Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2002
Dear Friend in Christ:
I trust this letter finds you and yours well. This month and next, I want to share with you something that the Lord has placed strongly on my heart; a subject that I believe is of critical importance to us in these days. First, let’s take a look at what Scripture has to say about the nature of truth, and then we’ll look at a story from the life of Jesus.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us that both truth and love are essential to spiritual maturity. They are like two arms of God, securing and nourishing the believer. But what happens when the truth is denied for fear of offending? The result is immaturity at least, and even worse, the results can be deadly.
The truth keeps “marching on” as the Battle Hymn states. And if it is ignored, in the end, the truth will be insensitive and even brutal to our feelings. One who ignores a medical condition due to fear of the truth can experience death, whereas the truth could have brought life. And, a physician that withholds the truth for fear of offending is of no use. Indeed he or she may be culpable in death.
Fear of offending can govern how we tell the truth, but must not determine if we tell the truth. Jesus warned us not to offend the little ones and Paul warned us not to use our liberty for offense, but those warnings are not to be confused with the need for the truth. God also warned us against withholding the truth (see Ezekiel 3:1-21).
Western culture has come to a place where we would rather accommodate feelings than risk offending with the truth. This pattern has been established in our schools by social promotion, and in society’s rigid political correctness. While some aspects of being sensitive are admirable, when it muzzles the truth it is criminal.
What really concerns me is that the psychology of offense-avoidance has influenced the Church. The prophetic voice is often a pathetic voice. The “prophetic edge” has been rounded off into “smooth sayings.” The desire for “smooth sayings” was Israel’s downfall.
The Bible is God’s Word, and His Word is forever settled in heaven. Any modern translation is obligated to the original text. There will be no new version; it is eternal. This conviction has survived college and seminary as well as the continual erosion of theological liberalism. In addition, I believe that Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, is the standard of behavior, and is truth incarnate. Having said that, let us review one of the many stories in His ministry that could have caused offense.
Recently, I was reading Matthew chapter 15 and noticed that the disciples were concerned that Jesus had offended the Pharisees; He had called them “hypocrites” to their faces. I wondered if He could have said something different like, “You are truth-challenged.” He made even the disciples nervous over the truth.
I read further and arrived at the story of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus desperately seeking deliverance for her daughter, who was afflicted by a demon. (Even the whole demon issue presents a problem to many people; one of my seminary professors once said that Jesus was merely “catering to the ignorance of His day.”)
Jesus ignored this woman at first, but she cried out and begged, “Son of David have mercy on me.” Jesus responded by saying to her, “I came only for the lost sheep of Israel.” But she fell at His feet and worshipped. Then He said, “It is not appropriate to give the children’s bread to the little dogs.” “Even the little dogs get the crumbs,” she persisted. Jesus was impressed, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you desire.” Wow! What would happen to a minister who used this approach today? I can only imagine the response of His peers and the media.
This woman overcame two outrageously offensive references, by today’s standards: “Jews only” and the unthinkable “dog” analogy. But she was not offended at either. Her faith went beyond offense.
One could argue that Jesus knew all along that He would deliver her daughter. But there were many other occasions when someone did not survive offense, such as the rich young ruler or the Pharisees. But why did Jesus use this approach at all? Is He telling us something about the quality of faith He seeks, or that He is not merely hoping to attract “sensitive seekers?”
The apostle Paul reminds us that the cross itself is an offense (see Galatians 5:11). It is a “stumbling block” to many: vulgar, gory, and ignominious_a curse. Yet it is the single narrow door to salvation, revealing the cost of sin and the means of our justification. The fact that the cross is so offensive may tell us why so many leaders avoid the topic in favor of a message of approval and self-esteem. Both Jesus’ cross and ours have become offensive in many Christian circles. But true salvation is the result of faith that embraces the cross and its offenses, to find resurrection life.
INSULT VS. OFFENSE
An insult is what we perceive when someone ignores us, or denigrates our character and motives. And offense is our reaction to a perceived insult. Offense is when we become “trapped” in what someone else said or did. We cannot get past it. We begin to “nurse a hurt,” and lose sight of our purpose. Offense is a snare. Insults will come to us all, but we need not to be offended. That is a personal choice.
It seems to me that because we have denied human depravity, sin, and the cross (both Jesus’ cross and ours), we are a culture that has become excessively sensitive and easily offended. Consequently, we spend too much time defending ourselves and too little time getting things done. The Church spends too much time handling internal problems and not enough on its mission. People who have not faced their sin and the cross will be high maintenance people.
A MATTER OF FOCUS
The Canaanite woman knew that she was not a Jew. But she went to Jesus anyway because she believed that He was able to deliver her daughter. Even more, she believed that He was the “Son of David” and “Lord.” She even worshipped Him_though she was not a Jew.
She knew that many Jews thought of Canaanites and all Gentiles as “dogs,” but she went anyway. She was not self-aware, or self-absorbed. She seemed to totally ignore the possibility of being offended. So, she got what she came to get, and she also received the commendation of the Son of God.
There is a great need among us to stay focused on our purpose and not ourselves. It is not a matter of being admired; it is about being persistent, getting past offenses, doing His will, and speaking the truth. We must urge one another past the “spoiled, sulking, child syndrome” if we are going to be delivered of our “demons” and find healing. In order for us to die to our ensnaring sensitivities, we must revisit the cross. We are dead_or should be.
When it comes to the military, I have never heard of a sensitive drill instructor. Boot camp is about breaking down some attitudes and building others. It is about creating mental and physical toughness and a team mentality. Soldiers become a unit and even die for each other.
No, I am not suggesting that we turn the Church into a “boot camp.” However, how will we build an army without an initiation that puts the cross up front? How will we produce believers immune to heart-defiling bitterness, and open to correction, if we do not preach a faith that perseveres beyond offense? “Thin-skinned Christians” will never get to the real battlefields or fire a shot at the real enemy, and they will also keep others away from the battle as well.
In order to be part of “the unshakable Kingdom,” we must become unshakable; we must be able to handle the disciplines of God. The Church may have gotten out of the discipline business, but the Lord of the Church has not (see Hebrews 12). He still deals in truth.
The apostle Paul declared the “whole counsel of God” (see Acts 20:27). Jude admonishes us to “contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the Saints.” The early Church was steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine. Many of them became martyrs rather than deny the truth.
History will testify against us if we are intimidated and withhold the truth. Not only was our nation attacked on September 11, 2001, but our naiveté and presuppositions were also attacked. For a long time, self-gratification seemed to be our national ethic, but 9/11 refocused many of us on life and death issues.
Sometimes both the attack and response are immediate. At other times the attack is quiet and gradual, but equally devastating in the long run. The attack on our moral values has been gradual, but severe and relentless. It moves under no single name or banner and on many fronts. Like physicians, we must learn to diagnose and treat spiritual diseases without fear of offending the patient. As God’s prophetic voice in the earth, Christians must not be intimidated.
Is our primary purpose to make truth palatable to skeptics? While we love those outside of Christ, would God’s love deny them the truth? Would we dare delete His cross and ours from the message that he gave us in order to avoid offense?
The Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice is Honorable Judge Roy Moore. Judge Moore placed a large stone in the Supreme Court building which has the Ten Commandments inscribed upon it. He also recently denied custody to a mother living in a homosexual relationship. He has been excoriated by the press and by activists, though his decision was in accordance with the long-standing law.
Many other political and spiritual leaders become silent in the face of these kinds of attacks upon those who stand up. So those who are no friends of biblical truth are offended; will that prevent us persevering to the desired ends? This is the time for us to exercise the faith of the Canaanite woman who was oblivious to perceived insult, and get to the deliverance that our world_and the Church_so desperately need.
Next month I will address the issue of “Editing the Word of God” to make it “politically correct.” Thanks for your support and for your heartfelt prayers. We pray God’s blessing and strength for you and yours in these days.
Scripture Reference: Ephesians, Ezekiel, Matthew, Galatians, Acts, Hebrews