” because it really wasn’t a bad word. I also know when I tried to use it around my mother and I got my mouth washed out with soap. So how do we know when and when not to use such a word? I know, someone will ask, “Well, since it offends some why not simply refrain from using it, ever?” This may seem admirable and right, but very difficult to actually practice. To be consistent one would have to refrain from using any word that might offend someone, somewhere. This is impossible to do and still communicate. The ones recommending this may think they never say anything offensive, but they are wrong. Anyone believing this has not talked to enough people, from enough regions or enough cultures. You have no idea how many times I have been chastised about an innocent word or phrase that is even used in the Bible, because that person decided or had been taught it was offensive (example withheld to protect the easily offended). Why not instead talk without intending to offend and listen without seeking a reason for offense? If you believe a word is wrong then model that behavior for others. If they choose to use it, just let it pass. Of course I’m not talking about someone you are responsible for teaching, like a student or your child. That is different. But in your daily interactions with other adults why be quick to take offense simply over words? I couldn’t count the times I have heard a Christian scolding a non-believer about the evil of a certain word. I almost fell over when I heard one such exchange. The Christian said, “Please don’t talk like that around me. I’m a Christian.” The non-believer found a simple solution, “Then go the #^&@ away” (CENSORED). At that point I shot coffee out of my nose, which was very painful—so I had my own reason to be offended.
It never ceases to amaze me how many Christians will alienate and drive away a person in need of salvation simply because their Christian ears take offense at a certain combination of letters. I want to shout, “They are a non-believer. How do you expect them to speak? It’s a word! Grow up! The person is far more than the words that are coming from their mouth!”
This brings me to an important question: “How should we as Christians speak?” Some passages of scripture are quite useful in this regard and others not so much. One that is popular is James 3:1-12, which describes the tongue as being like a fire able to set a great blaze. Yes, there is mention of blessing and cursing and yes we often call the use of bad words “cursing.” However, this is not what he is talking about. He is saying all of this in the context of teaching and the danger of judgment for those who presume to teach. The precarious nature of speaking is part of the caution because of the danger of teaching. The danger is that, in teaching, a person might speak curses upon others whom God has also made. It has nothing to do with “bad” words, but with “badly spoken” teachings. I guess a good way to apply this would be take care in what you say about people while preaching or teaching. Use the opportunity to teach and edify, not to tear other’s down—to bless and not curse. A passage such as this scripture is only useful if used properly.
There are many better passages telling us how we should speak. One of the best is Ephesians 4:29, which (in the RSV) says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” This passage speaks of what we shouldn’t say and what we should say. This is not done in a way that simply reiterates but in a way that it expands. The first part about evil talk uses the phrase “corrupt words.” The word used (sapron) is the word for putrid, dead, rotting. Interestingly this is where we get the term for a creature that lives on dead organic matter: “saprophyte.” So, this is telling us not to use words that are rotten, decomposing and dead. It then goes on to say that we are to limit ourselves to words that build up and that give grace to the hearer. You could also say it as, “Don’t speak with defiling words, but use words that will edify and build up.” This passage is telling us that all the words we speak are to edify.
But once again, I am drawn to the question of what is and is not a corrupt, or defiling, word? Are some combinations of sounds corrupt in themselves? We’ve already answered this negatively. Perhaps it is the meaning of the word that makes it corrupt. If this is so then why is “sh_t” corrupt and offensive, but the word “feces,” “excrement,” or “poop” not? Another possibility is how the word is used. Does using a word as an expletive make it offensive? If this is true then we have major problems, because I’ve already pointing out that most Christians seem to have no problem with people using words like shoot, darned, danged, heck, “H-E-double hockey sticks,” fricking, freaking, or fudge as expletives. Another problem with this is that many of the words used as expletives are just as offensive when used in other ways. Imagine if your two year old told you, “I need to sh_t.” I know what would happen. You’d sh_t a brick! (I really said “shoot a brick” and have no idea what you think I said—I don’t use that kind of language.) But that proves my point. None of these things can really be defined as the reason why we see some words as bad and others and acceptable. There seems to be no hard and fast rule. The offensiveness of a word is a cultural phenomenon. Just trying to figure out the rules from area to area can be mindboggling. How many readers are old enough to remember when President George H. W. Bush rode through the streets of London and the double peace signs he was waving caused quite a stir? According to British practice he was “flipping the bird” to the entire city. I remember one time in Korea, when some kids came up to see the big American soldier (me). I was handing out candy and as one kid approached without even thinking, just as I had done to hundreds of American children, I reached out, made a quick hand gesture and said, “I got your nose.” The hand gesture I hope all are familiar with—thumb sticking out between my index and middle finger. The kid ran off screaming and I was shocked. The Korean soldier next to me asked, “Why did you flip that kid off?” Imagine trying to communicate while trying to navigate the ins and outs of what does or does not offend. Perhaps as Christians we should avoid using terms (and gestures, who knew?) that we know are offensive, when we know they will offend, but then extend grace and patience to those around us.
One of the hazards of my current position (as a pastor) is that everyone thinks I have virginal ears. People around are always apologizing for their words—I’m talking about non-believers, not my church board. Once when hunting with an old friend, he was trying to drive the truck through some terrible mud and was shifting, turning, braking, and accelerating, in a constant struggle to not get stuck. Interspersed with each action was a colorful stream of curse words, each followed quickly by an apology. All the way through the mud it was “F_ck! Sorry! D_mn! Sorry! Sh_t! Sorry! G_d D_mn! Sorry!. About half way through, I yelled, “Don, just get us through this and you can apologize for it all on the other side!” I didn’t care what came out of his mouth—that was his business. At that point I only cared about not getting stuck miles back from the main road in gumbo mud.
It’s too bad we Christians have such a reputation for taking offense when others just want to talk. They aren’t trying to push our buttons. They aren’t trying to get us to curse along with them. They don’t mean to offend. They just want to talk and that is the way they talk. Why not let your words be full of grace and simply overlook what they say without demanding an apology or demanding that they conform themselves to your standards.
What about the words coming out of your own mouth? Of course, we shouldn’t curse. We should edify with what we say. So does this mean there are words that should never come out of a Christian mouth? Some would give a long list; some, a short list. I know some who would give no such list. While I am not going to take a side in this, I will challenge you. If you would never say, “Oh sh_t!” then why would you say “Oh shoot!”? If you would never speak of “that d_mned dog” then why speak of “that danged dog”? Instead of “What the heck?” wouldn’t it be enough to say, “What?” Is the former really different from “What the hell?”
As I said before, let’s speak with words meant to edify. Let’s not seek to offend, or to assault with our words. However, when someone says something that offends us, let’s be gracious and love them without wagging our fingers at them or expressing our outrage, with pretentions of moral superiority. It is just a matter of time until something we say, will need someone else to extend grace to us.
I am a father of daughters, with one turning 18 years old. I find myself wondering about the lack of Christian men today. When I say this I am not speaking of a gender gap in the church. I am not speaking of the church with mostly women, because the men can’t be pulled away from other activities on Sunday. That, I have come to expect and will spend little time mourning the unfaithfulness of so many. I am not asking about Christians who are of the male gender. I mean, where are the Christians who are actual real men?
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want my daughter to marry some knuckle dragging Neanderthal. But neither do I want her to marry a pseudo-wife. Yes, it is acceptable for men to cry. It is fine for men to hug and share their feelings. However, there is a big difference between a man you would be surprised to see crying, but does occasionally, and one you almost expect to fall into tears at the drop of a hat. There is a difference between a man who is in control of himself with an air of refinement and one who will not confront when appropriate but runs from his responsibility to stand for right, not out of fear, but because doing so is just not nice. Every time I hear a man saying “be nice, don’t quarrel, don’t be so confrontational,” I just want to stop and demand to see his ‘man card.’
I know many will say what follows isn’t nice. Many will feel this is very inappropriate for a pastor to say, but have you ever wanted to tell a fellow Christian man, “Put down the tissues, grab your pair and squeeze!” Please forgive me, but I was an Airborne Infantryman, a prison guard and a deputy sheriff. I’ve seen men in action. I have jumped out of planes with men, froze with them in the artic and sweated beside them in the desert. I have sat on guard posts with them and slogged through rice paddies with them. I’ve seen a man stand his ground knowing it may be the last plot of ground he draws breath upon. I’ve seen two men, who could not get along, walk into the woods and after ‘working out their differences’ with their fists, walk out friends or at least having a new respect each other. While I would not want to settle board conflicts this way—though I have known some board members I wanted to invite to the wood line—is there not a happy medium between testosterone driven fist fights and tear soaked pity parties? The early church asked if a Gentile could be saved while remaining Gentile. Now the modern church wonders if a man can be saved and remain a man.
Latin has two words for man: homo and vir. Why would they need two words for man? English and many languages do fine with one. Homo is used for any male human—civilized or not. Vir is used for a man who models virtus (virtue). Is it not possible to be a Christian and still live male virtues of honor, duty and strength? Is it not possible to be a Christian and contend for the truth, even if such contention isn’t nice and peaceful? That last question actually made me laugh. How does one contend peacefully?
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are many problems caused by men not being allowed to share their feelings and being forced to simply ‘pull themselves up by their boot straps.’ I know violence is a real problem and any man who is violent with his wife does not deserve to be called a man. I know inappropriate anger can fester and gnaw, destroying homes and families in the process. I know all those things and I am not saying such should be encouraged. However, I think we have gone too far the opposite direction.
Is it possible to have a Christian man who loves the Lord and wants to serve him without expecting that man to be a feminized shadow of manhood? A metro-sexual minister of Christ, if you will. People are always quoting scriptures about not fighting and not quarreling. They take a few passages out of context and pretend that Jesus and the apostles never said a harsh word to anyone. Funny thing is, I used to believe this too and came to know better. Jesus called the Pharisees insulting names. When Jesus realized his words were offending some, he didn’t back down but ramped up the very things that were giving them offense (John 6:52-59). Paul rebuked Peter to his face in Galatians 2. Paul says that those who teach another faith are accursed, in Galatians 1. He also rebukes the High Priest and curses him (Acts 23:2). He apologizes afterwards but not for his words but for directing them at the High Priest.
More and more each year I find myself wondering, “Where are the Christian men?” I see fewer and fewer. Perhaps so many men show little interest in our gospel because being a man is discouraged by so many in the church.