It goes without saying that as God is love, so should Christians be. Loving does not mean being accommodating of evil, of course, and most Christian Voice people would I suppose be in the 'tough love' school. In this way of looking at things, being tolerant of sin in those we know and those we meet is not being loving, even though the world might disagree. True love risks being unpopular by telling it just like it is. Nor is the world right that Christianity is 'about being tolerant'. After all, God is so intolerant of sin that He had to send His only son to take sin upon Him on the Cross so that we might have fellowship with Him. As John said, that is love, not that we loved Him, but that He loved us with the ultimate sacrificial love.
So it is from our love of God and love of our neighbour that we have a duty to prophesy the word of God into the world in which we live. If we did not love God, or our neighbour, we would not bother.
Even though love can sometimes be 'tough', there seems to be a feeling around that Christians always have to be 'nice'. It is of course easy for me, because I am nice. Well, most of the time. But not all our members are as congenial and easy-going as me. Some are direct, some are blunt, some, perish the thought, can border on the rude. Are they at fault?
Trying to find the answer to this question, I was struck by the examples given us in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. It is often said that we should be 'Christ-like'. I always retort that to be truly Christ-like I need to find that course in whip-making in the adult education syllabus (John 2:15).
Then it occured to me that I have never heard anyone tell me to be more 'Apostle-like'. Why not? What is wrong with being Apostle-like as a first step to being Christ-like? The problem is, although quite often the Apostles were nice, they weren't nice all the time. Were they always trying to be Christ-like? I don't know, but I do know that after one of the many miracles God did at their hands, they blamed the Jewish leaders for their Lord's crucifixion, accused them of being the builders who set the cornerstone at naught, and told them that 'there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved' (Acts 4:10-12). Immediately after, we read this:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
Peter had already accused his Jewish compatriots of crucifying their Lord - the Prince of life - in Acts 2:36 and Acts 3:14-15. Recognising that they had been with Jesus did not make it easier for Peter and John. They were commanded not to speak or teach in His name, an order which led to the Apostles' first act of open defiance. The very same man who would later write, 'Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake' (1 Peter 2:13), told the authorities bluntly:
Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. (Acts 4:19)
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:20)
It would not be the last time Peter openly disobeyed the 'ordinance of man' for the sake of the Gospel. In Acts 5, the Council reminded Peter and the Apostles that: 'ye should not teach in this name' and complained that they 'intend to bring this man's blood upon us'. (Acts 5:28)
I get the impression that some Christians today would simply accept that, see the others' point of view, apologise for any hurt feelings, promise not to get in trouble again, and go away praying that such an example of meekness would convict those leaders (of what I am not too sure) and bring them to faith. Peter and the others took a different view. They were not for backing down and in fact they added yet more opprobrium to what had gone before:
Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to
, and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
After that, the Apostles were beaten, and rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. In the scheme of the Lord, being willing to suffer like that had been a better testimony than giving in.
The deacon Stephen is also less than totally respectful of the persons of the Council. I suspect many in churches today would balk at appointing as a deacon someone who was an obvious trouble-maker and who would clearly not be in office for the long haul. Twice now I have heard men called Andrew give sermons on how Andrew was a man who brought others to Jesus (it's completely true, he did just that) and that we should all be people like Andrew. I long to stand up and say, 'My name's Stephen. What we should all do is be so filled with the Holy Spirit we antagonise the authorities, preach a lengthy and patronising diatribe in court, wind the judge up and be put to death.' That is what he did, and the climax of Stephen's sermon is not at all nice:
7:51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.
A lot of disputing goes on in Acts and this too, seems to start with Stephen:
6:9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of
, disputing with Stephen.
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
Paul, too, is constantly disputing. We see this in Acts 9:22, 17:17 and 19:8, while on ywo occasions he tells Jewish listeners either that they have judged themselves 'unworthy of everlasting life' or 'your blood be upon your own heads' (Acts 13:46, 18:6) which might be thought somewhat judgmental by today's world. The name of a man called Simon has given us a word synonymous with the purchase, or attempted purchase, of spiritual gifts and favours. Peter might be accused of dealing with Simon in a less than pleasant way:
8:20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Were Peter's words 'gracious'? Some would say they were, as it turned out, and others would probably say not. In any event, they had the desired effect. I like to think Simon repented totally and became a true follower of Christ Jesus:
24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the LORD for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
Now, some of the directness of the Apostles might be explained away as 'cultural'. It is true that in the Middle East and in parts of
categorical and hyperbolic statements are made. One Rabbi accuses another with whom he has just the smallest difference of opinion of 'destroying the law.' In an argument, arms are flung about, voices are raised, and then afterwards, all the temper is forgotten. But one incident in Acts cannot be dismissed that lightly. I am thinking of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.
Acts 5:3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
Let us be under no illusion. Peter's words have caused a man's death. Nor is he finished. He tells this man's wife that she is going to die as well, and she does:
5:9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
Peter is not being nice there or even loving, not to Ananias and Sapphira, in any event. The account must be there to show us how seriously God takes the making of a vow. His apostle is completely uncompromising in his view of God's holiness and our responsibility to discharge that which we have spoken.
Although not quite so extreme, Paul's treatment of the sorcerer in Cyprus would still be seen as less than loving or 'gracious' to much of the church, at least in Britain. Which of us would say what Paul said to someone exhibiting today at the 'Mind Body Spirit' exhibition, or even at 'Witchfest'? Who among us would curse a new age crystal practitioner with temporary blindness, even if we had that much faith? It wasn't even for that man's good, but for the benefit of the watching deputy:
13:9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him.
10 And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.
12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.
On another occasion, Paul was quite happy to stand on his dignity and demand a full public apology for wrongful arrest and imprisonment. Many of us in similar circumstances would just thank the jailer and leave, and thank God for the capacity to forgive them.
16:37 But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.
38 And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.
39 And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.
This passage is a huge encouragement to Christians seeking redress against the authorities in court, for example, in my own case for being arrested in
for giving out evangelistic tracts. Indeed, if this example were not there, we should not find it so easy to make a case for taking legal action, the niceness urge to 'forgive and move on' being so deeply engrained in Christians, in Britain at least.
On another occasion, Paul was about to be beaten and used the law of the land to escape a scourging (Acts 22:25). He was also quite happy to use the law (about appealing to Caesar) to get a free ride to
. My final example of less-than-nice Apostles is Paul again. If being Christlike were always to accept being hit and to remain silent, Paul failed. So we must conclude that Christ's example and His work was for His time and His purpose and is not necessarily - although it might be - our example as His followers in every situation.
Rather than keep silent when the High Priest struck him, or turn the other cheek, Paul first insulted him, then said in effect that his behaviour was inconsistent with his office. As if that were not enough, he then sowed division among the judges, intending to cause trouble, and also with the intention of ducking the original charges completely:
23:3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?
4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest?
5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.
6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
Nowhere in the Acts of the Apostles is there any hint of Divine displeasure at the Apostles' dealings with people. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of telling Paul not to go into Asia, or
(Acts 16:6,7), so we can take it that the Apostles' bluntness, even their rudeness, certainly their lack of 'niceness' was consistent with the purpose of God, at least in their particular circumstances.
I don't think the example of the Apostles means we should never be nice, or gracious, but I do think it argues against setting those things up as the only measuring-sticks of Christian behaviour. There are other considerations. On top of that, we are all different, and it is good and gracious of God to use us with all our flaws and foibles. If God could use people as different in their ways as Andrew and Peter, Timothy and Paul, to spread the Gospel, He can possibly use us.
As for the Apostles, they had been with Jesus. All except Paul had actually walked with Him, heard His teachings, been deeply impressed with His meekness and His majesty, with His grace and His own forthright way. In fact I am keen to do a similar study on our Lord Himself, to see what 'Christ-like' really means, between the extremes of 'reviling not again', and making a whip. of course But at the moment, as much as I would love to be more Christ-like, I shall be content if I am Apostle-like enough that someone notices that I have been with Jesus.