I am not good at small talk. So I’ve been working on that, and apparently, the Lord is helping me. Recently in a conversation, I mentioned a current event and was told, “I don’t care about that!” Now I wasn’t about to get into a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of an issue but just mentioned the item because it has an impact on many people. My friend’s response was a wake-up call about my reactions to others’ concerns about issues that I’m not particularly interested in or personally involved with. A few days later, an acquaintance started describing a problem that was rectified with his phone. Rather than brush him off, as I might have previously, I set down my food and listened to him finish his story. But what will I do if you come to me today to talk about something that is not a concern for me? Will I attend patiently, appreciating your concern, or will I exert my “right” to be uninterested in what seems “trivial?” Everything that happens in this world affects someone somewhere. Being a gospel peacemaker isn’t only about avoiding cultural pressures; sometimes, we must engage without defensiveness with those who are affected by current events (besides the weather). “Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” (Proverbs 3:30)
Before I left for Africa in 2000, I read Mabel Williamson’s Book, “Have We No Rights.” (1) Williamson writes about entitlements most of us take for granted. The book’s chapter headings list them: “The Right to a Normal Standard of Living, The Right to Ordinary Safeguards of Good Health; The Right to Regulate My Private Affairs As I Wish; The Right to Privacy; The Right to My Own Time; The Right to a Normal Romance, if Any; The Right to Live with the People of My Choice; The Right to Feel Superior; and The Right to Run Things.” (2) Hitting any sore spots yet? The last chapter is titled “He Had No Rights.” She reminds us that Jesus Christ gave up all his legitimate rights for our redemption. It is his goodness and protection that extinguishes our need to defend ourselves. Unfortunately, the world we live in is frequently unfair. Laws that are meant to protect some cause problems for others, because our sinfulness corrupts our ability to protect everyone. So there are valid times to fight injustice. But when there is no danger, no threat, and nothing to be gained by debate, we should take refuge in Christ, our peace. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
“We should realize that some things contribute to peace just as other things cause conflict and that, if we are Christians, we need to be on the side of the One rather than the other. Here is some practical realism from the Book of Proverbs…These verses tell us many things we can do to promote or encourage peace even if the other person does not want it.
‘Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs’ (10:12).
‘A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult’ (12:16).
‘Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright’ (14:9).
‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (15:1).
‘He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends’ (17:9).
‘Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out’ (17:14).
‘An angry man stirs up dissension’ (29:22).” (3)
In Christ, we have abundant goodness and a sure refuge from danger. The army stands down when no enemies are on the horizon. The battleship soldiers eat and rest when no ships are posing a threat. A mother relaxes when her children are playing safely in the yard. The politician who fought, debated, and pushed to the finish line celebrates and then takes time to rest. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19) Our safety and rest with Christ isn’t temporary, but continual and permanent; we may be in mortal danger, but our security is never threatened. In Christ, we are hidden from evil schemes and words. “In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 39:20) The One who gave up his rights protects us from the need to defend our perceived entitlements. John Gill writes, “…these the Lord preserves in times of trouble and danger, and when his indignation is out against others…the presence of God is their protection, he himself is a wall of fire round about them, his favour compasses them as a shield, and they are kept as in a garrison by his power… ‘from the pride of man’, which otherwise would at once oppress, bear them down, and destroy them…thou shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues…not that the saints are kept free from the reproaches of men, from the lash of their tongues, but from being harmed by them; and sometimes, through the strivings and contentions of men with one another, they privately escape and are preserved…” (4)
A Palestinian Harvard student has been denied a visa to return to school because of friends’ Facebook posts that appear on his page. Innocent people are being shot down for no good reason. Racial and national discrimination continues in every part of the world. Of course, we should be defending the causes of the innocent. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9) But the gospel protection we have in the omnipotent providence of God in Christ extinguishes our need to defend ourselves against petty troubles. Our security in him should lead us to shamelessly and counterculturally confess Christ, rather than concern ourselves with worthless idols of control, superiority, convenience, independence, and comfort (to name a few).
When issues or conflicts arise, do you find yourself defending your point of view? Will you instead try to apply the gospel? Does the fear of rejection or failure motivate you to protect yourself? How can you rest in Christ’s love and protection to a greater extent? How can we confess Christ when others are debating or arguing about the problems in the world, with other people, the economy, or politics? We have a sure future with the King who has procured our safety, which we have no right to because of our sin. Now we have nothing to defend, except Christ. “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40)
(1) Williamson, Mabel, “Have We No Rights?”, Moody Press, Chicago,1957 (available online for free at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/24528/24528-h/24528-h.htm)
(2) Williamson, Ibid.
(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Proverbs 3:30, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 39:20, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-6.html
August 30, 2019