In May, I wrote one of my most popular articles on this site – Do Christians Have to Be Nice? In it, I describe how Jesus was often not very nice or polite to people, and how we have redefined love to mean shallow platitudes of courtesy rather than extensions of God’s character. I still stand by what I wrote, but I feel it is incomplete. Rather than taking down the article, I thought it would be more honest to write this addendum to show how my perspective has changed.
The following list cites passages of Scripture that describe Jesus being ‘not nice’ to people as well as a brief description of each incident.
- Matthew 16:23 – Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”
- Matthew 21: 12-13 – Jesus overturned money changers’ tables in the temple
- Matthew 23:15 – Jesus calls teachers of the law and Pharisees ‘sons of hell’
- Matthew 23:23 He calls these same men blind guides
- Matthew 23:25 He calls them hypocrites
Notice something? When it came to the poor, oppressed and downcast, Jesus was kind and gentle. Jesus reserved His insults for the hypocritical religious elitists (and His own disciples).
Supposed He didn’t, though. There still lies a problem in the conclusion that if Jesus didn’t always exhibit good manners, we don’t have to either. Jesus, among other things, washed people’s feet, fed thousands, and died for sins He didn’t commit. Why don’t we try to emulate these aspects of His life? There seems to be a selective preference to be the powerful, mighty Jesus who didn’t mince Words and cracked a whip in the temple, but a sad deference towards the meek and mild Saviour. Favouring one aspect of Christ over another is wrong. It’s also poor hermeneutics.
Every description of someone’s behaviour in the Bible isn’t an example for us to emulate. We undermine the purpose of Scripture when we transform narratives into imperatives that suit our preferred way of living. Jesus also remained single; should we? Jesus most likely lived at home with His mother until He was 30; are you ready to do the same? Jesus didn’t accumulate wealth, dined with sinners, and allowed Himself to be betrayed. If you really want to be like Jesus, you should follow suit, right?
Moreover, it is quite frankly difficult to fathom that one is rude to others with a genuine desire to reflect Jesus. That is, that someone chooses to be rude with the explicit and intentional purpose of trying to be more like Him. Those who bring up Christ’s more appalling words and actions are usually the ones who have a propensity for ruffling others’ feathers in the first place. We should not consult the Bible to justify our preferences, but rather model our lifestyle after the commands given in Scripture. I have seen everything from people using Ezekiel 23:30 to justify lewd references to those using Philippians 3:8 to excuse crude language (read more here). The Bible should be consulted first, and not be reduced to a secondary source to abdicate responsibility.
An important question to consider is if in our desire to ‘be like Jesus,’ we are actually violating his commands. Jesus may have been rude, but Jesus is our omniscient Saviour. We can’t call people snakes and vipers with 100% accuracy because only God knows what’s in people’s hearts. We were also called to love our neighbour as ourselves, and slanderous accusations contradict this. Obeying Jesus’ instructions should be the goal. True godly character doesn’t stem from fleshly efforts of imitation, but the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Being like Jesus doesn’t mean copying His outward actions, but letting the Spirit work in you:
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit..”– Titus 3:4 – 5 (NKJV)
I am a conservative Christian with fairly traditional views in all doctrine. However, I will and have boldly declared that The Bible Isn’t God. This type of behaviour, or biblicism, elevates the written Word above Jesus Himself. The point of Scripture is to point us to a deeper relationship with God, not bring us to being at odds with Him. A classic example of biblicism is using the Old Testament laws to justify the enforcement of capital punishment when Jesus instructed His followers to turn the other cheek if wronged.
Biblicism is often the fruit of a gospel that focuses on justification and not regeneration and sanctification. The gospel of Jesus is about far more than just making it into heaven when we die. Believing in this reductionist version of Christianity leads to the treatment of the living, active Word of God as a survival handbook until we make it to the pearly gates.
In other words, those who use ‘Jesus wasn’t nice’ to spew unkind rhetoric are legalists of the worst kind. Instead of finding rules to follow, they find excuses. Our Saviour is more than a whip cracking revolutionary. The Bible wasn’t given to us to make excuses. Words are not to be spoken carelessly.
I could quote a litany of verses about being slow to speak, using words wisely, seasoning our speech with salt and grace, but you already know those. Instead, let’s consider the context in which rude words were spoken in the Bible. As stated, Jesus’ rudeness was for the Pharisees and Scribes. When Paul was rude in his letters in the New Testament, keep in mind who his audience was. These were people he laboured over relentlessly, and was nearly killed in the process by those persecuting him for preaching the gospel. As Jared C. Wilson said:
“Like the prophets, Jesus wept over his countrymen far more than he cursed them.”– Jared C. Wilson
Jesus’ rudeness was used to separate the wheat from the chaff, not to turn away the lost or offend His sheep. At Judgement day, can you honestly you can justify your rude behaviour before God by saying, ‘Well Lord, you weren’t polite when you were here”?
A heart transformed by the Spirit of God isn’t looking for ways to avoid best representing Jesus or excuses for tarnishing His name. A heart transformed by the Spirit would put others’ needs first, and not desire defending one’s “right” to do anything at someone else’s expense. Perhaps the most scathing indictment against those who insist on using biting words comes from the Sermon on the Mount:
“If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.”– Matthew 5:40 – 41 (NKJV)
This command is based on an ancient law that stipulated Jewish citizens must obey a Roman solider who asks them to walk one mile (usually to carry a heavy load the soldier doesn’t want to). Although by law Jews were obligated to only walk one mile, Jesus told His followers to walk two. In other words, Jesus wanted His disciples to willfully inconvenience themselves to help the very men sent to oppress them without so much as a peep. Do you think the God who expects you to humiliate yourself in service to a tyrannical regime will let it slide when you willfully choose to be abrasive for your ego’s sake?
The Holy Spirit was not sent to make you off putting to anyone you disagree with. If you want to be like Jesus, then looking at His rudeness at the exclusion of all else is to intentionally miss the point; Jesus was God, and being rude didn’t make Him so. Paul’s godliness was rooted in His divine calling and love for others. Rudeness did not make Jesus or Paul who they were. If you want to be rude like Jesus or Paul, then the rest of your life needs to match up with their calling, too. Since that isn’t possible, follow the clear imperatives in Scripture about speech.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”– Luke 6:45 (NKJV)
What we say reveals what is in our hearts. Jesus isn’t interested in excuses, but submission to His will. The least we can do is control our tongues.
“Jerks for Jesus” by Jared C. Wilson
New King James Version (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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