And I seriously had to question this and think about this and wonder if I was betraying myself. If I may have gone overboard to my own principles.
See, I do have principles. I don’t always remember what they are. And I’m not always faithful to them. But generally speaking, I try to live by them – even if I don’t remember why I’m living by them or what they are.
So, I needed to ask, “Is that it? Is that the final word on name-calling in the bible?” Because it didn’t seem to be.
I learned early on in my Christian life that the bible effectively uses sarcasm and sometimes even insults to get its points across. You thought Jonah was just a story about a fish eating a dude? Consider the final chapter of the book. Remember that section where Elijah and his protege Elisha dared the Baalians to a fire-off? “Where are your gods? Do they have the runs?”
And then there’s these passages in the New Testament, where Jesus, Paul, and James use some pretty tough language themselves.
Jesus: You two-faced double-timers. You cleaned up sarcophagi. You den of poisonous snakes. Woe to you!
Paul: I wish those Judaisers would finish up their own jobs on themselves and fully emasculate themselves.
Speaking of sarcasm, notice the dripping irony here, in 2 Corinthians chapter 11:
Don’t think that I am a fool to talk like this. But even if you do, listen to me, as you would to a foolish person, while I also boast a little. Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool. And since others boast about their human achievements, I will, too. After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too “weak” to do that!
In these passages, Jesus and Paul are addressing religious and civil leaders that abuse those under their watch. In contrast, Jesus gives specific directions about leadership to his followers:
- “Watch out for the impurity of the Pharisees,”
- “The leaders of the non-Jews lord their leadership over them. You are not to be like that. You are to serve, as the Son of Man has.”
In fact, that seems to be the whole point of leadership with Jesus. Those who want to lead must do so by humble example. Not by boastful braggadocio. Not by harming others, or exposing others, or spreading malicious lies about others. But by sacrifice.
If they weren’t willing to do that, but were willing to take on the title of “leader” (and in the process, hurt Jesus’ sheep), they are open for scorn. And not a little bit either.
But what about the word, “fool.” Does the threat of hellfire in Matthew chapter five only apply to that word? Is it magical? Can we get away with any sort of insult, as long as we don’t call someone a “fool”?
No. Not at all.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clohes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompani by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
As one can ascertain in the Corinthian passage, Paul was calling the other leaders fools for their
It seems obvious to me that there are several meanings for the word “fool” or for any such insult in the Bible. The most common understanding of the word “fool” (forgive my non-use of Greek or Hebrew here) in the bible is one who acts as if there were no God to be held accountable to. Which is one way of looking at the leaders in the Corinthian church that Paul was addressing, sarcastically, above.
The fool says in his heart, there is no god.
It seems clear that when Jesus said that we shouldn’t call our fellow brothers or sisters fools, he meant we shouldn’t take it our words, our interactions, our insults lightly, nor that we should take ourselves so highly that every little insult is a threat to our being.
Perhaps if we look at the model of Jesus, we see and recognize a pattern. Those who hurt the poor, those who profited from the abuse of others, those who bullied or kept themselves in a level above others were open for open criticism. The more common people who were not in leadership positions may be open for gentle rebuke, but from an actual state of humility, after the rebuker earned the trust, respect, and friendship of the rebuked. Far too often we critique or judge and say we’re doing it out of love.
But we aren’t.
We judge people we don’t really know because they don’t measure up to our standards. Rather than working through life and our struggles together, earning each others’ trust.
However, when we are talking about leaders, or supposed leaders, we must consider a few other directives.
- Let not many of you consider to be leaders.
- The leaders of the pagans lord over them, but you are not to act as such.
- Weep and wail, you rich people
- Woe to you, pharisees.
- To whom much is given, much is required.
Let’s not forget the clearing of the temple that allowed the outcasts into the holy place.
In short, it’s not okay to lash out and take personal offense at others for debatable subjects. That not the way of the humble. Christians are to freely give. That’s going to be a lifetime lesson and challenge for me.
However, if we see a rich man stealing from the poor, or a religious leader abusing his flock or excluding others from worship, or a political leader trying to garner power by trampling on others, then not only is it okay for Christians to speak up strongly, it’s a biblical mandate.
So, no, I won’t apologize for calling Trump or Gingrich “Neanderthals.” Christians should apologize to the world for following them…