‘Why Can’t You Be Nicer, Like Jesus?’

Just being ‘nice’ is not enough:

Anyone who stands up for biblical truth in this age of relativism, emotivism and political correctness knows full well that the critics will come out attacking you fast and furious. And here I have in mind the legion of Christian critics who will always jump on you, claiming you are not being loving, not being Christlike, not being nice., etc.

I get these folks all the time. Now, are there Christians who are rather unloving, rude, crude and mean? Yes. But too often those of us who seek to defend biblical truth in the public arena are called all this and more by other believers who think that Christianity is all about being ‘nice’ and not offending anyone. I have already penned a number of pieces on this matter, eg.: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/08/no-more-mr-nice-guy/

But I still get the critics writing in, concerned about my ‘tone’ and the like. As if tone is all that matters. And as if none of the people we read about in the Bible ever had a strong and forceful tone! But the spirit of the age is so often what seems to drive these folks, not biblical truth.

I again recently had another person sharing his concerns with me about this matter. He thought I was being far too ‘forceful’ and asked what good I was accomplishing. He also asked if it was not ‘better to love than to be right?’ These are common criticisms that I get quite often. In this case I replied to this guy as follows:

Thanks *****. But I prefer the biblical path which of course never pits love against truth. Both are vitally important and both must be pursued simultaneously. The most loving thing we can do is share truth, challenge lies and deception, and prevent those with false views from deceiving others, and heading to a lost eternity. And if you are opposed to “forceful” rebuttals of error, then you must think the prophets, Jesus and Paul, to name but a few, are all to be condemned. Consider a few “forceful” and very public words from Christ from just one gospel:

 

Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Matthew 12:39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Matthew 15:7 You hypocrites!
Matthew 15:14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.
Matthew 15:16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.
Matthew 16:23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Matthew 17:17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied,
Matthew 23:16 Woe to you, blind guides!
Matthew 23:19 You blind men!
Matthew 23:27 You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs!
Matthew 23:33 You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

 

But by your way of thinking, he was far too unloving and un-Christlike, and turned people off. Sorry, but I will side with Jesus here on this one! Truth matters, and not responding to error endangers the person holding to the error. There is nothing loving or Christian about just winking at error or ignoring it, all in the name of being ‘nice’.

 

As I just read in 1 Timothy 2:24-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Paul got it right. And he could be VERY forceful in correcting others, mincing no words. But thanks for your thoughts.

Indeed, there are hundreds of such examples in Scripture of God’s servants using very forceful and even at times derogatory and harsh language as they oppose error and rebuke those who are opposing the will and work of God. As mentioned, the prophets did it routinely. So did Jesus. So did the disciples. And so often these were very public rebukes and confrontations. Yet many Christians find this far too off-putting.

Well, I prefer to run with how these biblical folks operated, instead of how so many modern believers do. “Open rebuke is better than secret love” we are told in Proverbs 27:5. And the biblical principle is this: private sin should usually result in private rebuke, while public sin should usually result in public rebuke.

Given that false teaching is almost always public (and just think of all the bad theology and false doctrine flooding the internet nowadays), that means that there will often be the need for public correction. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/16/on-public-rebuke/

But another verse I read after posting my response to this fellow especially stood out to me. Titus 1:10-14 says this:

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

Hmm, this is yet another case of a very ‘forceful’ response by a Christian – the sort of response my critic thought was quite inappropriate for any believer. For some it seems that not only was Jesus quite wrong in how he went about doing things, but the Apostle Paul as well.

Let me offer a few quick remarks about this passage. Doriani and Phillips remind us of how important the matter of truth and error is:

We may see Satan’s strategies against the church in two main directions. We most often think of persecution from outside the church, both from the surrounding culture and from anti-Christian governments. The New Testament often remarks on this threat and warns of our need to show courage in the face of suffering. But the other attack arises from within the church in the form of false teaching. This is an even more deadly threat to God’s people. For while persecution has the tendency to strengthen believers and even increase the size of the church, doctrinal corruption leaves Christ’s people weak, scattered, and confused. If Christians ever have to choose between persecution and false teaching, the perspective of the bible encourages us to dread heresy above all other plagues.

Image of 1–2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Preaching the Word)
1–2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Preaching the Word) by Hughes, R. Kent (Author), Chapell, Bryan (Author) Amazon logo

And Hughes and Chapell offer this comment about the text in Titus:

Paul simply and stridently says about those carrying such a message, “They must be silenced” (v. 11). The word for “silenced” can also mean “controlled” or “Muzzled” and reflects the apostle’s identification of his opponents as those who are not subject to control – i.e., “insubordinate” (v. 10). To modern sensibilities this does not seem like a very tolerant attitude, but the reason for the apostle’s imperative explains his zeal. He alerts us not only to what we should be concerned about (i.e., damaged doctrine) but also about who should be the focus of our concern.

As one meme making the rounds on the social media says, “If your entire theology is God is love and Do not judge then you don’t have biblical Christianity, you have Oprah.” Yep, time to get back to the Bible and leave the spirit of the age behind.

Afterword

As I have said so often elsewhere, we are indeed to speak the truth in love. And getting the biblical balance right is always crucial. As John Stott put it:

“This combination is rare in the contemporary church. Some leaders are great champions of the truth and anxious to fight for it, but display little love. Others are great advocates of love, but have no equal commitment to truth, as Jesus and his apostles had. Truth is hard if it is not softened by love, and love is soft if it is not strengthened by the truth.”

I for one need to keep working on this. In fact, as I was writing this article I was also involved in some discussion on the social media. A Christian fellow started a rather unhelpful and unedifying thread under one of my posts. As we were going back and forth it suddenly disappeared.

I thought that was a good move of him to pull it, and I was going to tell him that and thank him in a private message. But then I discovered he did not remove it – he unfriended me, and blocked me to boot! Oh dear. So here is a word of advice: there is nothing virtuous or Christlike in being a grumpy old man (something he admitted to being). Instead it is a sin to be repented of.

There is a fine line between standing strong for truth and growing a thick skin in order to be a strong soldier, and just being a belligerent old grump. I know, since I am a grumpy old man as well, and God is dealing with me in this. I hope I am slowly learning to become a real ambassador for Christ in this regard. (As for this fellow all I can do is keep him in my prayers. Hmm, no wonder life was so peaceful during those six months in Fakebook Gulag!)

[1625 words]

14 Replies to “‘Why Can’t You Be Nicer, Like Jesus?’”

  1. It is far easier to avoid confrontation than speaking the truth in love, especially since the truth is not necessarily what people want to hear. For all us Christians, this is a challenge and is definitely not easy. Getting the balance right between being too soft and too harsh requires the wisdom of Solomon at times. It is an area in my life I constantly have to bring to God in prayer, both for the courage to speak the truth and to speak the truth in love.

  2. Dear Bill,
    If I may, let me slip off subject to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas! I know I am going to get busy and forget to do so and my posterior will be sore throughout January from the kicking.

    Thank you for all that you do to educate and encourage those who come to your site. I, along with so many of your readers, appreciate your insight and candor on all things biblical…as well as, your love for FREEDOM and LIBERTY.

    God bless.

    Ron Adams
    Stateside

  3. Defend Me O God
    The word protects could well replace the word defend. But does God simply step in when we ask, and protect us against the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Not necessarily. It doesn’t seem to work like that. God has given us free will and that needs to be considered in any discussion of God’s protection.
    My mind goes over to Fr Tony Caruana msc (eighty years old) sitting in his prison cell, probably terrified. On 10th December he was sentenced in the NSW District Court to fifteen years and will be eligible for parole in ten years. The offences happened back in the early eighties and the word around the monastic corridors of righteousness was, that what Fr Caruana was doing, was known by those in authority at that time. Had those in authority done their duty back then Fr Caruana would not be facing the daunting prospect of fifteen years in prison and his victims would now be leading very different lives free from the trauma of childhood sexual violation, perpetrated by this poor misguided fellow; he’s a small man. Fr Caruana, to some extent, is the dubious beneficiary of the distorted judgment of his superiors.
    To put a spiritual spin on it, Fr Caruana’s demons repeatedly told him that what he was doing was OK or ‘not that bad.’ He believed the demonic lie. The devil then returned forty-plus years later to accuse him of heinous crimes and to imprison him. Let us pray that Fr Caruana’s incarceration will afford him the opportunity to align himself with the will of God, difficult though that may be.
    Fr Denis Uhr msc and Fr James Littleton msc, and other msc headmasters have had first-hand dealings with instances of child sexual abuse by staff over the years. Many have successfully pleaded ignorance of such matters to which Mandy Rice-Davies would reply something to the effect that ‘He would say that wouldn’t he’ – in other words, they take the equivalent of the fifth!
    One reason put forward by Fr Littleton with which Fr Uhr concurred, to justify their inaction was somewhat intriguing. It happened like this. Senior students were apparently being molested by their teacher under cover of an out-of-school activity. The argument was that the students were over sixteen and therefore nothing could be done. Fr Littleton and Fr Uhr would both have known that the age/power differential negates the age factor; surely, they could not seriously believe the reason they gave. Their arrogance in expecting that story to be believed is insulting in the extreme. Instead of hiding behind some antiquated notion of reputation, why not consult the parents and ask them if they wish to commence legal proceedings. Justice is important to healing; it is also important to God. These priests, in their wisdom, hushed up that matter, and thus, the victims, in this case, were denied justice and healing – they were the victims of a lack of love; was anything done to ease the pain of these victims. Does Fr Littleton care how those former students are going today; does Fr Uhr care. These two need to take ownership for the suffering they have inflicted on those they were called by God to protect. There’s still time.
    God expects the protection he provides to come via the ‘chosen’ ones he has entrusted with the care of his children – the priests. Being a Catholic school principal is a serious business. It is not for those who are unwilling or unable to take responsibility or make difficult decisions and it is particularly not for those who have no love. For the record, it is arguable evident that Fr Littleton and Fr Uhr have little or no love to give. If God chose them to protect his children, he made a bad choice; clearly, they were chosen by men and not by God.
    God expects that people in authority in the Church live and speak the truth. The truth protects the priests and the people under their care. When Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free,’ he meant it. Jesus also said, ‘The devil is the father of lies,’ so that the liar does the work of the devil. Doing the work of the devil is a serious business. There is never a better way than the path of truth – a lesson the above-mentioned two priests seem to have chosen to ignore.
    At the battle of Trafalgar, Lord Nelson issued his famous message: ‘England expects that every man will do his duty.’ Is it too much, for God to expect, that every bishop and every priest will do his duty? Lord Nelson did his duty, John the Baptist did his duty, Thomas More did his duty, John Fisher did his duty, all at a cost but perhaps better than ending one’s days talking to the television and taking refuge in an alcoholic haze; where’s the dignity in that?
    Consider this: At the beginning of his career as a pedophile Fr Caruana would confess his sin and what happens – he’s told to say the Hail Mary three times and make an act of contrition. The priest confessor can’t do anymore even if he wanted to because of the seal of confession. Some pedophiles confess to a priest just to shut him up; the priest becomes a spiritual accessory after the fact. People in Fr Caruana’s circumstances need to be isolated and given serious professional help, not spiritual excuses and certainly, they are not to be trusted with the care of young people, ever again, if appropriate.
    Fr Brian Strangman msc (rip) broke the seal of confession to expose an abuser. Brave man! Generally, the rights of the victims demand that the perpetrator be criminally prosecuted.
    The Catholic church is currently reaping the harvest of admitting people to the priesthood who were inappropriate candidates in the extreme. Children being sexually assaulted by priests cry out for vengeance, to the eternal shame of the once spotless bride of Christ. What idiotic system admitted this then twelve-year-old boy, into the Apostolic School, he who now languishes in a jail cell for the next fifteen years.
    There are many illustrations of how faithful adherence to God’s law would have avoided years of heartache and regret. God’s law is our protection.
    Consider the protection afforded by Jesus’ teachings at the Sermon on the Mount in Mt Ch 5.
    At v27ff we are told not to commit adultery. The spiritual bond created by God in a sacramental marriage is attacked by the adultery of one of the parties; the sacred union is violated, and the spiritual aspect of the marriage is irreparably tainted. This must be avoided at all costs and Jesus gives extraordinary examples to warn people about the seriousness of committing adultery. See Mt5:29ff. The teaching on adultery protects the married couple from fraying their sacred marital bond and thus tarnishing the unique beauty of their relationship. In Humanae Vitae, it is called the uniting aspect of marriage.
    At v31ff Jesus warns against destroying family life; he condemns divorce. Whilst adultery involves the parties to a marriage, divorce has a wider meaning; marriage is a license to have children. Just as the marriage covenant is sacred, so too are the children of the marriage and God affords protection to those children by requiring that their parents honor their marriage vows. In Humanae Vitae, it is called the procreative aspect of marriage.
    In line with the teaching on divorce, is the Old Testament injunction to honor one’s parents; this is the only one of the Ten Commandments which carries a promise: ‘good things will come your way.’ Some of us had good parents, some not so good. If you don’t already do so, start praying for your parents – every day; always speak well of them. Try and forgive them, if necessary, and if you can’t, then ask God to forgive them.
    At v21 Jesus progresses the teaching of: ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Consider this scenario? The school wakes up to the awful news that one of its students has taken his own life. There is hearsay evidence that the boy was being sexually abused. If the two are linked, might that not amount to contributing to the death of someone? The ‘powers that be’ need to intercept any potential sexual abuser lest they find themselves complicit in some tragic event leaving a trail of suffering. If the attitude of the school principal is not to ask lest he finds out, then, but for his willful blindness, the tragedy may have been averted. Generally, the Principal will not be proactive and won’t seek to ascertain the cause, but that boy did not commit suicide for no reason.
    The great obstacle to doing one’s duty is cowardice. The harm that results from cowardice is immeasurable; Fr Caruana and his victims are the results of some clerical coward or cowards failing to do their duty, forty or more years ago. A former msc Provincial and later bishop, EJ Cuskelly msc, wrote a book which he called: No Cowards in the Kingdom. It appears to have had minimal impact. Nevertheless, to some significant degree, Fr Caruana is the victim of clerical cowardice.
    In a broken world the effects of adultery, for example, can be made right given time and effort and the grace of God. Not so with abortion; an abortion cannot be undone. Then there is the ripple effect. The killing of a child in the womb impacts, in a variety of ways, on, among others: those who encouraged it, those who performed the abortion, those who made the procedure legitimate, the father of the child, and of course, the mother. The 1971 ruling by District Court Judge Levine was the foundation of legal access to abortion in NSW. Could it be said that any abortion growing out of that ruling somehow has his fingerprint on it; or is that too remote? Many congratulate Levine on his ruling.
    It needs to be remembered that whilst the great commandment is to go out to the whole world and preach the good news, these laws, properly understood, are directed towards committed Christians – that’s us. The person who accepts Christ as Lord and Savior seeks out Christ’s teachings and willingly follows them to his own advantage and for his own protection. It doesn’t matter to us if people want to live in an alternative relationship or promote abortion or commit adultery or get divorced; they might even call themselves Catholics. We don’t run this world. People are free to do whatever they like and call it whatever they want, and we are free to associate with them or not, as we please. But from a commonsense point of view, to choose against Christ on any issue is a short-sighted approach to life and one that we ought not to adopt. Our duty is to live under the protection of God’s law and speak the truth. Being a follower of Christ is a serious business.

  4. I know what you mean I too have had to deal with the type that seems quite knowledgeable but often rude in his approach if you ask questions. I agree we need to be bold in our speaking the truth but loving as well especially with Christian brethren. The balance is fine but most of the time people are going to have a problem if you are SLIGHTLY one side or the other. It is when you are very much on one side or the other problem arises.

    Never be offended when people ask questions or ask for proof of what you say. If you speak the truth you will have the answers and the proof. You start worrying though when people stop asking because then you have to ask are they believing what I say because it is true or because I said it (cult of personality)???? This can happen and the bad part is you end up no longer knowing the answers and no longer have the proof because you haven’t had to give it in so long you will get angry at those who ask questions or ask for proof because YOUR word isn’t enough. It isn’t that you are wrong, though you may have picked wrong beliefs people accepted because you didn’t have to prove anything anymore, it’s that you don’t know anymore why your right.

  5. Bless you Bill. Love your thinking on important issues, your correct use of scripture to help us make sense of the world we live in & your humility.
    Keep stoking the fire!

  6. That’s the one thing Brenden I never liked about the confessional that people confess to crimes and the priest does nothing. Gangsters got away with many crimes because the only one who knew about the crime was the priest he told. I don’t think God would approve.

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