Due to technical difficulties that I still have not figured out, my first two attempts at writing this blog have become unreadable/unaccessible. Lord willing, third time will be a charm as the saying goes.
We just survived a midterm election, though amazingly enough I believe some votes are still being counted. Now we get to listen and watch (or not) as aspiring Presidents prepare for their run at the Presidency of the U.S.A. for the election in 2024.
So how are you handling your inner attitudes and resulting temptation to verbally express your inner attitudes - as your most unfavorite and least respected politician is again in the news (whoever that may be)? Whether it be at your local level or state level or at the national level, we all probably have at least one politician or aspiring one that we have little to no respect for. My question is – how are you before God and man handling the buttons that particular person tends to push?
I first began writing this blog article a day or so after my quiet time the previous morning. That particular morning one of my meditations was in Acts 23. It is a peculiar passage for at least a couple of reasons. One reason is the apostle Paul uncharacteristically lashed out at the high priest Ananias. A second one is the apostle when challenged about reviling the high priest stated he was not aware Ananias was the high priest. I’ve read lots of opinions on this passage, but before I opine, let’s look at the passage itself:
“Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” Vs. 1
“The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Vs. 2.
“Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck? Vs. 3
“But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” vs. 4
“And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.’” vs. 5
Ananias was clearly offended by Paul’s opening remark in vs. 1 and ordered someone nearby to strike him, which was illegal since Paul had not had a due process trial yet. My sense is Paul, being human and not fully sanctified/cleansed/healed from his former life of unhinged rage at Christians, just lost his cool/composure for a brief moment. I believe he had every right to bring to their attention the illegality of striking him before appropriately trying him. But he did not have the right to call Ananias the name he called him even though it fit him accurately. (Please note that Jesus raised a similar issue when He was struck inappropriately as described in John 18:23. He did not call anyone a derogatory name though).
Back to the story. The bystanders (vs. 4) knew one wrong does not justify another. But Paul should not have lashed out at the high priest as he immediately admits based on what the law clearly states re: how we speak of our rulers/gov’t or even religious leaders. For whatever reasons Paul was not aware that Ananias was the high priest. Paul would not have lied about this.
Well as I was meditating on this passage I noticed “YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.” was written with capital letters, which usually means it was a quotation from the Old Testament. And I noticed there was a little bity “a” in front of the quotation, which means there was a marginal note or cross reference in the margin. So I looked in the margin and discovered this was a quotation from Exodus 22:28. Only problem was when I looked it up it was worded differently. This is how it reads: “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” No use of the word evil herein, which is why I didn’t refer to it in my last blog. So what gives?
Well from time to time Paul quotes the Septuagint, not the Old Testament, and that is the case with this quote. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which in its purest form – in Paul’s day – was authoritative. Today it does not hold the authority the Old and New Testaments do, though it is still worth being familiar with and consulting from time to time if you have the time and inclination to do so.
I do think most would agree that cursing a ruler of one’s people and speaking evil of a ruler of one’s people are basically the same. And believers should not be found doing either.
Then why do we believers say some of the things we say about our government leaders?
Well one big reason is because some Christian leaders (and lots of conservative and liberal commentators) do this routinely in the guise of standing up for truth and righteousness and justice, etc. And some of us listen to them and/or read their thoughts perhaps more than we should.
So am I saying we believers should not stand up for truth, righteousness and justice in society? In no way am I saying that. But we must learn to do it by speaking to the issue and not speaking evil of the person/leader.
So what about John the Baptist and King Herod? Well please note that John spoke directly to him about his adultery with his brother’s wife (see Matthew 14:3,4). As far as we know, he did not speak to others about it, and he spoke to the issue or the sin. He didn’t curse or speak evil of King Herod as a person.
So what about Jesus calling King Herod a fox? Well that one statement is found in Luke 13:31,32, “Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him (Jesus), “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.”
Because we know Jesus never said a word or did a deed on His own initiative (see John 8:26,28, 38), but rather only when He discerned from the Father or Holy Spirit that He was to say it, this statement cannot be compared to Paul’s emotional outburst first of all. Second, this is the only time in His earthly life and ministry that He made such a statement regarding a governmental ruler. Third, I find it interesting that Jesus showed no fear whatsoever of Herod even though he had some time previous had John the Baptist beheaded. Nor did He give much attention to Herod in this conversation. What He was much more concerned about in this conversation was the spiritual desolation in Jerusalem as can be seen from the next two verses: “Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” Luke 13:33,34
So this one statement of Jesus’s who never once uttered an unrighteous word is hardly justification for Christians or Christian leaders to regularly use disparaging words for government leaders that they are not happy with.
So am I saying believers and churches and pastors should not be involved with political or social issues? Heavens no! As we faithfully proclaim and preach and teach the truth of scripture from beginning to the end we dare not ignore the issues in our societies and nations that those scriptures speak to.
But I do not believe God is pleased with any Christian leader who speaks evil of government rulers over him to others, and some are doing this regularly and getting applause and donations from their constituents who may or may not give a flip about the fact that their fellow citizens are going to hell. Not to mention the fact that some of these fellow citizens are very confused about why a Christian leader or pastor would speak so meanly of a fellow human being. Even the lost know that doesn't seem right!
The fact that Jesus and Paul were able to stay so focused on their mission of making disciples when the rulers over them were far more evil (do you know much about Nero?) in some ways than the ones over us here in the U.S. is something that needs to be pondered in this discussion. I find it highly instructive that when Jesus heard about King Herod ruthlessly and senselessly beheading John the Baptist, He very soon after was again found by the crowds and there is no record that He mentioned that atrocity to any of them (see Matthew 14:1-21), even though I’m confident He was deeply grieved by it.
Dear readers, our wonderful Savior as Revelation 1:5 says is the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” He hears every word and sees every deed and the motivation behind the deed of every government leader or ruler on the planet. Nothing escapes His notice. And He cares far more about matters of injustice than any of us ever will. May we become ever more like Him in what we speak to and what we focus on in these last days. And may our words “give grace to those who hear” because we all need all the grace we can get to be able to finish our races well.