What Helps? – What Doesn’t?
Jesus once said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) The Apostle Paul later wrote, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)
These verses are always on my mind as I navigate our world in the name of Christ. They impact my words and actions, and remind me I am not living for myself, but rather for my Lord who has made me His ambassador.
First, let me unpack these verses a bit. We are as “shrewd as snakes” because living out our faith requires some street smarts when it comes to understanding how people think. The more ungodly the environment, the greater the challenge for Christians who strive to be authentic with others while remaining faithful to God. “Innocence” speaks to the sincerity of our motives and the purity of our lives. As God puts “opportunities” before us, we want to speak the truth in love, as we pour God “grace” into the wounds of a culture that appears to be rotting before our very eyes.
I encourage you to spend more time with these and other verses that speak to our behavior as followers of Christ. It is difficult to reflect Christ in everything, but we must aim for this goal if we hope to lead others to Him. Here are some thoughts as we consider “What Helps?” and “What Doesn’t?” when it comes to our example:
It helps to keep God’s love front and center in our words and actions. This doesn’t mean we should be controlled by our desire that others like us or agree with everything we say and do. Popularity is not the same as love. But if we forget to love, we are going to miss opportunities to lead others who feel unworthy of God’s grace.
It helps to walk in grace. We walk in the assurance of our salvation through Jesus, and as a result we convey the mercy of God in our interaction with others. We are not perfect people showing the world how to please God. We are sinners living out our testimony of God’s transforming power.
It helps to serve others. There were many things Jesus could have done for His disciples on the night He was led away to be crucified. But He chose to wash their feet and demonstrate His desire to put them first. Some people in our world are suspicious of religious people because they think they just want to use them for their own ambitions. When we serve, we counter this perception.
What Doesn’t Help?
It doesn’t help to put words in Jesus’ mouth. Recently, I saw a street preacher at a crowded event who had a sign listing the things God hates. I will confirm that some of the things on his sign are clearly identified in the scripture as things God hates. But two were not. They were opinions the preacher had drawn based on a couple of Bible verses that were taken out of context. It is hard for our world to hear God hates anything, though He does. It doesn’t help to add things to the list that don’t belong.
It doesn’t help to condemn some sins and commit others. Jesus accused the Pharisees of “straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel” (Matthew 23:24). I will never forget the day I drove two teens to a couple’s house to apologize for something they accused the teens of saying, which they considered to be disrespectful. During our conversation, the family dog knocked over some magazines on the coffee table and a pornographic magazine popped out. It was awkward, to say the least. Kind of funny. But awkward. Enough said.
It doesn’t help to drop Jesus’ name. Just because we find a verse that relates to our opinions or ambitions doesn’t mean Christ would approve of them. Some of the most unethical things I have witnessed in my life have occurred when caring Christians were manipulated by people who used guilt and misinformation to pressure them into supporting a cause. A friend of mine often says, “Don’t bring Jesus into it!” We want Jesus in our lives, but we shouldn’t use His name against His will.
It doesn’t help to be a jerk. I want to be careful here. A caustic personality does not necessarily prove someone doesn’t love Jesus. A lot of people have trouble in their relationships because they have been wounded in their lives. They don’t mean to be difficult. On the other hand, people can use religion to ramp up their sense of self-importance. They can be legalistic, arrogant and self-righteous. Humility is a hallmark of someone who walks with Christ. Pompous pride is a characteristic of those who claim to follow Christ, but don’t really think they need Him.
I have heard people say they believe in Jesus, but don’t like His people. This is not a biblical perspective since we are commanded to honor one another as members of the Body of Christ. It isn’t biblical, but it is understandable.
There are those who are going to belittle the name of Christ no matter what. Satan uses sin to blind the world to God’s grace and the hope He offers in His Son. But if we can remember what helps and what doesn’t, at least we can avoid the pitfall of playing into Satan’s hand.
I would like to take a couple of things off of that street preacher’s sign and give him a piece of my mind. But then, that wouldn’t help.
Sometimes, about all we can do is pray, which I would put in the “help” category.
If we can’t be perfect examples of Christ, at least we can be helpful.