Am I Beating a Dead Horse?

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.

Redefining “Lifestyle”

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.

pebbles

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?”

31 comments

  1. When it comes to religion discussion blogs I have found very mean people pop up from time. It may take a few exchanges to figure them out but after a while I pay no attention to their comments nor do I reply. If unpleasantness(not mere alternative thinking or argument) I spam ’em and waste no more energy. I participate in All Along the Watch Tower blog in England and us Protestants vs the Catholics can get a little rough but most participants remain gentlemanly despite the drama. Thanks visit my blog.
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    1. The saddest comment that came my way, Carl, was from a woman who, after I responded to a negative comment with, “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” replied with, “if you have these opinions, you’re no sister of mine!”

      We must understand that, whatever our approach to discipleship, God has adopted us all. As our Common Father and Creator, like it or not, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to get over ourselves and treat each other as such.

      Thanks for the visit, brother. 😉

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  2. Hi Susan,

    I am not a Christian,(or Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu) but I do believe in the good of Jesus and the value of his teachings and I do read them and try to practice them.
    Great post and great discussion here.

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    1. Thank you. I’m convinced if more who called themselves Christians practiced them, there would be more who would believe not only in the value of Jesus’ teaching, but would believe who He is.

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      1. *smile*
        Have a wonderful day Susan.

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  3. Hi Susan, I’ve just now had a chance to read this post. I don’t know Matt Walsh or his blog as I keep away from blogs like that, at least from what you describe, but I can understand that if you find yourself reading something divisive and vitriolic as his blog seems to be that you would want to try to bring some scriptural reason into the conversation. Although it would seem, and very sadly, that in this case, yes, you may well be beating a dead horse. I am so proud of you as you share this excellently-written post and I am standing with you in prayer my friend for all you share here.

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    1. Thanks you, Sherri. I went there from a link on another blog. We can only pray for open hearts and minds. Bless you, my friend.

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      1. I’m sorry you got that bashing, I meant to say that. You sure don’t deserve it. It breaks my heart that ‘Christians’ are behaving like this. I’m sending you a great big hug now in love and blessings my friend 🙂

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  4. Well-written Susan. I am at a loss for words because my brain is dead and my body aches all over and can’t find the things I would like to say but just wanted to let you know you were the perfect person sent to his blog at the perfect time to share the perfect message when God chose you to do so. And you did just that. And for that I commend you. God bless you sis!

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    1. Thank you, Joaynn. Praying for pain-free days for you, my sister.

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  5. You have such a big heart Susan. Don’t let the anger of the few taint your beautiful and loving spirit. I will pray with you too, that God melts Matt’s heart. Idk who he is and I don’t know the blog. I’ll just agree with you in prayer, in Jesus Name.

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    1. Thank you, Diana. That means a lot.

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  6. Well, I am not one to mince words, so here goes. These are the wing nuts as far as I am concerned and they are definitely 21st century Pharisees. Hatred is not Christian. Period. And, as I have said before, there are blogs built by haters for other haters and they often have thousands of followers and hundreds of comments. Because being judgmental is easy. It is easier to burn the barn down than to build it. I don’t read or follow blogs like that. Life is too short.

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    1. I know, Beth. But who will pray for them? Who will call out to them with an open hand?

      No, I can no longer follow them either, but if I find myself among them, I know I’ve been led there for a reason – not to hate, not to engage in the fray, but to provide a voice of love and grace, even if it is turned away. “And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.” (Mark 16:13)

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  7. Sadly I can fully appreciate your point, you and I have talked about this before I think. Compassion, love, understanding and forgiveness are the bedrock of Christ’s message and yet so many seek to demean or deride others simply because they do not fit a certain mold. I am certain that that kind of vitriol was not what was intended to be Jesus’s legacy.

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    1. No, I don’t either, Jenni. I am more and more certain those who cannot give Christ’s love are those who cannot accept it for themselves. That’s why I continue to pray for them, and am moved and called to take a stand about it.

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      1. I think it is a more than worthy call. Blessings be with you.

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  8. Well said, Susan. You hit this nail on its religious pointy head! The comments you are describing here from this person is a huge reason why most people don’t have a problem with Jesus but they have a low view of the church. It’s this attitude that actually keeps people away from Christ. It certainly doesn’t endear them to Him. But, as you point out, it wasn’t any different in Jesus’ day.
    All we have to do is look at who Jesus was “nice” to and who He was hard on in the gospel accounts. It was those with the “lifestyles” and those rejected by the religious culture that He ONLY showed compassion and love to, never once condemning them or judging them. Imagine that! The people He was hard on were those who thought they were behaving themselves and felt obligated to judge others.
    For instance, those who love to preach Romans 1 “hot and heavy” don’t apply Romans 2 to themselves. Paul was actually condemning the Roman church for their self-righteous attitude against those practice the things mentioned in Romans 1! (while he wasn’t condoning their sins). He goes on to say, “who are YOU to judge…” and that it’s only the goodness and kindness of God that leads to repentance (2:4). They did not understand the forbearance and mercy of God. Goodness and kindness must come FIRST. In other words, let’s actually do what Jesus did for a change and treat the lost like He did. That would be a lot different than what the world around us has been experiencing from Christians. They need to see Jesus, not our condescending attitude.
    Blessings to you, sister. You’re a brave warrior. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Mel. I was so disheartened at first in the face of so many angry voices. Then realized that I need to continue to spread the good news of grace and love because that’s the only way people will hear it. I simply couldn’t allow those loud voices drown out the powerful whisper of invitation that is inherent in the love and grace of Jesus.

      I knew he would lift me up on the wings of people like you who are living lights on the hills of his Truth. Thank you, Mel. This means more to me than you know. ❤

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  9. WOW! This is a powerful conversation, that in my experience, is almost always met with hostility. Thank you for bringing it up.
    I will never understand why this is such a hot button subject. It seems pretty simple to understand.
    When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he answered Love God, Love your neighbor.
    Sexual sins, ARE very destructive, nobody would argue otherwise, but isn’t gossip equally destructive?
    What about selfishness?
    How many lives have been destroyed by selfishness?
    The thing I love most about being a follower of Christ is knowing that I am a child of a God who loves me unconditionally.
    And because he FIRST loved me, I strive everyday to love him back.
    He told us exactly how to do this when he said, “As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”
    Then Paul tells us that without love we are just a noisy gong.
    It seems pretty clear to me that the best way to glorify the Lord is by being loving to not just my family, not just my friends, but extending that love to strangers and, here is the really hard part…extending that love to my enemies.
    If I am judging and mistreating people based upon their “lifestyle”, am I not in direct opposition to his commands?
    The way to handle others sins, is to lovingly speak your testimony to them. Be loving and offer them friendship, and then pray and put the matter in his hands.
    I appreciate your words today.
    Thanks again. 😉

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    1. Obviously, I agree. It seems to me (and I haven’t counted) that the words Jesus spoke the most frequently were about love. We can’t simply make up excuses to be angry with one another when Jesus clearly told us that to be angry in our hearts was tantamount to murder (Matthew 5:21-22).

      Thank you so much for your support.

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  10. We are to love…it is a simple doctrine that people (religious Pharisaic piety) have devised into their own way of thinking and judging. The world is ignorant but many times I have learned that ill-informed Believers are not so loving and show no mercy in their judgment of other sinners. They believe in the Bible Buffet and pick and choose what they read and believe…not as a whole but piecemeal. They use the Bible to tear down people and build their “righteous” selves up.

    My dear friend and sister in Christ, I know you are a loving child of God who has only the Gospel (good news) to share while the devil is right behind you trying to ruin your efforts. The more persecution you meet is an indication of how well you are communicating the Truth. It will never be easy. What better way to exemplify your life as a loving and compassionate Christian, as Christians all over the world prepare for Palm Sunday and then Holy week. Your blog is a devotion dedicated to the cause of Christ for which I am so grateful. I think the other blogger has a lot to learn and should understand that all of us have “lifestyles” that are probably not very pleasing to God. We are works in progress under the watchful eyes of our loving Father.

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    1. Thank you so much, Dale. I think many of us fall into the trap of feeding at the Bible Buffet, me included. I pray when I do the Holy Spirit will convict me before I ever say or print what I am thinking.

      Since coming to the faith I have earnestly worked at knowing God, studying His word, and learning from a wide variety of commentaries as well as from the Spirit. I’ve worked at tempering my reactions and transforming them into appropriate responses, not always with success.

      My true desire is to be a living sacrifice. While I fall short much of the time, I am assured that during this life while He continues to prune and harvest the seeds of the Spirit in me, He will continue until He is finished with me. 😉

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  11. Hi. I did like what Matt had written but I didn’t realise he’d written it attacking you and others! So I hope that won’t make things difficult between us because I also liked and agreed with what you wrote. We shouldn’t, as Christians be attacking each other, we should remember that we are all saved by grace.

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    1. It won’t make things difficult between us at all. I agree that we must remember we are all saved by grace, and also remember what Peter said: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for this you were called that you may obtain blessing.”

      I’m still praying for those who choose to close their hearts to others, call names and speak or write in anger because I think it prevents them from experiencing the fullness of the love of God.

      Bless you for your kind comment.

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      1. Great. You’re welcome sweetie x

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  12. This post needs to have at least ten like buttons for me to be completely happy. I followed Walsh for awhile, but stopped because I am fed up by that kind of response from Christians. Fundamentalism, whether pharisees in the first century or pharisees in the 21st century, drives people away from Christ instead of being fragrant with Him. Jesus went to the dregs of society, and did not squirm when he talked to the woman taken in adultery. As a believer, I know that Christ in me is a reality, and the only people who really got their ears pinned back were the Pharisees. You are not alone, Susan.

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    1. Thank you so much, Susan. I was truly taken aback by the response and very sad at the approach. All I can do is pray, as instructed by Jesus in Luke 6:27-36.

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      1. You are welcome. It was a well-written post.

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