CultureWatch

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On Being a Troublemaker (for Jesus)

Oct 27, 2008

“Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus said, as recorded in Matt. 5:9. That is the normal way believers should go about their business: being a source of peace amidst conflict; being a place of calm amidst chaos and confusion; being a gentle presence amongst a disordered and riotous world.

But that is not quite the whole story. While believers should strive for peace, harmony and reconciliation, in a fallen and hostile world, that may not always be possible. Indeed, there are times when the believer is called to go against the grain, and to actually stir things up instead of hoping for calm and quiet. Sometimes we are called to agitate, to disturb, to prod and poke, and to rattle cages.

When people have turned from God and his ways, those who point to God and his ways will often be seen as troublemakers, as spoilers, as provocateurs. This has always been the case, and it is certainly evident when we examine the Scriptures.

Throughout the Bible we read of God’s people rocking the boat, stepping on toes, upsetting the apple cart, and stirring the pot. It seems to go with the territory. Consider the Old Testament prophets as an example. They were always challenging the people and practices of the day, and were seldom thanked or welcomed for their efforts.

Indeed, we know that the only prophets whom the people regularly craved to hear were the false prophets. But the true prophets of God were continuously rejected and ridiculed, precisely because they were seen to be disturbers of the peace. Many examples can be examined here.

Consider a classic passage in 1 Kings 18 where we read about one such disturber, Elijah. He was not always seen as a peacemaker. In fact, he was usually seen as a pest, so much so that in verse 17 he is called the “troubler of Israel”. Whenever a man of God stands up for truth in a world of falsehood, and for morality in a world of ethical anarchy, he will be seen as a troublemaker.

Things are no different in the NT. For example, we constantly read about how Jesus split the crowds and caused turmoil and division. Passages such as Luke 12:51; John 7:40-43; John 9:16 and John 10:19 clearly bear this out. Unity can always be achieved when we water things down and give people what they want. But that was not how Jesus conducted his affairs.

The Gospel, economics, and troublemaking

There are many ways in which the presentation of the gospel will ruffle feathers and shake things up. Economics is an obvious example. The biblical picture on wealth and riches often stands in marked contrast to the way the world deals with such matters. Often the clash between gospel and culture involves the issue of finances.

Consider two episodes from the book of Acts. They both involve a huge uproar between the townspeople and the apostles. And they both involve money, interestingly enough. Whenever believers challenge the financial interests of the day which are contrary to the values of the Kingdom, you can expect a real uproar. Thus we find the only two accounts of riots in Acts having something to do with money.

In Acts 16:16-40 we read of how Paul in Philippi is vexed by a slave girl with a spirit of divination. He cast out the spirit, but provoked her owner who made a living from her divination. Thus Paul and Silas are thrown in prison, after throwing the city into an uproar.

Comments F.F. Bruce, “The good deed done to the fortune-telling slave girl was not to the liking of her owners, for when Paul exorcized the spirit that possessed her he exorcized their source of income as well: she could no longer tell fortunes.” As William Larkin explains, “Whenever the gospel threatens vested interests, especially economic interests, it is bound to meet opposition.”

In Acts 19:23-41 we read of the second riot which breaks out over the issue of money. While in Ephesus, Paul challenged the silversmiths who made money by making silver shrines to the goddess Diana (Artemis). As John Polhill notes, in Ephesus economics and religion were closely linked. Paul’s preaching was clearly damaging the financial interests of the silversmiths there: “It would be the equivalent to someone’s standing at the entrance of Churchill Downs … during Derby week and preaching against horse racing. The gospel is always at its most controversial when it comes into conflict with economic interests.”

When William Wilberforce took on the slave trade in 18th century England, he was taking on huge financial vested interests. The whole British economy heavily depended on the slave trade. No wonder he was so fiercely opposed. At one point he was known as the most hated man in all of England. Yet his Christian convictions impelled him to challenge the slave trade of his day.

And when believers today take on such things as the illicit drug trade, prostitution and pornography, the abortion industry and the like, we too will be fiercely resisted. All these social ills are huge money-makers for those involved. Promoting biblical values in a secular world will always create division, resentment and persecution.

The gospel and its claims are never neutral. When Jesus comes to us, he asks us to renounce our earthly treasures and follow him. That is always costly, and will always be met with antagonism and hatred. The gospel of Jesus Christ will always challenge the culture of the day, and the prevailing beliefs and values.

All of this opposition must come because God’s people can never settle for giving messages to soothe the crowds and please the masses. We must give the very words of God, and they will usually result in alienation, rejection, division and uproar.

God’s words are both kind and hard, soothing and confronting. We are to preach the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and that will include words of love, mercy and grace, as well as words of judgment, rebuke and wrath. As we are reminded in Romans 11:22, we are to consider both the “kindness and severity of God”. They go together, and can never be separated.

If we only preach about God’s love and acceptance, we will always attract willing crowds and eager followers. But if we preach the full word of God, which also includes the wrath of God and judgment to come, we will alienate many, and make plenty of enemies.

So are we called to be peacemakers? You bet. But there will be times when we have to rock the boat to challenge a sinful and wayward people: both within and without the church. If we seek to present the whole gospel of God to a world – and church – that often does not want such things, we, like Elijah, will have to bear the same complaint: “Here comes that troubler”. If such a tag must be born in order to properly serve our Lord, then so be it. He is the great troubler too. And Jesus the troubler was killed for his efforts. We too will receive opposition and rejection. But we must be faithful to our calling, regardless of the price we must pay.

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16 Responses to On Being a Troublemaker (for Jesus)

  • Thanks Bill for all the trouble you have caused in the name of Christ!

    Keep up the great work.

    Shalom (and trouble!)

    George Kokonis

  • Thanks George

    Hey, you are a pretty good troublemaker for God too!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Praise the Lord for trouble makers for Jesus! Of course being led by the Holy Spirit is crucial, as I’m learning, to the speaking of hard truth, and I am also learning that when the Holy Spirit prompts us to speak those messages of truth, watch out! I hope to ruffle a few more feathers for many more years!

    Keep it Up Bill!

    Michelle Guillemaud
    AB, Canada

  • Excellent post! Indeed, the 1st century Christians were not always welcomed as peacemakers. They were even accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Christianity’s values were (and still are) at odds with those prevailing in society at large – so it seems that sometimes rocking the boat is the only way of getting our voice heard above the humanistic platitudes. The problem, at least for me, is how to do in a Christian spirit. It is at times not easy to combine “the truth” and “in love” (Eph. 4:15).

    Joel Kontinen, Finland

  • Thanks Joel

    You raise a very important question here, which you partly answer. Yes, we are to contend for the faith, but without being contentious. We are to defend the faith without being defensive. It is not always easy to get this balance.

    In addition to Eph. 4:15 which you quote, there are other texts, such as Col 4:5,6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

    Also, 1 Pe. 3:15,16: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

    It is certainly possible that we can win an argument but lose the person if we are not careful. So yes, we must do all things in love, but real love can be expressed in different ways. Fighting with all one’s strength against the slave trade – as Wilberforce did – was an expression of his love for slaves – and for God. In the same way, if we love the unborn, we will stand against the abortion industry. That will involve confrontation and even making trouble on occasion.

    Since I mentioned Elijah in my article, go on to read the rest of 1 Kings 18, where he challenges the false prophets of Baal and Asherah at Mount Carmel. Talk about a confrontation – it does not get much more confronting than this. But it was out of love for Yahweh and Yahweh’s people that he engaged in these drastic, confronting actions.

    And we will need to do the same from time to time. So we very much need to pray for wisdom and discernment as we challenge the anti-God beliefs and practices of our day.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hello Bill,
    Good stuff! definetely some good thoughts on Matt 5 v 9. Just out of interest, I believe A. W. Pink provided the insight that the most important aspect of being a ‘peacemaker’ is in sharing the gospel itself so that men might have peace with God. And as you talked of in your article, sharing the gospel definetely is not always a peaceful process (i experienced this myself yesterday!) being an absolute pacifist is definetely a misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying.

    I do have one question for you however, you said: “Promoting biblical values in a secular world will always create division, resentment and persecution.” I can only presume that, based upon your other comments, that you believe that promoting biblical values in our secular world is an important aspect of preaching the gospel. I was wondering if you could expound on how you believe the promotion of biblical values as fitting into the broader picture of gospel preaching?

    I’m not arguing against promoting biblical values in our society, but to me the sharing of the gospel and say, promoting biblical values within our culture (which may include such activity as lobbying against pro-abortion legislation) seem to be two distinct activities. So if you have any thoughts to share, I would be most appreciative – as well as any other posts that you may have done on the topic?

    Thanks again,
    Your brother in Christ,
    Isaac Overton, Tasmania

  • Thanks Isaac

    I have written elsewhere on the case for Christian social involvement, so it might be best simply to provide a few links here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/1997/10/10/the-case-for-christian-social-involvement/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/07/11/why-bother/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/11/27/salt-and-light-business/

    I think we have an obligation to reach the whole man with the whole gospel, not just get disembodied spirits into an ethereal heaven. I believe the Lordship of Christ should extend to every area of life, not just to “spiritual” matters. But the articles linked to above will lay out my reasons for all this.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, I agree fully with your sentiment. Working in the public service I see resistance everyday to any reference to God, the Bible or even to “morals”. The expectation is that we must be secular, but this is taken to the extreme point where any judgement (an opinion of right or wrong) is condemned. Just try mentioning a biblical truth, moral or value and see the eyes roll… Interestingly, mentioning some new age nonsense or practice seems to be acceptable.

    PS. It’s great to read your postings again after a long stint overseas where I had only irregular access to a computer.

    Frank Norros

  • Thanks Frank

    Great to have you back and many thanks for your kind words.

    Thanks also to Michelle. Given how much trouble Canada has been causing Christianity and the free world, we need more Canadian Christian troublemakers!
    Blessings,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill,
    The reason I mentioned the importance of, should I say, contending “for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3) in a Christian spirit, is that at I find that it is easier to “contend” than to do it in love. But, after all, Jesus did (literally) turn a few tables. Just imagine what the tabloids would write on their front page if Jesus were to do it in our time. As C. S. Lewis put it, “Aslan is not a tame lion”. But since we are not omniscient, we really do need to pray for wisdom and discernment, as you said.
    Joel Kontinen, Finland

  • Thanks Bill,
    I look forward to reading those links! It’s just an issue i’ve been thinking a lot about recently – as i’m soon to become an employee in the Australian Public Service. It’s definetely important to be clear on where we
    stand and why we stand there as christians, and I think we all agree that we should be doing all we can to share Jesus with others – it just takes a bit of prayerful thinking and searching of the scriptures to know how to do that in the way we should.
    Blessings,
    Isaac Overton.

  • Good on you, Bill – very encouraging.
    Darilyn Adams, Australia.

  • Methinks the “trouble” is an unfortunate by-product, rather than an objective (as some fringe folk seem to think). When one holds courageously to one’s convictions, the chips fall where they may. Like Jeremiah, sometimes we have to stand against the whole land, which puts us in the firing line. That’s where wisdom plays its part. Wise as serpents, harmless as doves.
    Stephen Frost

  • Thanks Stephen

    Yes, quite right. It is not that Christians go out of their way looking for trouble: it just seems that it follows from being a committed Christian in a non-Christian world. To stand up for the exclusive truth claims of Christ in an age of ‘tolerance’ and relativism will cause a bit of friction. Sure, we must try to be winsome and gracious, but waves will inevitably be created when we follow Jesus. He and his disciples caused waves, and we can expect no less.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Righteousness is always at enmity with self or un – righteousness. The spiritual warfare motive of Yahweh and Y’shua appears to be a valid and consistent theme across all scripture. See G.A. Boyd, ‘God @ War’, 1997.

    Social issues mentioned by all of the above are generally crafted into law in houses of parliament.

    Strategically that is where we should have a few division on red alert.

    Ray Robinson

  • Well done Bill, it shows exactly what we`re up against when we speak out about Porn and gambling – money.
    Troublemaker for Christ, what encouragement, I take special note of the “for Christ” bit. As it`s He we represent, not me and my special interest. We are too soft and accommodating, because we are scared to be seen as narrow-minded, uncompromising and intolerant, and that we may scare people off. But without boundaries and firm principles we are on sandy ground and no one would be seeking to stake their faith there.
    Johannes Archer

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