Sanctified Satire

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With regard to our broader ministry, one of the things we are asked most frequently concerns the propriety of satire. How is satire consistent with the biblical requirements to consider others better than yourselves, to bear one another’s burdens, to love one another, and so on? The answer to these questions is to be found in the same place we seek to find answers for all our questions—the Word of God.

I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another (Gal. 5:12-15).

The Bible contains many passages which mock sin and folly, and it does so without any sense of unease. Jesus calls people pigs, dogs, and rotting carcasses. But we are considering this passage above, not just because of its hard-hitting statement in v. 12, but also because of how that statement is juxtaposed with the verses that follow it. Paul is in a polemical firefight with those of the circumcision party. In the course of his argument, he says in v. 12 that he wishes that those who insist upon circumcision for justification would somehow overachieve, and cut the whole thing off. There, on the face of it, we have a “problem verse.” But Paul does not stop there. Notice carefully: in the very next verse, he says that we Christians have been called to true liberty, not fleshly liberty. Therefore by love serve one another (v. 13). Then he quotes the second greatest commandment—love your neighbor as yourself (v. 14). Then he warns the Galatians against a mutual biting and devouring (v. 15).

Now how can we reconcile vv. 13-15 with v. 12? How can we find true balance? To reapply a comment once made by Spurgeon, we do not have to reconcile them. We never reconcile friends. Paul is not contradicting himself, or showing himself out to be a hypocrite. We are biblical absolutists—the Scriptures embody the definition of all that right, and not our own traditions. But speaking of our own traditions, we do have something to reconcile. And that is our insistence that the Bible is the very Word of God on the one hand, and our refusal to learn certain things from those Scriptures on the other. Such reconciliation can only be accomplished by means abandoning a very stubborn and pious sentimentalism. When we find examples in Scripture and church history of men who can do what Paul does here, we should not think of them as conflicted personalities, but rather as examples of obedience and balance.

Part of this is remembering where we are, and what it is we are supposed to be doing. If a young man wanted to join the Army Rangers, it would not be a good start for him to buy a rifle and go home to shoot out all his mother’s lamps in the living room. If he were rebuked for doing so, he could not defend himself by saying that he was planning on going into the military, and that he was a good shot.

True biblical balance in such things is the fruit of wisdom, and such balance is not usually found in hot-headed young men, who do not know what spirit they are of (Luke 9:55). Consequently, prophetic rebukes should come from seasoned prophets, from men called to and trained for the ministry of guarding the Church of God. This work, this warfare, should be done by men of some age and wisdom, and not by novices, firebrands, and zealots. If some young son of thunder thinks he is gifted and called in this kind of thing, then he should be willing for this restriction. Every time you employ this kind of weapon on your mother, your sister, your wife, or your friend and neighbor, then add another ten years to the time it will take for you to be mature enough to confront the enemy.

As we read through Scriptures carefully, without a pietistic set of blinders, we find that satire, mocking, godly taunting are routine weapons of choice whenever God’s people confront idolatry. Of course sometimes a fool is not to be answered according to his folly (Prov. 26:4), and those who contradict are to be answered in all gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25). But in other situations a fool must be answered according to his folly lest he be wise in his own conceits (Prov. 26:5), and those who oppose the truth are to be rebuked sharply (Tit. 1:12-14; 2:15). If idols are for destruction, and they are, those who bring the tools of destruction to bear will not likely receive praise and kindly words from the idolators.

Our Lord Jesus, when confronted with ecclesiastical obstinacy, showed us this godly pattern for giving offense. “Did you know the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matt. 15:12). “Yes, I did,” He replied in effect. Mission accomplished (v. 13). The Lord attacked the scribes and Pharisees for their long robes, sanctimonious geegaws, prayer habits, tithing practices, their ways of greeting, their seating arrangements, their hypocrisies, their gold-painted chairs on TBN, and so on. After one such exchange (Luke 11:43-44), one of the lawyers said that Jesus was insulting them in His indictment too (v. 45). And in effect Jesus said, “Oh, yes, thanks for the reminder. You lawyers . . .” (v. 46). In short, Jesus was seeking to offend. This is not because Jesus was petty — what He was seeking to offend was the spirit of pettiness.

There are natural objections to such a scriptural warfare against the religiosity of idols. One of the central objections appeals to the fact that we are not Jesus and we are not the apostles. This objection overlooks two aspects of the biblical data. One is that the commands and examples are for us. Who is supposed to answer a fool according to his folly?

But the second answer is to point out what this objection is really trying to do—and we would see it clearly if it was attempted in other areas. “Love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” “Well, I’m not Jesus.” “Sacrifice yourselves for your children.” “Well, that is not for me.” We would all see it in its true colors—an evasive attempt to avoid submissive obedience. And submissive obedience is quite distinct from its sentimental counterfeit.

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