Ears to Hear
On Sunday, I commented on a blog of another Christian that I thought was rather spiteful. It wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with everything he said, but the way he communicated it had a way of fomenting anger, vitriol, and division. Which is, of course, exactly what occurred in the nearly 800 comments that followed over the next two days. And I’m sadly certain he viewed the wreckage with pleasure.
I received a few responses of my own, most of which disagreed with my comment, but most of which were respectful. The blogger did not respond to my original comment.
However, on Monday, there was a second blog, which sarcastically criticized my comment and those like them, calling our points of view, “The Nice Doctrine.”
This is my response to Matt Walsh’s blog.
Most of us are familiar with how the word lifestyle is used today. It is used by many in an accusatory fashion, as in, “I don’t agree with ‘their’ lifestyle.” This accusation usually goes along with the statement, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” And for some unfathomable reason, these statements generally reference only one sin.
I think it’s time to take a long, hard look at the word lifestyle; how it was used in our recent past, and how it was used in Jesus’ time.
First, let’s look at the definition of the word lifestyle.
Lifestyle is defined as “the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, economic level, etc., that together constitute the mode of living of an individual or group.”
Back in the ‘80s, Robin Leach was host of a popular television show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It featured the ostentatious, extravagant lifestyles of wealthy people in entertainment, sports and business. It captured the attention of people who worshiped celebrities at a time when the series Dallas, the longest lasting, 60-minute, primetime drama in TV history, was at its zenith.
In the first century, the Pharisees maintained a certain lifestyle. Let’s take the definition above one at a time and apply it to the Pharisees.
Habits – According to Jesus, the Pharisees had a habit of praying in public where others could see them pray. They had a habit of fasting publicly, so others could see them looking gloomy and hungry. They had a habit of giving publicly and announcing it so all could comment on their generosity. Yet, they did not do any of these things in private so only God could take notice. (Matthew 6:1-18)
Attitudes – According to Jesus, the Pharisees considered themselves above others. They did what they could to prevent those they considered sinners from knowing God, from becoming a member of God’s family, from entering God’s kingdom. It was their job to usher all toward God with a loving hand, yet they failed to do this because of their own stubborn attitudes. They picked out Scripture to keep people away from God instead of shepherding them toward Him. (Genesis 12:3, Matthew 5:20, 5:38-48, 23:1-4, 13-15)
Tastes – According to Jesus, the Pharisees liked to sit in the best seats in the synagogue, drink the best wine and wear the best robes. They looked down on anyone they deemed “less than.” In this honor and shame culture, the best professed status and honor. (Matthew 23:5-8)
Moral Standards – According to Jesus, the Pharisees were always ready to cast stones (remember the woman found guilty of adultery?), yet were never ready to look into their own hearts to repent of sin. Even as Jesus exhorted the Pharisees, he expressed deep sorrow for their own lack of repentance; He desperately wished them to be with Him in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 23:25-28, 23:37-39)
Economic Level – According to Jesus and historical data, the Pharisees, while not as wealthy as the Sadducees, were more wealthy than most. They held themselves above the common people and kept themselves separate because of their knowledge of Mosaic Law. (Matthew 23:16-24)
This is not, as Matt Walsh suggested, a “propagation of the Nice Doctrine.” (I was also indirectly accused by him yesterday of “not knowing Scripture” and of “heresy.”)
This is telling the truth about the people Jesus was most riled up about. The people most ready to point an accusing finger at others. This is about the strong, steadfast, Jesus who denounced and rebuked the holier-than-thou “older brothers.” The Jesus who also wanted them to open their eyes and ears and hear his true message: “Love God and love your neighbor. Now go and sin no more.”
The apostle Paul writes a large list of sins to the members of three different churches, yet we always focus on sexual sins. How about the other sins he lists? There’s an entire roster from Romans 1:28-32, Galatians 5:19-21 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
Sexual immorality, idolatry (worshiping anything other than God), causing strife, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, causing division, drunkenness, malicious behavior, greed, boasting, gossiping, murder, name-calling, haters of God, those who practice homosexuality, liars, slave traders
We point fingers at those who commit the sins we do not, expecting those around us to applaud us for being “unafraid of confrontation,” and possessing “righteous anger,” while quoting Scripture about Jesus overturning tables in the Temple. We forget that when Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he meant us, too.
We forget that when he read from Isaiah 66, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,” it wasn’t just for us; it was so his salvation would reach “to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 66:1-2, 49:6)
When did we forget about compassion? When did we forget to pray for our enemies? When did we decide that taking a stand meant slashing at the dignity of our fellow believers? When did we become so arrogant, so…prideful?
Whether we agree or disagree, our job is to love people and show them this beautiful, grace-filled freedom called God’s kingdom. How is it that name-calling, creating division and strife, and purposefully promoting vitriolic words or behavior advances the kingdom?
We have the Holy Spirit in us to remind us of what Jesus said. He told us over and over what he wants from us. Will we be like the disciples before they were given the Spirit?
Will our stubbornness cause Jesus to ask us, “Do you not yet perceive or understand?”