“Lord, please help me have the bluntness of Jesus and Paul and also their wisdom.”
That was part of my prayer tonight. If you’ve ever read any part of the New Testament, most likely you’ve read some of Paul’s or Jesus’ messages. There are no “bless their hearts” or “well, it was how he or she was raised” or “that’s just what he chooses to believe.” Jesus and Paul were compassionate, but they were also blunt with wisdom to accompany their words. As we’ve seen in the last few years, straightforward truth is hard to find, not just in the world, but especially in the church. Can we distinguish the church from the world? How many times has something been swept under the rug hoping no one will notice? Like Solomon wrote many times in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.
“All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one might say,
“See this, it is new”?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us.
There is no remembrance of earlier things;
And also of the later things which will occur,
There will be for them no remembrance
Among those who will come later still.”
Ecclesiastes 1:8-11 (NASB- bold print added for emphasis)
These are words from the wisest man who ever lived. They may seem downcast or negative, but they are true nonetheless. We can criticize ancient Israel for falling into what appear to us to be obvious traps and temptations, but won’t people generations from now say the same about us? Will they not say, “Why did the church allow that to happen?” “They were preaching that from the pulpit?” We are blessed to have the Scriptures to learn from them so that we can be more faithful followers of Christ as lights in the darkness and hope to a world that is quickly losing it. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul starts by saying that their forefathers were in the wilderness with Moses, and they all shared the same experiences, but God was not pleased with most of them. He then continues to write in vv. 7-13,
“Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (Bold print added for emphasis)
Putting Paul’s instructions and Solomon’s wisdom together, we can summarize that we are going to face trials, and most likely, they are trials humanity has already faced. We’ve received an instruction manual (the Word of God) that shares what to do and what not to do as a follower of God. Sometimes we don’t like being told what to do (or not to do) like children but then we want to know God’s will. We ask the questions but don’t like the answers so we plug our ears and hum and hope for a different solution. Let’s take a look at one of Paul’s passages in Romans 1 that tends to start the ear plugging:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (vv.18-23- bold print added for emphasis)
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (vv. 24-25)
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” (vv. 26-32- bold print added for emphasis)
No doubt there could be multiple posts written to break down these verses, but the simple truth is, God has been made known to everyone. What Paul reveals is that people have chosen and continue to choose to deny it and worship other things. People have chosen to give in to their sinful desires, and God has let them face their own judgment. We have the free will to choose. The world is going to act in accordance with the world. That is its nature. I’m not writing this post with non-believers in mind, but the church. Are we part of the last verse, which says, “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them”? How has homosexuality been addressed among people who claim Christianity and practice it? Do we address it at all or turn away to remain “relevant” in our culture? What about other topics, like abortion?
Paul is writing to the church of Rome, both Jews and Gentiles, who are learning how to be Christians in their culture, not unlike much of what we experience today. In Romans 2, he turns the focus off the world and back to the church and addresses believers specifically:
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” (vv. 1-11- bold print added for emphasis)
Hypocrisy. How many of us have seen it? How many of us have heard that people aren’t Christians because Christians are hypocritical? Are they wrong? Too often the church is the one who looks at the speck in his brother’s eye but ignores the log in its own eye (read Jesus’ blunt message in Luke 6:41-42). Sometimes the church is too busy judging what the world is doing and not seeing that the world has made its way into the church. We criticize the very thing that we are doing. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses a grievous sin in the church and mentions that he had written to the Corinthians not to associate with immoral people who claim to be Christians. He writes in vv. 12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” We are the bride of Christ to be presented as pure, spotless, and blameless so why are we acting as an adulteress (see James 4:4-5), like Israel did, cheating on God with the world, not cleaning house from the unrepentant sin we let permeate it? All of these things written in Scripture may sound harsh to our culturally-sensitive ears, but the intention is for repentance so that all may come to know Christ.
There are such things as righteousness and unrighteousness. The idea that everyone has their own truth is a lie. The answers to our questions are right in front of us as long as we don’t close our eyes, plug our ears, and hope the truth will change to a more culturally-accepted response. The truth of the gospel is above culture, which is part of its beauty. It surpasses the boundaries of time and language. Are we bold enough to not care what the world thinks? A lot can happen when we take a stand just like the Roman Christians who chose not to worship an emperor or the many other deities therein. Do the consequences outweigh truth or does truth outweigh the consequences? We, the body of Christ, must decide soon.
© Lauren Heiligenthal Demuth