Even God Uses Hammers
We often hear friends, mentors, and pastors speak about how Jesus showed compassion and love, and we should do likewise. Even those who are utterly lost in sin should be shown the same compassion that Jesus showed time and time again in His interactions with sinners. Doing so is the right thing to do; Christ came for the sick and hurting, not for the already holy. However, we do often see Jesus as well as other biblical figures responding to certain situations with a rather different attitude. We find that patience and grace are the default for how to interact with the world, but this is not always what is needed. God has many tools in His toolbox, and this includes a few hammers. Sometimes a situation calls for a more blunt approach that leaves behind subtlety and patience in favor of unwavering defense of truth. It is important to recognize when such a situation is at hand as well as how to fill that role in a godly manner.
We see several situations in the Bible in which the appropriate response was a rather intense display of righteous and fervent defense of the truth rather than a more subtle approach. Two examples of this stand out from the rest; Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees (we will look at just one of these situations) and Paul’s interaction with Peter in regards to the Judaizers. As we look at these two situations look at the context in which they are reacting in such a way. These somewhat intense and extreme responses are only called for in very specific situations.
In Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (English Standard Version).
This is an excerpt from a passage in which Jesus condemns the religious leaders of the day for their false teachings. Jesus outright calls these people hypocrites and publicly denounces them for their behavior. To call such a person a hypocrite would have been a terrible insult. Furthermore, Jesus made some rather intense accusations about them in full view of the public. However, He did not say one thing that was untrue. He openly corrected those who openly led the people astray.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.[a] 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:11-14 ESV)
In this passage, we see Paul in an altercation with Peter (referred to as Cephas here). Unlike the previous example, this situation involves a fellow believer. Paul condemns Peter for his actions in regards to the recent gentile converts. Paul, as he does in many other instances, is defending the Gospel against legalism. The description given here is one of a rather intense confrontation. The phrase “to his face” drives home the fact that Paul did not stop at just sending a letter, he very intentionally called Peter out and the text wants it made clear that this was done in a contronational way.
So what can we glean from these examples? In both cases, the somewhat intense approach that was taken was in direct defense of the Gospel itself. It was done to stamp out false teachings that risked inhibiting the salvation of others. In both situations, harsh things were said, but nothing that was said was untrue. There are even some outright insults in those passages, but they are only insulting because they bring up legitimate shortcomings. In both situations, the end goal was not defamation of the opponent or to harm them in any way. The goal was to first and foremost protect others from their falsehoods, and secondly attempt to get them to see the error of their ways. That worked for Peter, not so much for the Pharisees as a whole.
So what does this look like in a practical sense? To answer that question, let’s take a look at a real situation from my life. My mother in law is a wonderful woman who loves the Lord deeply. Over the years she has invited many Mormons into her home to outreach to them. She would allow them to talk to her about their beliefs, but only so that she could do the same in return without causing them to never come back. She tried very hard to foster an atmosphere of love and patience. Her idea was to show them grace and try to disciple them to Christ. This is a fantastic thing to do and there was nothing wrong with taking the more gracious approach, however with one particular set of Mormons she was working with, the time eventually came for them to move on as their mission was ending, but they had not seen the truth of Jesus yet. This is where I came in. It was a time sensitive situation, so I pulled no punches in my critique of Mormonism. The essence of my argument was that the Bible and the Book of Mormon cannot possible both be true, so which of the texts would they be giving up that day? I was very blunt in my condemnation of Joseph Smith as a false prophet as well as the dire reality of their eternal fate for following a god. The two of them left rather unhappy with me, but the truth had been spoken.
My goal at that time was less so to get them to see the truth, but rather to give a staunch defense of the Gospel. They needed to hear the unfiltered truth. So what does this mean for anyone reading this? Don’t be afraid to speak boldly. Sometimes the truth cannot be processed by the minds of the unsaved. The Gospel is an affront to everything that they have lived for and sometimes preaching the good news of Jesus is going to make you some enemies. When you find yourself in these situations, pray. Try to discern how to best approach the situation. Don’t be too passive about these issues as people’s eternal souls are on the line, but don’t let your fervor for the truth turn you into a legalist, don’t let it rile up anger within you that leads to sin.
To wrap things up, here is a cautionary story from the Bible. There was a time that John saw some Samaritans (Jews who followed a false variant of Judaism basically), and knowing that they taught falsely, he asked Jesus if they should call down God’s wrath as fire to smite these heathens. Jesus immediately rebuked this terrible thinking. Do not waiver in when it comes to the truth, but do not let yourselves make the mistake that John made