Let the fine words fall where they may

All of us Christians like to think that everything we do is thoroughly biblical. We all genuinely believe we speak when and where the Bible speaks and we are more measured when and where it doesn’t. But it is telling what we are often willing to speak up about.

Some of us are very happy to speak up on matters that our culture also consider to be problems. We readily call out issues that large sections of society agree with us on – particularly those issues that garner respect for our ‘bravery’ in speaking out – and tend to major on these. I, for example, find that people are generally quite supportive when I speak on issues of mental health or racial inequality. These things can get the likes and clicks from many outside the church.

Others of us are very happy to speak up on things that our culture generally do not consider to be problems. We are quick to call out those things that we perceive our culture will largely not give us any great plaudits for mentioning. We are keen to raise issues such as abortion or sexual ethics that go against the overwhelming consensus. These are the things that tend to receive the ire of the those outside the church.

It is interesting to me when there are folks who only ever seem to be in one or other of those camps. If the former, it feels like they are keen for approval and are desperate to be applauded. If the latter, it feels like they are spoiling for a fight, all of the time and love the controversy. John speaks about the former group when he says:

Many did believe in him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, so that they would not be banned from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than praise from God.

John 12:42-43

Jesus himself has this to say:

Woe to you when all people speak well of you, because this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets.

Luke 6:26

To the latter group Paul says:

As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12:18

And similarly:

Reject foolish and ignorant disputes, because you know that they breed quarrels. 24 The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.

These things do not mean, of course, that we can’t speak on issues. Of course we can. I don’t read Paul suggesting we shouldn’t say anything controversial but rather that we ought not to get into quarrels. A discussion is one thing – a discussion in which we can be gentle and patient as we speak – but a quarrel seems to be distinguished from that. A fruitless argument that stokes anger.

Some of us are tempted to never speak at all. We think the best approach is just to keep our heads down. If nobody notices us, perhaps we can get away with the quiet and peaceable life Peter suggests we should hope for. But we often confuse the quiet and peaceable life so far as it depends upon us, with not living our Christian lives in public at all. We never have cause to say anything because few would know we are Christians. Jesus says:

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Those of us inclined this way may not so much be seeking the approval of the world, as fearful of it. Peter & John offer us a helpful example:

“What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign has been done through them, clear to everyone living in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that this does not spread any further among the people, let’s threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again.” 18 So they called for them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

19 Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20 for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

21 After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done.

Acts 4:16-21

They were ‘unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’. They were more interested in speaking about God, and more concerned about his view than anything the world might do to them. This is the repeated testimony of the early believers in Acts. Speaking about the Lord because they couldn’t do anything else and enduring whatever was thrown at them for the sake of Christ. They weren’t seeking such things, but if it came, it came.

Most of us, I think, are genuinely aiming to find some balance in these things. We aren’t looking to speak only about what the world will applaud us for saying. We aren’t spoiling for a fight and looking to always wade into controversial things. We aren’t necessarily seeking to keep our heads down in the hope nobody asks us anything that might get us in trouble either. We should be suspicious of those believers who are always falling into one of these camps.

We should expect those who are genuinely seeking to speak about Jesus to occasional do all of these things. Sometimes they will speak about what is wrong in the church and the world then receive the plaudits of others. Sometimes they will speak about what is wrong in the church and the world then receive the opprobrium of others. Sometimes they will say nothing at all, thinking it wiser not to speak on this particular issue at this time. They won’t be always controversial or always speaking in ways that win applause. They will speak about Jesus and his church and his word because they can do nothing else and, in so doing, they will let the approval fall where it may.