Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.(Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT)
In a poll of random acquaintances, I asked the question, “When you hear the term manhood, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” I tallied the responses in the hope of identifying characteristics of manhood that are written in hearts, not what has been taught us in school or portrayed by the media. (See Man Alive: What is Manhood?) Responses covered so far include:
Number 8 in the poll is “Stands up for What’s Right.” I tried a couple of ways to shorten this so it looked a little better, but decided to be true to the heart of those who sent it. This overlaps with several other characteristics such as being Christlike, being a protector, and being courageous. However, we live in a time that seems to want all of us to “go along to get along. The political correctness police have intimidated many of us. The pressure is palpable. It seems a good idea to look at when we should take a stand, and how we should go about it.
I suppose the first thing we need to do is define what we mean by “right.” In the chapter entitled, “A Protector” we looked at the obligation of Christian men to take steps to protect the weak, those who are being unjustly victimized by more powerful adversaries. That is an important characteristic of manhood, and I believe it is truly written in our hearts. We want to rise up to protect the rights of others.
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to look specifically at the willingness of a man to take a position in defense of biblical truth. This may mean expressing an opinion with an individual friend or colleague who says things or takes actions contrary to the word of God. It may also entail taking a more public stand. The phrase “take a stand” implies that there is some cost or threat, real or perceived, in expressing such a position. Telling my wife, who I know agrees with me, that abortion is homicide, is not particularly manly. Telling my progressive, feminist supervisor the same thing may require more backbone.
The spirit of the age we live in tells us that there is no objective standard of what is “good” or “right.” They think that somehow our notions of good and evil, right and wrong, have developed as a social consensus over time. The culture tells us what is right, and we are obligated to abide by the opinions of the majority. As Christians, however, we know that there is an objective standard for “right.” God has given us that standard, and we are obligated to make an attempt to live by it, though we often fall short. Public opinion does not change what God says. That leaves us to look to the Scripture and our God-given reason to find our standards.
The next question is, “What constitutes “biblical truth?” There are many things that honest Christian people disagree about concerning the teachings of Scripture. Do I really want to argue theology with other believers? Sometimes it’s tough to decide what’s worth the friction. I have lots of disagreements that are simply that: disagreements. We each have an opinion and we can discuss our ideas without getting hostile or threatening. On the other hand, some things are non-negotiable. It’s important to know the difference.
First and foremost, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He died for my sins and was raised to the right hand of the Father. Anything that diminishes Him and His work, or that attempts to add something to the completeness of that work for salvation, is worthy of being withstood. The basic statement of faith most accepted by Christians around the world is probably the Nicene Creed. In case you’ve never heard of it you ought to read it. Here’s a decent translation:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Outside of these things that are the essence of what Christians believe, there are other things that are true and that must be defended or addressed. Some are points of doctrine, but most are issues of behavior: “What things does God expressly forbid?” “What specific actions are required of a Christian?” The responses to these question are many and varied. As a dedicated Christan man, outside of the basic person of Jesus Christ, exactly what aspects of truth are worth fighting for? What can I do to live as one who believes these things? There are three things we can know for sure”
- We Don’t condone sin.
Most of us have opportunities every day to say a loud “No!” to the forces of anti-Christ surrounding us. An important first step is refusing to participate in ungodly activities or conversations. My wife and I made the decision very early in our marriage that we would not attend movies that contained explicit sexual behavior or language that is particularly vile. This has caused us to miss a lot of what the “culture” has to offer. In later years it has restricted what we watch on television.
We try to ask ourselves two questions. First, if Jesus were physically present in the seat next to me, would He be comfortable with what He sees? Second, if someone who is an unbeliever, a child, or a new Christian sees me watching this behavior will they get the impression that I approve. You see, at all times and in every place, I am the dwelling place of the Spirit. He is in me, and I need to listen to Him. In addition, at all times and in every place, I am a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. I must ask if I am representing Him accurately to others.
This conflict occurs often in the workplace. In many of these settings men have conversations that are centered around sex, sexual behavior, and lust. I can’t sit still and pretend I approve when the group begins to describe the sexual attributes and behaviors of female (or male) co-workers. The same is true when others speak in a hurtful or threatening way about any human being (including a boss or supervisor). Or maybe the topic is drinking or drugging, or you name it. I have to leave or be willing to confront the mob. Silence is the same as approval. What I don’t confront, I approve of.
The moment I begin to live in a way that expresses what I believe, questions will arise. Some will certainly mock. Others will be overtly hostile. Even if all I do is avoid certain groups, activities, or subjects of conversation, it will eventually become plain that I am not just one of the good ol’ boys. Questions will come: “So, what do you Christians think about…?” When questions come, how will I answer? How do I respond to being mocked and demeaned?
- We speak truthfully.
Taking a stand for truth means giving a truthful answer to questions about my beliefs. The first step in doing that is becoming informed on the issues of the day. “Well, my Pastor said …” is an inadequate response to a serious questioner. Take the time to do some reading on the subjects that you are likely to confront. In today’s world that will mean knowing what you believe about abortion, sexual morality, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and any others you can probably add to the list. Certainly, there will be questions about political figures. In these areas, it’s always OK to have a belief on an issue. It is not OK to participate in tearing down another human being.
Speaking of other human beings, we often face difficult questions concerning the behavior of other Christians, particularly ministers. In the 1980’s during the great televangelist scandals (Google it), it seemed everyone wanted an opinion on the alleged behavior of the Bakers and the Swaggarts. In fact, many wanted to lump all Charismatic Christians in the same heap. That is still the devil’s strategy. I found that most just wanted to make fun. Those who were serious appreciated a reasoned, biblical answer that included the fallen nature, grace, spiritual maturity. church discipline, and submission to authority.
Claiming Christian values is a fairly common ploy, but not everyone who quotes Scripture is someone you can approve of. As I am writing this, there is a person running for president who quotes scripture in almost every speech. He is a homosexual and proudly so. He claims to be married to another man. He favors abortion on demand, wants to legalize all drug use, and sees no problem with opening our borders to all comers. Most of us know that’s not right, but if you can’t answer his arguments with truth, you can’t afford to open your mouth.
Persecution will come when you disagree with the current popular orthodoxy. Screaming and calling them sinners is not effective. In order to stand for what’s right, you need to know what’s right. Know why you believe the Bible and know what it says on these topics. If you can’t explain your opinion on any of these issues, or others that are hot-button items in your community, then you are ill-prepared for real manhood. An opinion, even a passionately held opinion, without a reason is hot air.
- The Gospel is always right.
The job of the Church, and you as part of the Church, is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a fallen, broken world. Standing up for the right in daily life will bring opportunities to share the simple Bible story of salvation. Christian manhood requires being willing to take the flak for communicating the Gospel to those whom God puts in your path. Paul put it so eloquently in Romans Chapter 1: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NKJV)”
Your Attitude Matters. Speaking the truth in love is Paul’s instruction to the church. The Old Testament is full of fire-breathing prophets who seemed quite angry on God’s behalf. Under the New Covenant, however, we have a new commandment: love one another. (John 13:34-35) How to live that out while engaging in discussions with those with whom we passionately disagree is one of the challenges of Christian maturity. How do I respond to those who hate me because of my Savior? How do I intervene with those whose ignorance is leading them away from Christ? The New Testament gives some clues as to how love responds to disagreement.
- With the unbeliever:
Many years ago I was talking to a young man whose mother had dragged him to church religiously. She was a very passionate and godly woman who wanted her son to make heaven. His response to her zealousness was rebellion. As soon as he had the opportunity, he ran from her and her church. When I met him, his life was a mess but he was still angry with her. When I asked him about Jesus, he started telling me about mom and her perceived failings. I finally said, “I didn’t ask you about your mother, I asked you about Jesus. Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins, and that God raised Him from the dead?” He responded, “Yes.” I replied, “Then you need to deal with that.” He began to weep, and we prayed together.
The issue with the unsaved person is always and only, “What are you going to do with Jesus.” The behavior of the one who doesn’t know Him is irrelevant. The Gospel message is simple: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)” Arguing with the unbeliever about their lifestyle and behavior is not an effective way to help them. Neither is trying to defend the behavior of other Christians. If Christ is who he claims to be, then they need to be introduced to Him. Jesus is the issue. (John 16:9)
Advising the church on how to approach the unbeliever, Paul 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 NIV) Ask God for wisdom in dealing with the unbeliever. Every conversation, even a disagreement, is an opportunity. Learn to look at it that way. The content of your conversation is grace. (Ephesians 2:8-10) A civil tongue, words seasoned with the salt of love and compassion, can make the toughest truth palatable. God knows how to approach each person, and He will give you the right words if you ask Him. Never be ashamed of the Gospel or angry at the sinner. The truth stays the same, but your attitude can make the difference.
- With the Wayward Christian.
Some of our biggest disagreements come with those who profess to know Christ. I had one whale of a debate with a guy who wanted me to quit eating shrimp. He was a proponent of the Old Testament dietary laws, and he was mad about it! Keeping a good attitude with him was tough. Religion can be very mean, and he was. I finally told him he should follow his own convictions but take care about judging others. We agreed to disagree. Points of doctrine which don’t impact the other individual’s salvation or cause damage to the church are usually not worth stirring up conflict with a brother or sister.
Other challenges arise when another Christian is involved in behavior or doctrinal issues that are contrary to the Scriptures in such a way as to lead others astray or harm the church. If I have leadership responsibility for them, or if they are personally close to me in some way, love demands that I speak to them about this. In many ways, we abdicate the responsibility of love under the guise of being non-judgmental. When your three-year-old charges toward a busy street, you are not being judgmental when you grab him, chasten him, and instruct him. In fact, you are loving the child by teaching him. Love doesn’t allow someone to continue on a road to destruction unchallenged.
Paul wrote to his spiritual son, Timothy, instructing him in the practicalities of dealing with wandering sheep under his care:
“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:23-26 NLT)
If you want to be effective and godly in dealing with people in trouble, there’s lots of great advice in these four verses.
- Don’t get involved in disagreements about things that don’t matter.
- If you want to serve the Lord, don’t allow pride and emotion to lead you into arguments.
- There is no excuse for being unkind.
- Be prepared to teach the basics of the faith.
- No matter how irritating a person may be, be patient. God is.
- Bring instruction (not preaching) from an attitude of humility and gentleness.
- Only God can change a heart, don’t try to force it yourself.
A genuine humility lies at the center of all these attitudes. Humility recognizes that all of life is not about me. It allows me to break free of self long enough to take an approach based on another’s well-being. It lets me hear disagreement without being defensive. I don’t have to defend myself or my opinions. That is God’s job. I do want to make things clear so the other person can make decisions based on truth, not on their reaction to me. My prideful desire to be seen as “right” can easily turn counsel into argument. Once the argument starts we are both defending ego, not seeking truth.
Sometimes, these concepts are hard to remember. Remaining calm and kind in the face of the attacks of other people is contrary to our nature. Speaking the truth in love when we know it may alienate our audience goes against every “go along to get along” bone in our bodies. As a Christian man, my goal is to please God, not impress friends and co-workers. We all have a desire to be liked and accepted, but for the purposes of the Kingdom of God, it is much more important to be respected. The awful truth is that our response to opposition has eternal significance. For others to hear truth, someone has to speak it. This kind of moral integrity has rewards that exceed the cost. Try it. You may be surprised at how often people agree with you once you open the door for them by speaking up.
- Standing up for what’s right can mean defending or speaking up on behalf of someone else who is being cheated or mistreated. Give an example of such an incident in you own life or give an example of someone you know.
- If you are a Christian, what do you believe about the Bible? If you believe it is God’s inspired Word, why do you believe that?
- Can you identify common practices or beliefs in our modern world that are not right in God’s eyes? What subjects do you find yourself getting angry about? What is the root of your anger – why does that make you mad?
- Are there controversial topics that you feel passionately about but feel inadequate to defend your beliefs? What steps can you take to inform yourself? Are you willing?
- Can you think of an example of when you stood up for something you knew was right? What was it and why was it so important to you? What was the response?
- Are there practices or topics of conversation where you work or go to school that make you uncomfortable? How about among your friends and family? How do you think you should respond?
- Paul repeatedly asked for prayer that he would be bold in his proclamation of the Gospel. That indicates he was not naturally inclined to be bold. If you’re ready to be more vocal in your stand for truth, pray for boldness to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2-4)
- Read again through 2 Timothy 2:23-26. Which of the characteristics or behaviors listed there are weak spots for you? Pray for help in those areas.
Are you ready to be bold and loving in your stand for what’s right? Are ready to make a change? Let’s apply the change process from Man Alive: Change Gonna Come
- Admit you need it. You can’t change something you won’t admit. 1 John 1:8-9
- Find scriptures that tell you what God thinks about it. Review these passages daily. Say them out loud. Psalm 19:7-11
- Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you make this change. Psalm 121:1-2
- Commit to a process of learning to listen and obey. God will guide you if you take a moment to listen. There is a place in your heart that knows what to do when you need to do it. Romans 8:14-16
- Address the root, not just the behavior. Trade in your ideas and values and prejudices for the thoughts of God. He is God. He’s always right. Get your mind in line with His. Romans 12:1-8
- Make a very specific plan for change and begin walking in that direction. What are you going to do and when are you going to do it? Write it down! Habakkuk 2:1-4
- Find someone you can trust and talk with them. Share the problem, share the plan, ask for input. Pray together and stay in contact to report your progress. James 5:16
- If you screw up, get up. One step in the right direction is one more than you made before. Process the lesson and take another step. Romans 8:31-37
OK, let’s do this! Speak the truth in love!