Working in the building trades as I do, I occasionally have the experience of needing a particular tool, but not having it on hand. Often enough some temporary solution can be improvised, it just takes a little creativity. There can even be some satisfaction in finding a way to get the job done without the right tool, if the need is brief. But I also know that if I am using makeshift tools for any significant amount time, I will quickly fall behind. Eventually, it becomes very frustrating to use the wrong tools because you will often work twice as hard and accomplish half as much.
In some ways it seems like Christians today are using the wrong tools. There are several ideas we’ve adopted as points of practical wisdom that are unsuited to the church’s mission. It may not be quite accurate to call them doctrines, although they seem to be taught and reinforced pretty consistently. They are well-known rules of thumb, practical guidelines that we use to govern what we should say and how we should say it. If these bits of wisdom are correct they will serve us well. But if not, applying them may leave us with wasted days and the frustration of using the wrong tools.
Don’t offend anyone
The first of these wrong tools is thinking that we should virtually never offend anyone. As with many of these tools, this idea is well-known to the church, but also to American society in general. Offending someone is taken to be one of the more serious infractions in American society. Besides that it’s clearly the wrong way to try to win souls and influence people.
The problem is that as American society moves farther and farther from the truth, it becomes offended at the most fundamental truths. We now see that some in America take offense at the notion of being born male or female. That is about as simple and ordinary a truth as one could imagine, yet here we are.
Americans are also taught by our culture to take offense easily. The offended soul is virtuous, the offender is guilty, unless perhaps the offender himself is even more offended. No infraction is to be tolerated, no matter how minor or unintentional.
“Don’t offend anyone” is the wrong tool for a Christian. Oh, it is a tool to be sure. And it serves a certain kind of person well. This tool is great for man pleasers, people who just want to be liked by others. It’s indispensable for man pleasers. But it isn’t fit for delivering the gospel, particularly in today’s America.
But surely we shouldn’t give offense needlessly? Very true. However, this observation only becomes wisdom if we know when giving offense is needed. Without it, our pseudo-wisdom leaves us looking very foolish.
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God. Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:31-32
We should endeavor not to offend anyone as we use our Christian liberty. In the things that are allowed but not required, we should be gracious. That all things are lawful to me is something not everyone understands. For example, many American Christians are uncertain about the relationship of a believer to alcohol. This would be a situation in which to apply the above verse.
But God himself offends a great many people by his purposes in Christ.
As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
The self-righteous always stumble over Christ. The only way around this is for the offended person to realize that he truly needs the savior. Which brings me to the second wrong tool.
We don’t need to talk about sin
You can easily see how this fits with the first tool. If we talk about sin, we’re liable to offend people. But we’ll be following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus and the inspired believers of the book of Acts.
The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.
Like a saw makes sawdust, telling the truth about sin offends some people. But this is not a matter of Christian liberty, talking about sin is part of our biblical mandate. We can’t do the job without it.
Not telling the truth about sin is a great tool for the preservation of self-righteousness. For sure, the self-righteous talk about right and wrong, in order to condemn others and justify themselves. The problem is they lie to themselves.
It’s not hard to understand why people turn away from the truth about sin. Without the promise of the gospel, the truth about sin reveals the hopelessness of our case. There is no judgment that we can render against another person that doesn’t apply equally to ourselves. It light of this, what hope do any of us have?
Still that doesn’t excuse the truth-twisting engaged in by the self-righteous. The truth must be made known in a way that sheds light on the deceptions of the hypocrites. The hypocrisy itself is a crime against God and our fellow man. The only solution is to speak the difficult truth. It isn’t that talk of right and wrong is so absent in America, it’s that the gospel truth has gone missing.
Another tool that serves us poorly is pretending that sin can be guiltless. We do this by thinking that although people live sinful lives they do it in innocent ignorance. We tell ourselves that they don’t know better. We’ve fallen for the lie that the contents of a man’s conscience is only that which he admits it to be.
On judgment day the secrets of men’s hearts will be revealed. One of those secrets is that we all really do know better. No one will be condemned for anything other than what he knows. But we all have plenty of knowledge to convict ourselves.
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
It isn’t that we are each guilty of different things. We are guilty of exactly those things that we condemn in others. Each of us breaks his own internal moral code.
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
Even the people who have not heard the word of God spoken to them already have the righteous requirements of God written on their hearts. Knowledge of right and wrong is built into us, it’s part of our inheritance as descendants of Adam and Eve.
Will some be found guiltless then? Not at all. Some folks read these verses in the sceond chapter of Romans and conclude that some gentiles will be justified by keeping the righteous requirements of their own conscience. But the apostle Paul concluded otherwise.
…we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
All sin against the law of God, against even that which is written upon their own hearts.
Carrying on with the fiction of moral ignorance is the wrong tool for a Christian. For one thing, it contradicts the scripture. But besides that, it’s a preservative for sin and complacency. The truth about the law written of the heart should motivate us to clean up our lives as best we can. No more tolerating the sin we’ve become so familiar with.
We should also be stirred to reach out to the lost. Understanding the self-betrayal that each human suffers should stir compassion in the Christian heart. We may understand a complete stranger better than they understand themselves because God has revealed their lives to us in his word.
Let’s stop trying to do the Lord’s work with the wrong tools. The three tools discussed in this post aren’t fit for a Christian who wants to further the gospel. We can do so much more if we use the right tools.