One of the myths that we believe today is that God is a bit of a wimp. Since every picture we see of Jesus he has long flowing hair and has a gentle, peaceful expression in his eye, clearly he couldn’t handle himself in a fight. In fact, all he does all day is look thoughtfully into people’s eyes and tell them how much God loves them, right?
Well, not if you read Matthew 23. Jesus walks into church while the pastors are there and publicly says this:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:13-15
Let’s briefly review, he said they were hypocrites, they don’t let people into Heaven, and that they themselves were going to hell. One begins to understand why they were trying to kill him. He says much more in the chapter, but this is a good summary.
Far from being a wimp marching through Palestine telling everyone to be nice to each other, Jesus has a sharp edge to him. Certainly he advocated loving your enemy and turning the other cheek, but not like a wuss would. He did not love peace out of fear but out of courage. He trusted his Father so deeply and loved his enemies so much, he would publicly humiliate them to show them their hearts.
He also loved the crowd too much to let their hypocrisy reign unchecked. There were confused people in this crowd who were following these teachers. They needed to be warned.
One of the most influential works on my view of Jesus is The Visual Bible – The Gospel According to Matthew. Their interpretation of Jesus’ confrontation is here. Bruce Marchiano, who plays Jesus, did the whole scene in one take and when he was done, he walked away and told the director, “He Loved them. It broke his heart because he loved them.”
Far from the macho super independent man of the James Bond films, Jesus was tough because he loved.
Be Honest with God
There is a few important lessons for us in this. First, God is tough enough to take our honest prayers. I think we somehow protect God from our frustrations and anger with him because we think he has a sensitive ego. We don’t want to hurt his feelings so we aren’t honest with him. This is flatly not how Job, Moses, Elijah, David, Jonah, and Jeremiah talked with God. They clearly respected him, but as a Father they knew they could be honest with.
One of my favorite exchanges in all of scripture is Jonah’s complaint to God when he spared Nineveh.
And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3
Jonah had a sinful heart and he trusted God enough to be brutally honest with God about how he felt. And notice that despite Jonah’s rank immaturity while he threw a tantrum to the God of the universe, God was patient with him. Even at Jonah’s request, God didn’t kill him.
We need to take a lesson from this. God is trustworthy not simply with our nice feeling, but our mean and selfish ones as well. It is hilarious that we try to hide our faults from an all-knowing God. We are a bit stupid sometimes.
Love Isn’t Always Nice
The second lesson we should take away is that loving people will involve aggressive conflict sometimes. Love is always kind, but it is not always nice. Many times the grace of God to me has been men and women pushing me in not very nice ways. Sometimes they were outright sinning against me. But that did not mean that God was not teaching me something in it.
We need to be much more interested in serving people than in having smooth relationships with them. I fear that I am part of a generation of wimps who are much more interested in being liked by people than loving them. As I watch men grow in their relationship with God, almost universally they become more bold. With that boldness comes conflict. With the conflict will always come the criticism that they have become arrogant.
You see, none of us like to have our sin called out. It is much easier to blame the messenger than to search our hearts. Shooting them down as arrogant or the church word, legalistic, is a lot easier. That is not to say that there aren’t arrogant and legalistic people in the church, but we should first search our hearts to see if they have a point.
Courage Comes from a Relationship with God
Jesus did not have his courage from a vacuum. He was doing “only what he sees the Father doing.” We have the courage and wisdom to know when to confront people by being like God. If we stay close to him, that shields us from arrogance because it is a but silly to stand arrogantly next to God. We also live knowing that he is behind us and if I have his approval, I can deal with your anger.
Correction is Done with Gentleness
It is not enough to simply correct each other. We must do so with gentleness.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 2 Tim 2:24-25a
We are being like our Father when we correct gently and patiently. There are many men out there correcting out of their anger and not out of love. The man who corrects out of love is looking to win his brother, not destroy his brother. The gentle, patient, and firm correction is a trademark of just such a man.
Gentlemen, we serve a tough and wonderful God. Let’s lean heavily on him to give us the courage to not only do the nice thing, but the right thing.