Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that one of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. (Luke 21.14-15)
Making Everyone Happy
Etiquette teaches us certain things should not be discussed in public. Money and sex used to push the boundaries of taste; no longer. Now, we avoid discussing religion and politics. But, like it or not, we talk about them all the time. Our faith and civic views filter into every other topic we discuss—including money and sex. If, for example, an issue regarding on-the-job protocol arises, our attitude will most certainly reflect our faith. We’ll be less concerned about what’s “fair” than doing the kind thing. Neighbors or relatives trying to recruit our support in their conflicts will be most unhappy when we counsel them to forgive and move on, instead of agreeing with them or joining their criticism of adversaries. One of the oddest ironies of following Jesus is how abstinence from entering conflict often ends up making enemies for us.
Too many people in the world ascribe to the idea “if you’re not for me, you’re against me.” They don’t realize “they” aren’t a deciding factor in how we conduct ourselves. Making them happy by agreeing with their opinions is secondary at best. The question we ask is, “Does what I’m agreeing with please God?” We’re naïve to believe making everyone happy makes God happy. What pleases others doesn’t always please Him. We do no one service by “not talking about religion”—a rather clinical injunction against faith-infused dialogue, if you asked me—when not confessing our beliefs causes us to float away on waves of harmful, incorrect thoughts and actions. Yet we also have to be aware that staying true to our commitment to God has the potential to put some relationships at risk. For example, telling someone whose heart is set on hating someone, “Well, the best you can do is just love and pray for them,” very well could result in likewise being hated. It’s a big price to pay sometimes. But not ever as big as the price we pay by compromising our faith “not to make waves.”
The Other Side
But there’s another side to this coin we also can’t forget. Staying true to our convictions and “making a stand” are not the same thing. Our God and our faith need no defense. And when we allow ourselves to be dragged into defending Him, our belief in Him, or our right to believe in Him we’re apt to fall into behaviors that are unbecoming to Him and us. Can anyone say anything to shake our confidence in God’s love and acceptance? No. Thus, it’s always best to allow them to speak their minds, answer with kindness, and let it go. How we comport ourselves will speak more than anything we can ever say. We love one another because Christ first loved us. Therefore, showing love in the face of adversity and criticism says more than any argument ever will persuade someone we are as loved and accepted as any other Christian.
Remember, in His day, Jesus and the disciples were the outsiders. Very few in their community and culture believed they were correct in their conviction that God loved all people equally. Everywhere they went, someone was pleased to tell them how wrong they were—and why they were wasting their time. Yet nowhere do we find Jesus yanking out Scriptures and pat arguments to defend Himself and His followers. When appropriate, He speaks to His adversaries’ charges with care and wisdom, offering insights to what troubles them. For example, when Pharisees reproach Him and the disciples for not conforming to hand- and dishwashing rituals, Jesus says, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” (Matthew 15.11) The point behind the ritual is kitchen hygiene. But Jesus subtly turns the Pharisees’ logic on its head: they want to accuse Him of sin and He says dirty food isn’t the problem; dirty words—lies, curses, and deceit—are what should concern us. It’s an amazingly wise response. It changes the subject and answers the question in one sentence.
Irresistible and Sure
In Luke 21, Jesus tells us not to worry about defending ourselves. And the insertion of “beforehand” suggests we shouldn’t ever allow prejudices, attitudes, or cold shoulders to drive us away. We are free; He died to make it so. Sometimes we’ll knowingly enter situations where others may not want us or may challenge our right to be there. We should neither anticipate it nor worry about it. If that’s where we’re supposed to be, Jesus says He’ll give us the words and wisdom to handle ourselves fittingly. But we should hear him carefully—words and wisdom. Sometimes wisdom will mean “no words;” saying the wise thing won’t be the wise thing to do. So when we’re confronted we listen very carefully and respond with equal care, knowing that we’re representing Christ in this situation. We never have to prove we’re right; we only have to do what’s right. And if our words express or provoke anger—regardless how correct and scripturally sound they are—they are wrong. If we speak out of pride in knowing God loves us, we’re not speaking the truth in love. And condemning anyone ultimately condemns us.
The words and wisdom we receive from Christ, either by studying His example or attending to His Spirit, will turn our adversaries around. Jesus says they won’t be able to resist what we say or contradict it. That means we become, to a certain extent, irresistible and sure. Not a bad way to be. Not a bad way to live, either.
Words & Wisdom: not one or the other, though sometimes one without the other.