There are complicated passages of Scripture and there are easy ones. I would like to take one of each sort show how they are connected and then apply them across a few scenarios in the hope that all five of you who read this will be edified.
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11
As the simple passages of Scripture tend to go this is a classic example of easy to read, hard to do. First in that good sense, or discretion, as the Authorized Version would have it, is not easy to come by. It is the combination many virtues, patience, knowledge, charity, wisdom. It takes work to be a discerning person, Unlike Fed Ex it does not arrive overnight but is cultivated. And at it’s peak is glory derived from assessing and affiance and overlooking it. I would argue this is more than just being the bigger person. It is forgiveness given even when the apology was never offered.
Obviously there are times to be angry and times where wisdom would demand an offense be taken. Scripture is consistent in every way and this is analogous to Pauls sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:30-31
God is offended by our sins, He takes them personally, they are not trivial rules that we break like we do the speed limit. And they require repentance. As we grow to be more like Christ we will be offended, sanctification requires discernment and good sense. But it does not make us doormats. There are times to overlook offense and there are times to be slow to anger and overlook.
Now taking one thing with another I would like to inch a bit further out onto the branch. Being an observer of current humanity, such as I am, I would like to suggest that the current predilection is to pretend that this principal does not exist or at best is woefully inadequate in our day of rampant micro-aggressions.
But before I get to that out us turn to our attention to the second passage and parse it to expand our view.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. – Matthew 7:1-6
This passage is one of the perennial favorites of the lost and dying world.* And I think it is an effective stumper because many Christians themselves struggle with the application of the text. There may be lurking around in our mental recesses a Sunday School lesson about a man with a speck in his eye and some goofball with a two-by-four and a machete. The word hypocrite may have made an appliance. But that tends to be about as far as it goes. So let us tease this one out a bit.
The delightful irony is that Jesus commands us not to judge, but five verses later makes a judgement, calling people dogs and pigs. Two creatures that the Israelite despised. The reconciliation is fairly simple to lay out.
- Recognize that you are a sinner, deserving just judgement.
- Therefore do not be a hypocrite calling out others for small sins while ignoring your own repentance.
- If you do this God will justly dish out on you that which you heaped on others (See the parable of the unforgiving servant in Mathew 18:21-25).
- There are people who are are obviously unrepentant and can be condemned correctly, avoid those people.
I personally find 1-3 to fall squarely in the realm of overlooking an offense. You place the sin against you into the context of your own sin and consider, are you righteous enough to go after the speck or do you require a spiritual optometrist to preform heavy surgery? It gets tricky in that Jesus does allow that there are those who can be condemned but no where gives a hard and fast rule as to who those people are or what things they do. Context would say a Pharisee is his personal target in the passage. But today that particular group has disbanded though they have many inheritors across the ideological spectrum. But even if we limit it to our own circles one mans pharisee is another mans saint.
This again is where discernment comes in. Christians are nuanced people. Or we should be. We hold to objective truths and reality, and yet should also be able to grasp nuances. The world flesh and the devil want a world of no truths and yet to be black and white, also if at all possible to be sound bite worthy. At this point we have to bring in Screwtape, and you should applaud me for holding off this long.
“Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.” Screwtape Letter I
A Christian should be able to parse the difference between a correct slogan and a godless movement. We should be able to approve of a fight against injustice and yet recognize when a protest has become a political tool or a riot and clearly call a sin, a sin. A commitment to truth allows for the nuance. Remembering that every successful lie has a nugget of truth buried inside.
I would caveat that this may suddenly seem an insurmountable task. Which is why rather than arguing the finer points with a dead man we should instead seek to revive him. And only Gospel can do that. And even then the dead will be offended, they have been made up so nicely that they look alive. The Gospel reminds us that all sins have been put to death in Christ, past present and future. The Christian is only culpable for the sins he has committed, not those far more easy to shed tears over that were committed by some long gone relative. If a Christian is indeed a new creature, then to stand in his imputed righteousness and refuse to apologize for sins he never committed will offend the man six feet under in his un-repented sins.
Yet Christians very often get taken for a ride by the loud mob which demands of them empathy. A thousand slights of hand are used to manipulate Christians into conforming to the spirit of the age. From confusing a statement and a movement, to insisting empathy over Biblical sympathy.
That last one requires further discussion. At their base definitions empathy means “to suffer in” and sympathy “to suffer with.” Mark the difference. One is jumping into the hole to be with the man. The other is staying out of the hole to haul him up and out. But sympathy is out of vogue these days because it feels condescending. We all love the story (possibly best told in the West Wing) of the man who falls in the hole and his friend jumps down in there with him, “because I know the way out.” The problem is that is nonsensical. Is there a secret passage the first man missed? at best some series of foot and handholds the second man is aware of. The problem is in stories, like satire, brevity is the key. details bog the emotional impact down. So in the example of Leo relating the story to Josh in The West Wing. Notice Leo didn’t go back down the road of pills and alcohol to then lead Josh out. No he stood outside and guided him out. That is sympathy. And it is the righteous way to do things.
Sympathy sees emotions, it sees hurt. It extends comfort and care. But it also maintains a solid footing in truth. And that is the problem. Sympathy does not nessecarily attend protests. I will when the injustice is proved. But it waits on truth to arrive. The old adage “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”** is something sympathy hold to dearly. And then gets smacked around the head with a two-by-four because of it. Don’t you know the new adage, “Silence is violence!”?
The Immediate Playing Field
Now the average American Christian is (I hope) probably far more likely to come into contact with fellow believers who disagree with them on the cultural issues. I doubt we are really daily being faced with hockey padded social justice warriors or foaming mouthed alt right types. It is more like my good friend Alan. We disagree on many points politically. Ok we disagree on every point politically. He says things that piss me off and I say things that piss him off (and our wives are worse). But what makes it work is this. Alan has a thick skin as do I. And I have full confidence that if one of us really went overboard the other would joyfully begin Matthew 18 style proceedings. They would go to the offensive party, with the sin made clear, and require repentance. I genuinely believe that it would go no further than, “Dude that was unacceptable.” and the apology would be given right there, were the offense genuinely sinful. But otherwise, a part of our friendship, that I am genuinely thrilled with, is our joyful overlooking of offenses. Many of our evenings are filled with laughter, scotch, and cigar smoke. I think of Alan as my jolly opponent, and I hope to be his merry adversary.
I do not want to fall into the current cliche that is said but rarely observed, to have “conversations.” I want to encourage a truly Biblical joy filled charity. This gets thorny because all the charity and joy is frequently stripped by one party trying to fix or correct the other. Banish that thought from the mind.*** Have no agenda rather than enjoying the person. They are made in the image of God, and He has predestined to save them. There is no need for you to play Holy Spirit. The only need is for both sides to discern when something should be resolved between brothers, and when offenses should be overlooked.
There was a night years ago when I had my friend Mo over and used a horrible word thinking it would really land as a punch line. It didn’t. I was totally in the wrong and knew it. But here is where Mo handled it perfectly. He did not cause a scene. He waited until everyone had left. And confronted me soberly. It was direct and correct. I was in the wrong and we both new it. But Scripture required my repentance. It was an offense that could not be indeterminately overlooked, but he did overlook it showing honor where I had not. I thank God for responses like that.
“… be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:7-8
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers a all offenses.” Prov 10:12
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20
What if the Church, rather than taking sides, became what Screwtape dreaded, “A positive hotbed of charity and humility.” And love, and joy, and good laugher over a pint and delight in the jolly opponent. What glory would that be. How would the world tremble before such forgiving and cheerful people?
*Can we just take a moment to appreciate, as Christians, being lectured and having Scripture thrown at us as an authority by someone who denies it’s authority. It really is a hoot.
**I just used the Spurgeon version. Twain gets this wrongly attributed to him. It was probably Johnathan Swift who said it first. If you want to go down this particular rabbit hole: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/07/13/truth/
***In my own personal experience it is usually the conservative that is willing to be hospitable and try and extend the right hand of fellowship. Therefore I am tempted to add extra exhortation to the leftward side of things to catch up.