"Jesus didn't care about being nice or tolerant, and neither should you."
That's the title of a recent blog entry by the popular Christian blogger Matt Walsh.
He opens his article by commenting about there being lots of heresies in our modern world. Yet he seems blind to the fact that he's almost committing one in his own title! Jesus didn't care about being nice or tolerant? You better believe He did!
Walsh's provocative title is an introduction to his discussion of Christ's righteous anger displayed when He overturned the moneychangers' tables in the temple. Walsh allows that this is the only act of violence and "intolerance" committed by Christ that appears in the Bible, but he suggests there may have been others that God merely omitted.
Now, to be fair, part of Walsh's essay is spent trying to explain why believers in Christ need to stand for truth and righteousness, and not capitulate to worldly dogma and unBiblical lifestyles. And he's right: We do not honor God by bending with every breeze and welcoming clever lies. God doesn't expect us to "go along to get along." To the extent that Walsh is saying that Christians should not be vacuous, timid, hands-off, or duplicitous, he's right.
There is a "theology of nice" out there that is not Biblical. There is a brand of tolerance beyond the Golden Rule out there that, as Walsh puts it, says "be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you, and we’ll all be happy." And that's not Biblical, either.
Yet Walsh wants to go further and justify belligerence, arrogance, and in-your-face rudeness by the fact that Christ once displayed righteous anger. However, there's a difference between righteous anger, and not being nice or tolerant.
Yes, Christ chastised the religious leaders of His day. Yes, He made them nervous, uncomfortable, unsettled, and angry. However, was it Christ's demeanor, attitude, tone, and physical gestures that intimidated them? Or what He said?
You'll also notice that almost everybody who was angry at Christ, who was offended by what He said, and who eventually were so hateful of Him that they killed Him, were Jewish religious leaders, and the people they were able to foment against Him. When He interacted with those crowds, Christ usually had pity for them, not "intolerance." Christ preached the Kingdom of God, and His message threatened them. And it wasn't a message of socioeconomics, or politics, or even morality, as much as it was a message of God's holiness, mankind's lostness, and our need for redemption.
Indeed, doesn't the Bible speak volumes by providing only the one account of Christ really being "intolerant?" It's that big, violent scene in the temple during what we now call Holy Week. But what about the rich young hedonistic rulers? Slavery? Woefully unfair taxes? Child labor? No voting rights for Jews? Political corruption? Prostitution? Surely homosexuality existed during that time, and may have even been part of the indulgence racket in the temple. Yet He "tolerated" it all during His earthly ministry, never once speaking out directly against them to advocate for social change. It was only when people made a mockery of His holy Father's sanctuary that He overturned tables. The crass exploitation of money for religious purposes is what made Him indignant.
It's not even that being "nice" is as bad as Walsh wants to think it is. We're supposed to "make every effort to live in peace with everyone" (Hebrews 12:14). Again in Romans, we're to "make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." We're to "seek peace, and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14)
Nevertheless, Walsh reaches a disturbing conclusion.
"I think it’s time that Christianity regain its fighting spirit; the spirit of Christ," he writes, almost salivating at the opportunities such a viewpoint would afford him to be reckless in his speech and attitude. "I think it’s time we ask that question: ‘What would Jesus do?’"
Walsh then postulates that "Jesus would flip tables and yell."
Um, no; not exactly. Instead, Christ would expect us to model the Fruit of the Spirit, right? Just as He did, in the temple:
- Love: For His holy Father
- Joy: He was about His Father's business
- Peace: To restore order to the temple's function as a house of true worship
- Patience: He'd already waited 33 years to do this, and His death on the cross was imminent, so time was running short
- Kindness: He focused his righteous fury on both the buyers and sellers, not making allowances for either group, since they were both sinning (punishment can be considered a form of kindness, as a correction for an improper pattern of behavior)
- Goodness: He was interested in preserving His Father's holy virtue
- Faithfulness: He was remaining true to God's holiness
- Gentleness: His anger at the moneychangers stemmed in part from His concern about the temple being open and available to all who would come and worship, not just those who could afford to participate in this financial abomination ("My house will be called a house of prayer for people from all nations")
- Self-Control: In His anger, He did not sin, even as "zeal for His Father's house consumed Him" (Psalm 69:9)
Let's not let people like Matt Walsh badger us into presuming a false narrative of combative, antagonistic, and pugnacious bravado when it comes to interacting with other sinners in our society. We're not here to change hearts and minds; only the Holy Spirit can do that. We're here to live out the Gospel of Christ, so that people may see our testimony, and give praise to God.
Yes, there is a lot of immorality all around us, and lots of blasphemies and heresies. But how much worse are times now than when Christ walked this same Earth? Besides, He told us that we'd have troubles, but that He'd already overcome them. So let's not put words in His mouth, and panic about the plight we see for our society.
We can stand for truth and model the Gospel of Christ at the same time. Or, we can stand for truth, and mock the Gospel by assuming things it doesn't teach. And frankly, no matter which strategy we choose to follow, lots of people may become hostile towards us.
But if they're really hostile towards Christ, and not us, we know we're serving Him well.