That Jailbird Paul

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I have been trying to break down how the politics of outrage work. One of the more baffling aspects of this tactic is how effective it is, despite the fact that the hypocrisy of them is so naked and out there. Why do people applaud a magician, all of whose cables, lines, and trapdoors are visible? The answer is that at least one of the main steel wires is invisible, and I am talking about the return wire of worldliness.

We all know that we are not supposed to love the world (1 John 2:16), and this has made some of us think that worldiness is a one-way street — no lust of the flesh from us, no lust of the eyes, and no pride of life. If we don’t do certain things, we’re good to go. And that is important of course, but is only the first half. The first half of obedience here means not caring for the world. But the second half means not caring what the world thinks of you.

Paul laments the famous departure of Demas this way:

“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10).

We sometimes think the only way this could happen is if Demas ran off to Thessalonica in order to chase shiny objects. “Bright lights, big city, gone to my baby’s head.” But there is another way this thing can work. The shiny objects are always somewhere in there, of course, but what story was Demas trying to tell himself? Does anyone think it was possible that he was trying to preserve his effectiveness for future ministry? And that continuing to hang out with that jailbird Paul was going to nix any possibility of an appointment at Gordon-Conwell?

So there are two sides to this coin. Don’t care for the world, and don’t care what they world thinks of you. Here are some samples, among many.


“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? (John 5:44).

“And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

“For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present. For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10: 10-12).

“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).

Now this would be simple (we think) if everyone out there in the world who was laughing us to scorn would helpfully wear t-shirts that said, “We are of the devil’s party.” Then we would ignore them. Actually, we only think it would be easy to be obedient in such cases, because after a lifetime of soft capitulations you will actually find yourself on Lot’s front porch, negotiating with thugs over which daughter you would give up first. And even then they will be trying to steer you with their scorn. “And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge!” (Gen. 19:9, ESV). This mob was there to rape some angels, and they were still speaking down at Lot. His dismissiveness of their deeply held concerns and, um, urges, was, let’s face it, devastating and hurtful. At least half of the guys in that mob had been bullied in high school, people.

Many modern Christians are righteous the same way Lot was righteous (2 Pet. 2:7). They are righteous to the point of vexation and tut-tutting at the evening news, but not to the point of blood (Heb. 12:4). And the reason they are not righteous to the point of blood is that they are unwilling to be the butt of the joke.

And this hesitant unwillingness begins, not with the rape mob, but with tenure committees, letters to the editor, PR directors, hurting wives, influential evangelical magazines, trusted counselors, and prize committees.  The world, the flesh and the devil set the pitch, and then the evangelical enforcers try to make us sing that song because they have renamed it “Good Testimony.”

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:13).

So if you have that divine approval, nothing else matters. Richard Sibbes once said, “Hold out a strong resolution against opposition, since scandals and difficulties will come.” When they come, it is not a matter of things going seriously, terribly wrong. God is humbling you, testing you, to see what is in your heart (Dt. 8:2).

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