It seems like people are just in a fighting kind of mood all the time these days. I don’t know if it is the result of the lockdowns that we have gone through this year, or social media, or a combination of both. Whatever the reason, it is evident that we have lost the ability to communicate with each other. Everything escalates quickly. I was told a long time ago, and I’m slowly learning, don’t attend every fight you are invited to. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times which call for us to take a stand. It is asking yourself the question, is this really a hill to die on? The apostles learned this early on in the life of the church. The religious leaders were not happy with the doctrine the apostles were teaching. Therefore, we see them arrest Peter and John. The arrest happened after God used Peter to heal a man who had been lame all of his life. However, what we see in Acts 4 is the fact that Peter and John are arrested not because they performed a miracle, but rather because they preached that Jesus rose from the dead and that He is the Messiah. After asking Peter and John some questions, the religious leaders sternly warn Peter and John to no longer teach about Jesus or in His name. In response Peter says in Acts 4:19-20, “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'” This is a bold stance for Peter and John, but I think it is worth noting that they weren’t rude or belligerent about it. They clearly state where they stand, while encouraging the religious leaders to decide for themselves what they think should be done. In this exchange and even later in the chapter, I see some important principles for our communication, especially when taking a stand publicly.
- Know what you believe. One of the first things that jumps out to me in their defense is how they put their beliefs out front. Peter and John believed that Jesus is the Messiah, that He was crucified and risen from the dead, and that all of this was done according to God’s plan for the salvation of people. One thing that saddens me in our day is how people latch onto something they have heard, without doing any background research on it. They get riled up over something, because someone has told them they should be riled up over it. It is important, especially for Christians in this pluralistic society we live in, to know what they believe. What does the Bible teach? You can only know what you believe if you spend time reading the Bible.
- Be ready to take a stand. As I said, we live in a pluralistic society. A pluralistic society means that people “worship” many different gods, while also believing that there are many ways to get to heaven. It strikes me a funny and sad at the same time that our society is offended by Christians who state that faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved, but then want to say that each person must decide how they believe a person can go to heaven. Which is it? Are you offended in the exclusivity of the Gospel or that people believe there are absolute truths, or are you tolerant of any and all beliefs? You simply can’t have it both ways. The further and further America slips into a post-Christian era, and yes I believe we are a post-Christian nation at this point, the more Christians will be put at odds with the society we live in. While I understand the angst that can cause in some Christians, I believe there are two things we need to realize. First, we have been blessed to have not faced all out persecution in this country like many of our brothers and sisters around the world. Second, Jesus told us that persecution was going to happen. Therefore, we must come to expect it. As persecution comes for our stance and beliefs in the Bible, we must be ready to take a stand. In so doing, there are a few things that I believe we need to remember.
- Be gracious in your speech. Notice what Peter says in Acts 4:19, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.” Peter isn’t being belligerent. He is telling the religious leaders, they have to decide whether they believe listening to God or man is right. Peter isn’t shoving any biblical truth down their throat. Rather, he has stated biblical truth and he is calling on them to believe it and accept it. Christians, we will not win the world to Christ by talking and treating them disrespectfully. The world needs to hear and see something different from us. Following in Jesus’ example according to 1 Peter 2, when we are reviled, do not revile back. When we suffer, don’t retaliate; instead, commit ourselves to God who will judge and avenge His children. As the saying goes, “kill them with kindness.”
- Determine if this is really a hill to die on. One thing that saddens me about many in the Christian circle is how we have lost the ability to discern. Our lack of discernment has caused many to have their faith shipwrecked by false teaching. But it has also caused many Christians to fight over non-biblical or sometimes secondary doctrinal matters. What I mean by secondary doctrinal matters are things such as the timing of the rapture, celebration of holidays, and things like this. Too often Christians walk around and get offended by everything except the things that we should really get offended by. If it doesn’t change who God is, doesn’t change the message and meaning of the Bible, doesn’t distort who Jesus is, or how a person is saved; then it most likely is a secondary doctrinal issue. When it comes to secondary or even tertiary doctrinal issues, we can disagree on them, but not be divided over them. At the risk of offending some, I want to give a quick example. Many Christians have lost their mind on social media the past couple of years because Starbucks uses a red holiday (Christmas) cup. Why should we not lose our mind and weaken our witness over this? First, let me say this, I do not drink Starbucks. I have had it before, and I wasn’t a huge fan of it. If you like it, that is great, continue to drink it. I don’t want to pay those prices for something that I don’t like, but that is just me. Now, we need to realize that Starbucks has never been a Christian company. They have never claimed to be. In fact, their CEO has stated in clear terms how he feels about Christians and others. Therefore, why would I expect them to have Christian symbols of Christmas on their cups? I would be more offended if they tried to manipulate me by putting Christmas symbols on their cups, because that would be them pretending to be something that they are not. I don’t like companies or politicians pandering to me, especially when it causes them to compromise what they truly believe. I would rather you be up front about who you are and what you believe. Then, I can decide whether or not it is right for me to patron your establishment or give you my vote. Finally, I want to remind us Christians, we cannot expect the lost to act like they are saved! The things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2. So, while we may not like what Starbucks does, this isn’t a hill to die on. Instead, it is a call to prayer for the CEO and any workers there who are not Christian. The last thing I want to say about this topic is this, when we get outraged by everything, we automatically weaken our witness and soften our voice. I will use an example from a pastor and his wife that my family is friends with. This family says they don’t raise their voice at their kids. Not because their kids don’t drive them crazy at times, but so that when the kids hear them yelling at them, they will know it is something important. The example is if we yell at our kids because they are not listening to us, they are more likely to tune us out when we yell at them as they are running towards the road and into real danger. Why? Because they can’t differentiate between when we are truly scared for them and our normal conversational tone towards them. However, when we don’t yell or raise our voice normally, when we do yell at them to “stop” as they are running towards the road, their brain will realize that their tone of voice is different. It will make the children more likely to stop. So, don’t lose your mind at every potential slight. Save the outrage for truly important issues, and this will make your voice louder and stronger in the public square.
- Learn to rely on the Holy Spirit. Peter and John didn’t go looking for trouble. They were simply doing what Jesus had done and what Jesus had told them to do. This has to be true of you and I. We don’t want to go looking for a fight, but we don’t want to run from it when it comes to us either. However, here is the key. Don’t fight in your strength and wisdom. Instead, pray and trust the Holy Spirit to equip you to stand and fight.
There are times in which we need to be genuinely outraged, and we need to speak up. Those times are probably going to increase the closer we get to the return of Jesus. Therefore, we must always be ready to take a stand. Don’t go looking for a fight, but when it comes, be ready to stand and trust that the Lord will fight for you and give you the words to say when necessary.
By His grace and for His glory,