By Kimberly Schluterman
Once when I was in Jr. High, our youth group minister had an open-question night, where instead of having a set lesson, he let us ask Bible questions and he did his best to answer them. He was a good man so I don’t know why I felt it a personal challenge to stump him. But alas, I did, and I usually achieve my goals. So here was my stupefying question: Since 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV) tells us to avoid the appearance of evil, and premarital sex is wrong, and Mary got pregnant before she was married, didn’t God not avoid the appearance of evil by impregnating her? Oooh, I got you so good. I don’t really remember the answer he gave, but I remember thinking, “Yeah, that didn’t answer it at all! I win!” Why I was so competitive I’ll never know! How immature of Jr. High me.
I’ve thought about that verse many times throughout my life, most notably when I had a feeling my parents would disprove of whatever I was about to do. If I had read the essay Sin-Sniffer’s Catch-All Verse all those years ago, however, it might have saved me a lot of confusion. 1 Thess. 5:22 is infamously misapplied, and yet it is still a good tool for discerning right and wrong in gray areas.
But it isn’t the only measure. Have you ever had to do something that you knew would appear wrong, like it might be difficult to explain, but you knew in your heart it was still the right thing to do? Those are tough situations to be in. I don’t like to be in trouble – never have – but sometimes being a Christian is risky. Sometimes people misunderstand and you end up looking like the bad guy (judging sin). Sometimes you really are the bad guy (judging the sinner, not the sin), and it can be hard to know the difference.
Did Jesus avoid doing things that didn’t look right if they were right? If you read the essay referenced above, you know the answer is a flat “no.” Jesus did the right thing even when he knew he would be criticized for it, and even when there were consequences here on Earth. Indeed, He was tried and found guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be God. Of course, we know that was a false accusation because He was/is God! Nonetheless, the Sanhedrin sentenced him to crucifixion.
It’s true that the trial was corrupt and had political motivations (read 12 Reasons Why the Arrest and Conviction of Jesus was Illegal), but guess what: those factors are still motivating religious persecution today. Keep in mind that the Sanhedrin was considered the supreme religious body of Israel at the time! These weren’t atheists and secular humanists persecuting our Loud. They were Jews, believers in the Hebrew God (though pre-Christ, of course, so not “Christians”). Don’t be so naïve as to think that religious persecution can’t come from other Christians. Imagine the betrayal Jesus felt! Ultimately, when deciding whether or not to do or say something that you believe to be right and good but could be received poorly, consider the Biblical precedent for such situations.
The irony is that while on the one hand Jesus was convicted of blasphemy, the Pharisees also criticized him for not acting pious enough. He managed to be “wrong” on both ends of the spectrum! Perhaps as followers of Christ, we ought to spend more time on the ends of the spectrum rather than in the middle – concentrate more on what’s right, instead of pious, and less time on not offending others. Remember how much our God detests a lukewarm Christian (Revelation 3:16).
1 Peter 3:13-18 (NIV) says,
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
You got the part about suffering for doing what is good, but did you catch the part about always being prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have? That’s another aspect of living your convictions. Always be prepared! I’m afraid this is the part with which I struggle the most. When I know in my heart that my motivations are right and good, I sometimes forget that I may have to explain them later. So then I am unprepared when asked to account for my behavior and I make a poor witness. I would be smarter, though, to remember that not only is there nothing wrong with defending yourself; it’s Biblical. In fact, when the high priest asked Jesus about his teachings, Jesus replied, “If I said something wrong… testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (John 18:23, NIV). In other words, either tell me what I did wrong or leave me alone!
To a far lesser degree, I kind of know how Jesus felt. Sometimes it seems like arrows are coming at you from all directions and if you let up for just a second, you’ll get struck square between the eyes. Defending yourself can get old, but Hebrews 12:1b-3 encourages us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Do not give up! Do not grow weary and lose heart. Stay in this race. When being a Christian requires you to do something difficult, something that might look wrong or will bring punishment, first make sure it is in fact the right thing to do and not motivated by selfishness or pride. Remember we are all sinners and sometimes when it looks wrong, it’s because it’s wrong. But if it passes the gray area test, do it and don’t be afraid. After all, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6, NKJV). After you do it anyway, be prepared to gently account for it when you are asked. And if your account does not satisfy your critics and they are determined to retaliate, follow Christ’s example once again and don’t judge them or retaliate. Instead, pray for them and forgive. You may even have to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). After all, they probably just don’t realize what they are doing (Luke 23:34).