Privilege. It’s a word that has become mainstream today. But before we examine how this word is used today, let’s visit the definition, from the Webster’s Dictionary in 1828:
In its simplest definition, privilege is an “advantage, favor or benefit.” But, in a more detailed explanation, privilege is “a particular and peculiar benefit or advantage enjoyed by a person, company or society, beyond the common advantages of other citizens… Any peculiar benefit or advantage, right or immunity, not common to others of the human race. Thus we speak of national privileges, and civil and political privileges, which we enjoy above other nations.”
So “privilege” is not necessarily bad. But neither is it something that we normally bring about for ourselves. Rather, most often, privilege is something we are given by others, or inherited, or find ourselves enjoying apart from anything we have explicitly done.
For instance, I am an American, and you probably are too. Most of us never did anything explicitly to become an American. It was a privilege we were given as a result of our birth in this land. And with that birth, and nationality, come innumerable “privileges.” If you doubt this, travel outside our borders, and you will quickly understand the inherent privileges you and I enjoy as Americans.
But all Americans are not equally privileged. My last name isn’t Gates, or Bezos; nor is it Rockefeller, Bush, or Obama. But on the other end of the spectrum, neither was I born to a single mom, living on government subsidies, and my father wasn’t AWOL in my life either.
I’m grateful for my family, my upbringing, and the “privileges” that have been afforded to me, through little doing of my own.
I also recognize that my skin color may advantage me in some ways over other skin colors, at least in this present era. But again, I had nothing directly to do with that reality. Of course, neither did you choose your skin pigmentation. Rather, God, in His perfect wisdom, decided our skin color before the foundations of the world. And He knew the privileges we would enjoy, or lack, stemming from our skin color.
So privilege is real. But it is also subjective to some extent. But what do I mean by subjective? As I said earlier, many, or most, privileges are things we enjoy in spite of our own doing: our nationality, skin color, the family we are born into, etc. But how we perceive privilege is often through our own subjective responses.
In this present era, privilege is frequently used to shame and even punish folks. The most common use of the word, that has grown in popularity in our nation, is “white privilege.” This phrase is regularly used as a hammer to beat those whose skin is white, to make them feel ashamed for certain realities in our nation, and privileges they might enjoy.
Those realities exist. And they may “advantage” certain folks over others. Of course we should seek to level playing fields, as much as possible. But employing shame as one’s preferred strategy is not likely to convince reasonable people of the need for change. Sometimes forests need to be cleared. But using a dull ax is a very poor way to tackle the job, both for the tree, and the one swinging the ax.
No Political Solutions
So what is the solution?
Whenever I look at societal problems, my immediate response is to discount the solutions being proposed by politicians, or activists, or the media. This is because most societal struggles flow from spiritual realities. And there are no political solutions to spiritual problems.
So because of this truth, I choose to look to God, and His strategies, to solve what man cannot.
Responses to Privilege
When we see someone else enjoying a privilege we don’t enjoy, what is our first response? Do we envy them? Do we shout “unfair?” Do we demand those same privileges? Do we attempt to shame others for benefiting in ways we wish we could? Or do we at least stop and look at the privileges we enjoy, compared to others who don’t enjoy what we do?
We all know folks who enjoy privileges that vastly exceed the ones we do. But if we are honest with ourselves, we too have received privileges that exceed those of others as well, no matter who we are. Do we ever ask ourselves what will we do with the privileges we have been given, through no merit of our own?
As I read God’s Word, there are many responses a follower of Jesus should have when thinking about the reality of privileges others enjoy and we don’t, or privileges we enjoy and others don’t. Here are a few to consider:
Contentment. As a Roman citizen, the Apostle Paul theoretically enjoyed the privileges of that citizenship. But he was routinely deprived of those privileges, in the most brutal and inhumane ways. However, Paul’s response in Philippians 4:11 is a classic lesson for those who claim “Christian” as their identity: “For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
Don’t show favoritism ourselves. It’s easy to see the sin in others, while we are often blind to our own sin, or rationalize it away. So if we are upset about privileges offered to others, do we do the same ourselves? Note what we read in James 2:3-4, 9: “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
Don’t envy others. The Bible is full of verses that warn against envy. While many privileges are unjust, if our hearts are envious over privileges that others enjoy (because we don’t) then we have sinned. Note what Titus 3:3 says: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, …spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”
Don’t hold grudges but rather forgive those who might mistreat you, or grant advantages to others over you. In one of the greatest examples of forgiveness ever, Jesus cried out to his abusers and murderers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” But, in our human frailty, we might look at Jesus as “super-human” since he was both God and man. So let’s consider the response of Stephen, just a short time after the ascension of Jesus. This man had been called upon by the early church leaders to assist in settling some claims by the early believers that certain widows were being discriminated against (in essence other widows had greater privileges). The relevant part of Stephen’s story though is that he was falsely accused by unbelievers. As he was being stoned to death, his last words were “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” What amazing forgiveness, even while being mistreated and martyred.
Don’t be a rabble rouser. Followers of Jesus should never be known as people who create dissension, seek retribution, or gripe and grumble. The Apostle Paul again reminds us: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing…” (Philippians 2:14). Also, in Titus 3:2 we read: “They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” Finally, James 3:18 says this: “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
Consider the needs of others before your own (because Jesus did). This is a hard thing to do. We all have needs of our own. But Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” And again in Titus 3:14 we read this: “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive.”
Seek Justice by doing what you can in your own “world” to level things. You may not be able to rectify the injustices of the world, your nation, or society, but you can examine your own heart and actions to see where you might be able to offer justice to those you personally touch. The Apostle Paul once again reminds us of this principle in 1 Timothy 6:17-18, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.” Regardless of the relative value of our portfolio, we can all be “rich in good works” to those whose privileges are fewer and who might have been victims of injustice.
Don’t flaunt the privileges you might enjoy. In a world that elevates “self” and thrives on selfies, and boastful achievements, it’s easy to fall under the spirit of pride. Yet, God reminds us over and over that He puts down the proud and elevates the humble. If God, in His sovereign ways, extended privileges to us that exceed that of others, we should be careful to remain humble, and make every effort to share the blessings that come from those privileges.
The Perfect Judge. God is aware of every injustice that exists, and as the Perfect Judge, He will meet out the perfect response, in His own perfect time. “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9) If you possess privileges that exceed that of the average person, realize you will be judged by God in how you invested those privileges. “To whom much is given much will be required.”
A Privileged People
In the Bible, the Jewish people were known as a “privileged” people when God, for His unique reasons, chose them, a small, insignificant people, and made of them a great nation. Through them God chose to bring forth His Son two thousand years ago. While we are told God does not show favoritism, we do know that He singled out Israel for some very unique blessings and purposes. But God also extended innumerable blessings to the rest of mankind, through the unique relationship He forged with Israel.
Privilege is something that has existed from the beginning of time. We all will never enjoy equal privileges. But if we are followers of God, we are called to “act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)
As we think through God’s role in privileges, and how we are called to respond, I pray that the above thoughts will not provoke anyone to anger. Rather, I trust we will consider how God expects us to live in the face of privileges that we don’t enjoy, while considering those we do. May we always seek the good of others above our own. May we humble ourselves in the way Jesus did as He left His heavenly privileges behind. And may we extend mercy to those undeserving, knowing that we ourselves could not take our next breath without God’s infinite, undeserved, mercy extended to us.
“‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’” Numbers 14:18
As I’ve contemplated the continuing and extensive societal upheaval that is permeating our nation, the above verse came to mind, which affirms the following:
➖God is love. ➖God is slow to anger. ➖God is merciful. ➖God is forgiving.
But… we also know that:
➖God is just. ➖God does not excuse the guilty. ➖God punishes our sins.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see example after example of a wayward people and nation being disciplined for their sinfulness. God’s discipline came in all shapes and sizes, but it was always certain, even though at times the punishment might be delayed for years, or even generations.
In a sense, God was and is predictable. He could be and still can be relied on. We are told this is because He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” (While this quote from Hebrews 13:8 references Jesus, we can apply it to God the Father as well.)
So you might ask, what does this have to do with us, as Americans? I say everything. Since God is unchanging, the same attributes that He displayed, both in living example and also in written word, thousands of years ago, can be relied on today. And so when we read that God “lays the sins of the parents… to the third and fourth generations” it’s not too hard to surmise that the national upheaval we are seeing is a direct consequence of a national sin.
One of our current national sins, that is again erupting onto center stage, is the sin of racism. At its core, racism flows from pride. We reckon ourselves better or more deserving than someone else, based on an external characteristic: skin color. It is pride, plain and simple. And evil. It’s a superior vs inferior attitude that will permeate every part of our being, and nation.
How God must have been grieved:
➖when He witnessed white people abusing and devaluing black people, using them as slaves to enrich their own white lifestyles;
➖when He saw an entire portion of a nation rise up to defend the sin of slavery via a civil war;
➖when He witnessed politicians, representatives of their constituents, pass evil legislation we refer to as Jim Crow laws;
➖when He witnessed, and continues to witness, systemic racism cooked into a nation’s attitudes and policies, and more.
But perhaps what is most grievous about these realities, all the way through 2020, is how the church has enabled and embraced these many sins. Yes enabled and embraced.
When we study our nation’s history we see that “Christians” were every bit as responsible, as unbelievers, for these racist sins of America’s past. Christians owned black slaves. Christians fought to preserve their right to own slaves. Christian politicians and their Christian constituents voted for Jim Crow laws that affirmed their belief that men and women, boys and girls, were lesser then themselves, because their skin color was darker. Christians even donned white robes and pointed hats, thinking they were disguising their identities, not realizing that God saw their hearts, with or without their hideous outfits.
How evil. How un-Christian. How grossly wrong. How unbiblical. And how horrible that there was no difference between the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians.
These sinful and evil attitudes were mainstream with Christians. They were pervasive. And yet, the Bible, the Book every Christian maintained in their homes, and carried with them to church each Sunday, was replete with teachings, truths, and stories against racism, pride, and prejudice.
How obvious to so many of us now. How blinded so many were then. But we should not miss another important point. While Christian’s may have been blind to Scripture, unbelievers were not. They saw the attitudes and sins of Christians were incongruent with the Bible those same believers claimed to follow.
It’s sad when those who reject the Bible, can understand it better than those who claim the Book as their own.
But are we still guilty? Could it be we are still blind? Do we simply point to laws, facts, and stats to “prove” that we’ve rooted out racism in America, as we lull ourselves into believing that it does not exist within the church? If that’s our approach as Christians, have we ever left behind the “sins of our fathers?”
It’s always so easy for us to point out the sins in the lives of others, but there has never been an instance in history, where one person was able to resolve a sin in another person’s life. Never. Sin can only be addressed by the person sinning. Perhaps that’s why Jesus gave us this command:
💡“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Matthew 7:3, 5
So, if the sin of racism possibly resides in our own life, we should look inward vs outward and begin to grapple with our own hearts. As we do, here are a few more questions to help us in our examination:
➖Are we defensive when someone raises these issues, particular when that person’s life story is completely different than ours, and they assert they’ve been the victim of systemic and lifelong racism? ➖Do we raise objections based on political arguments? ➖Have we checked our hearts? ➖Have we allowed the “perfect law of liberty” we know as God’s Word to shine its penetrating light of conviction into the secret recesses of our hearts? ➖Are there attitudes in those corners that bear exposing? ➖Have we intentionally sought out brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than us to listen to and develop relationships with, which will enable us to begin to identify areas in our lives to which we might be blind?
Racism is a cunning enemy because it’s tied into our pride, which flows from the father of lies, Satan himself. So we must be intentional in our desire to expose it. Then we must humble ourselves by acknowledging it, if God convicts us of this sin.
In closing, there are consequences to sins. Both individual and national. As such, I truly believe that the rapid disintegration of our nation economically, socially, politically, and more, is flowing from the seeds we have planted for centuries. True, some of the seeds of racism were at the founding of our nation. But sadly, we have continued to sow the same seeds, and cultivated them from the outpourings of our heart. And we are now reaping a horrible harvest of all we have sown.
But all is not lost. Whether or not America can recover from this national sin, is irrelevant to whether you and I can address any seeds of racism that might be found within us. So as God has once again elevated this deep national sin to center stage, may Christians across our nation, humble ourselves and do as the guilty Psalmist confessed:
💡“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalms 51:1-3, 7, 10, 17
The year was sixty, The lines were drawn T’was 1860 And hate lived on
The forces were firm Convinced with pride That truth and right Was on their side
The war did come And bodies torn Six hundred twenty Thousand mourned
But many more Did bear the wrong From wounds so deep And hurts still strong
One hundred and sixty Years came and went And laws were embraced With such great intent
But wounds from years Too many to count Still surface again As generations mount.
And so 2020 Moved in as a cloud God’s plan was unclear For a nation so proud
Unyielding and firm We placed ourselves first We each sought our gods And ignored such a curse
Whether wealth or power Or glitz or fame Or whatever else Our desires did claim
Our pride we wore So good and bold The red white and blue Was ours to hold
But God would not dare Bow down to our flags Or yield His glory To all of our rags
And so our pride Was on full display When COVID hit And God halted play
Wall Street did stumble And Main Street shut down Our leaders confused In town after town
God had pressed pause To get our attention But soon the division Became more dissension
Our views so sure Were all that mattered The pride displayed Left friendships shattered
But then that virus From Eden born Of pride thru racism Did rise with scorn
The cry “I Can’t Breathe” Was heard by all Those final words A rallying call
But rather than bow And confess our sin We rallied and chanted Our views once again
The anger was seen In cities and streets And felt so deep In hearts and tweets
So today we repeat What’s happened before When lines were drawn And all kept score
But should we resign To another cruel end Where sisters and brothers And neighbors won’t bend?
Should we just assume That all is now lost And what we do see Will be gone with great cost?
There still yet is Hope But it will not reign When we will not see Injustice and pain
No, this Hope demands We turn from our pride And humbly accept What we have denied.
Our God above all Is able to heal But not on our terms Let’s submit and kneel
When Pride is torn down And God is restored Then black and white Will walk in accord
So will we defeat This virus of old That continues the hate And maintains status quo?
The time is now The choice is ours Will we turn to God Or let pride devour?
Our path to heal These wounds so deep Begins each new day As I awake from my sleep
I am the one I must seek to control My desires submit To a much greater goal
And like Son of Man Who left heaven above And humbled himself To show us true love
May each of us look To love and to labor For God our Creator And the one we call neighbor.
Love God and love others These simple commands Are what Jesus modeled And our God demands.
💡“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.“ Matthew 22:37-39
First, let me say I DO NOT condone the rioting and violence that is occurring across our nation, following the murder of George Floyd at the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin. As someone who values that Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” I believe there are other ways we must respond, even in the face of gross injustice. But I also understand that not everyone embraces Jesus’ teachings or His example in this regard, and even if we do, we can all become overwhelmed at gross injustice and feel like our only responses to such are protests and/or violence.
Last night I broke a long standing rule I placed in effect several years ago, and I watched the news for a couple hours, viewing the rioting and protests Live as they were happening. In the two cities I watched, Washington DC and NYC, the vast majority of the protesters/agitators were WHITE, not black.
As I watched the rioting, one announcer made the point that our nation’s founding flowed out of the violent responses of its citizens to unjust laws by its government. Most white Americans celebrate and applaud our nation’s founding fathers who rejected authority, and fought back, violently, to protest and overthrow an unjust government. The Boston Tea Party was one such rebellion. I should note that the organization I founded eleven years ago in Chattanooga, took its name from that act of rebellion and violence.
When I led the Chattanooga Tea Party for nearly a decade (which I no longer do, and I no longer consider the Tea Party movement to represent me), I and other leaders often took solace in these words that were integral to our nation’s founding:
“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…reduces them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government…”
While our organization, and none of the other liberty movements I was associated with, ever took up arms, or resorted to violence, I can assure you that there were many in the movement who were more than prepared to resort to violence had the government stepped across an imaginary line. If you doubt this, then explain why it was that gun purchases were skyrocketing during those years? The consistent interpretation that conservatives held was that the 2nd Amendment was not for hunting or sporting but was to protect oneself from a wayward and unjust government. Let’s also not ignore the fact that even now in 2020, white men armed with assault rifles and other threatening armament have recently been marching into state capitols around our nation.
But back to violence in our protests. Let me reiterate that I do not condone or agree with the violence we are seeing erupt across our nation. As a Christian, I believe we are called to love, peace, and humility, and when others persecute us, our response should be identical to that of Jesus, and the twelve apostles. None of us will ever be as violently persecuted as the Founding Fathers of Christianity (where all but one were martyred for their faith; that is the most extreme form of prejudice one can imagine). And yet, not one of them responded violently. This is the model every follower of Jesus should strive to emulate in our lives. It’s a high bar, which I struggle with personally, in the face of injustices.
As we watch and condemn what is going on, what would we have said if we were viewing the protests at the Boston Tea Party? While there are significant differences between the two, there are also many similarities, including injustices by those in authority and with power. So ask yourself, “What would I have done or said, if I was alive on December 16, 1773, viewing the violence of the Boston Tea Party? Would I have condemned it or embraced it? Would I have participated in it?” Today, most Americans praise this act of violence and rebellion, that destroyed a million dollars worth of property.
My intent for sharing these thoughts is not to provoke anger or incite emotions. Rather, it is to challenge us to stop and think; to put ourselves in the shoes of others.
When we judge a person simply by their external actions, we either condemn them or we embrace them, based on the cause they are fighting for. If their protests and even violence affirm our worldview, then we gladly applaud them. However, if their protests and violence are at odds with anything we’ve ever experienced, then it’s likely we will condemn them and find cause to belittle and hold them in contempt.
If we are white Americans, it’s likely we’ve never felt that our life was hanging in the balance when we were pulled over in our cars by a police officer. But many of my African American brothers and sisters have always carried such fear with them. But not only is that fear for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren also. Thankfully, I’ve never known that fear personally, or for my children. But it grieves me to realize that millions of our citizens do, primarily because of their skin color.
Think about that. Then consider that there have been a “long train of abuses” in the eyes and experiences of our black brothers and sisters. Their life is not ours. So until we can figuratively place ourselves in their shoes, we cannot fully comprehend the struggle, the outrage, and the deep rooted hurts they feel each time another man with black skin dies, whether at the hands of someone in uniform, or by a white man in the back of a pickup truck, or a false accusation is called in to 9-1-1.
So what are the solutions to this existential threat to not only the future of our nation, but more importantly to the relationships we should seek to grow with those who are different than us?
I believe first and foremost the solution is Spiritual. The center of this struggle is not in the streets of Minneapolis or other cities, but rather in the center of our beings: Our Heart. God says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”
Even now, it’s possible that your response to my meager thoughts is one of outrage or rejection or condemnation. If so, I believe its possible your heart is deceiving you. Within each of us lies the potential to deceive ourselves into believing the problem is “the other guy; it’s not me.” If that’s my response, I am deceived.
Jesus said in John 8:7 “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” He also said in Matthew 7:5 “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
The point is, introspection is needed, first and foremost. What part have I played, overtly or covertly, in contributing to injustices in our community or nation? If you say none, then I applaud you and I would suggest you write a book so we can all learn from you. And there is no need to read further. But if you feel any need to continue to examine yourself, here’s what I would suggest is next.
Because the heart, the inner core of our being, is deceitful and wicked, we must regularly cleanse it. This cannot be done overnight but requires a continuous effort to transform what is natural (those responses that are wrong) to the unnatural (those responses that are Christ-like). The only way to do this is through a consistent time in God’s Word. We read this in Romans 12:2:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
As we begin to transfuse our minds with the healing power of God’s Word, our values, thoughts and behavior will be transformed. Recently I read a short Bible Plan in the Bible app entitled “How to Love People You Disagree With” and it included these thoughts:
… we exhibited patience?
… chose not to be offended?
… we quit taking everything so personally?
… we changed the degrading way we talk to others?
… we focused on what we did have in common?
… we chose the big picture?
And I’ll add, what if we “loved our neighbor as ourselves?” which Jesus reminded us is the second greatest commandment. These are a few of the fundamental behavior changes we must pursue.
Nearly a year ago, God led my path to cross with someone I had known for years, but never developed a close relationship with. Ternae Jordan is an African American pastor in Chattanooga whom God intentionally brought me to, so that God could begin to incorporate the above principles in my life. As we’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours together since last summer, my heart has softened as I’ve been able to, in a small way, “walk in his shoes.” Beginning to realize and better understand the dreams, hopes, fears, and frustrations that my brother and his family and friends experience, has softened my heart, and changed my thoughts. I’m eternally grateful for Ternae, and as I think of what God has begun in our lives, I’m reminded of this verse:
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
In closing, while the solutions are not that complicated, they are also not that easy. Cleansing our heart (seeking forgiveness and transforming what we think and believe), changing how we habitually behave and respond, and walking in someone else’s shoes, none of these are natural. But the history of our nation reveals that what is natural is not working. So perhaps if followers of Jesus across this land began to pursue supernatural answers to the age old scourge of racism and prejudice, we might begin to see a mighty work of God in our midst. And as we do, I’m hopeful that God will bring about healing and unity, to what has been hurt and division for more than 200 years.
Addendum: Verses to consider as we seek to “Love our neighbor as ourselves:”
“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” James 2:1
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Romans 12:14
“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
“Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” 1 Corinthians 13:6
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:9-10
“Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:4
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:22-23
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John2:6
As Americans weigh in on the latest race relations battle, I can only imagine how satisfied Satan is, knowing that he has once again fanned the flames of division, racism and hatred in our nation. It seems that these skirmishes continue to flare up, no matter how many years we move away from the scourge of slavery that marked our nation’s past.
So as iron and stone artifacts are receiving increased focus by newspapers, cable news, and social media, what seems to be lacking, at least for those who claim to be followers of Jesus, is WWJD — as in What Would Jesus Do?
There was a time when this slogan was routinely seen on bumper stickers, wrist bands, and t-shirts. And many continue to pose the question, WWJD, to test their actions and words. But the problem with using WWJD is that too often a person’s subjective evaluation can yield multiple answers, if Scriptures are not abundantly clear.
So I’ve been searching the Bible for answers to how Christ’s followers should respond to the calls for removing statues, flags and monuments. Rather than pragmatic or even patriotic approaches, I’m more interested in what Jesus would actually do were He here physically today. But as I considered the likelihood of a subjective response to this latest American problem, I became more intrigued with WDJS — as in What Did Jesus Say?
If you grew up never knowing your father, but he left you a book with explicit instructions on what he valued and believed, such a document would be of great value as you encountered life’s struggles.
You and I never had the privilege that the original twelve disciples had, to not only hear the words of Jesus but to also see Him live those words out day after day. So when Jesus told them, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and the disciples then witnessed Jesus loving and forgiving those who tortured and crucified Him, they could see that what Jesus said directly impacted what He did.
So whether it’s Jesus or you and me, our actions are driven by our thoughts and our thoughts spill out in our words.
If you and I profess to be followers of Jesus, and we routinely ask WWJD, then what Jesus said, and He directed others to say for Him throughout the Bible, should be of supreme importance to us as we deliberate over how to respond to statues and racism, and those who are drawing lines in the sand.
So let’s look at what the Bible has to say about how a follower of Jesus should respond to this latest racial skirmish.
Dealing with Anger & Conflict
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9
“But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Galatians 5:15
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” 2 Timothy2:23-24
“If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” 1 John3:14-15
Looking to the Good of Others
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” Galatians6:10
“See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.” 1 Thessalonians5:15
“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. Romans 15:1-2
Showing Grace, Forgiveness, Love & Unity
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew6:14-15
“Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” Matthew 12:25
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew22:37-39
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Ephesians4:2-3
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13
“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” Romans14:13
“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” Romans 15: 5-7
The Lawsuit Analogy
“When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? But instead, one believer sues another—right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.” 1 Corinthians 6:1-8
This last weekend our nation was reminded of the priority of life, unity and cooperation as Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas, wreaking death and unimaginable destruction for millions of our fellow Americans. Interestingly, my blog post last week entitled “Racial Strife: Finding the Antidote to the Enemy Within” dealt directly with such catastrophic events that can bring our nation together and what the two step solution is for this division we are facing.
While most of us have not been directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey, our hearts, minds and prayers are with those who are struggling to survive. So as I was communicating with some friends in Texas and viewing the scenes of catastrophic destruction, the following thought suddenly struck me: Statues No Longer Matter
When an event like a hurricane, a terrorist attack or something similar occurs, our attention is immediately brought to bear on what is ultimately important. Likewise, if we are a follower of Christ, we should understand on an even greater scale that we have opportunities to make an eternal difference in the lives around us when we chose to live as Jesus did.
As you and I consider the controversies playing out over statues and monuments, may we remember the words of Jesus and the scriptures, focus our attention on eternity, and then adjust our behavior to align with God’s principles.
If you think others might benefit from this post, please consider forwarding it to them, including your pastor. And feel free to share your thoughts with me.
If you’ve ever watched the movie Independence Day, or one of the many other films that have been made over the years about aliens attacking the world, you know there’s one consistent theme with all of them: There is a common enemy that seeks to annihilate mankind, and this common threat brings together people of every race, background, and even religion to fight the enemy. The myriad of differences of the people no longer matter. Rather, the people become united as one because without such unity they will surely die.
Abraham Lincoln once said:
“American will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
The President who led our nation to battle the evil of racism, which resulted in the deaths of 620,000 Americans, had a front row view of the hatred that nearly destroyed our nation. And he ultimately lost his life because of that hate.
Since the founding of our great nation, the scourge of racism has pulsated through our communities. If we are honest with ourselves though, racism flows in all directions. It is not limited to a particular race or skin color.
But racism is not the root of the problem, any more than the spaceships of the aliens were the underlying threat to mankind. Rather, the aliens within the spaceships were driving the threat to annihilate mankind.
Likewise, racism is merely the vehicle that carries the real threat: Hate. We hate others because of their skin color, or their socio-economic status, or their geographic location in our nation, or the wealth they possess, or the education they were provided, or the President they voted for, or a host of other reasons.
Pure and simple, Americans Hate. And the latest stage where we have seen that hate playing out is in the streets of Charlottesville as KKK and other white racist groups battled with BLM and other black racist groups. Sadly, if we’re honest with ourselves, hate is often present in our own hearts and lives. As we view the bloody scenes of men and women clashing in the streets, what wells up in our hearts? Is it anger or sorrow? Is it the desire for retribution or forgiveness? Is it rationalization or condemnation?
Jesus said that we should be willing to forgive our brothers up to seventy times seven, symbolizing an unending flow of forgiveness. Yet, are we willing to do so?
Consider that unforgiveness is a sin that directly severs our relationship with God, as Jesus affirmed:
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew6:14-15
Later, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied:
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew22:37-39
The antidote to the poison of hate is a two step process: forgiveness and love. This process requires a daily commitment on our part to insure that the enemy of mankind, hate, does not well back up in our hearts. Unless we commit ourselves to the discipline of forgiveness and love, the future of the union for which so many bled and died is at stake. But more importantly, the eternal destiny of our own souls hangs in the balance.
Thank you for reading and if you enjoyed this post, would you mind forwarding it to a few friends? Thank you.