The Original ‘No Spin Zone’

(Please read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV below.)

The truth is better than ‘spin.’

“Spin” is a slang word that describes an attempt to change someone’s feelings about a thing by changing the words you use to describe or designate it.  It is a favorite tactic of the “politically correct” crowd – the “secular orthodox” – to influence public opinion.  (Have you noticed people don’t “think” anymore, they “feel?”)

It works on people who don’t think for themselves.  Here’s an example in a story told by Anne Watson.

Her great uncle Ed was a country lawyer by day and a moonshiner by night.  One day, a man came to Ed’s office and asked for his help with a criminal case – the sheriff had charged him with theft for stealing a pig.

“Oh,” said Ed.  “Did you do it?”

“Yeah,” his new client answered.

“OK,” Ed said, thinking.  “Where is the pig now?”

“In my smokehouse.  I got no money to pay for it.”

“Give me half the pig,” Ed said, “and I’ll get you off.”

This was done that night and the next morning, Ed and the pigstealer appeared in court.  When the charge was read, Ed’s defense consisted of the following statement; “Yer Honor, they ain’t any more of that pig in this man’s smokehouse than there is in mine!”

Making a lie more acceptable is what “spin” is about.

The prevailing culture in America is very dependent on spin.  Part of the problem is that spin is being used to widen the gap between the culture and the Church.  The influence the culture exerts on the Church is growing as critics and skeptics become louder and bolder.  What are we doing?

On the one hand, the Church has resorted to “spin,” the practice of hiding unbiblical teaching behind deceptive language.  Some churches have bought into the new orthodoxy of political correctness and have tried to hide the fact by pasting churchy-sounding words on the outside or adapting biblical concepts to approve their agenda.

Other churches have done the opposite – they have retreated into traditions and legalism, angrily rejecting all change and avoiding any dialogue.  The anti-church elements of our culture love this response.  Why?  If they get the Church to appear more antique and ill-mannered or force it to withdraw entirely, they have succeeded in silencing her.

What are we to do?  This has been on my mind and heart more than usual this week.  This morning I want to suggest a response to you, one that avoids either of the two extremes that are killing the Church in America.

In short, I suggest that the most precious thing the Church has to offer our communities and our country is Jesus Christ.  Every dialogue, every confrontation, every collision, is an opportunity to tell unbelievers the good news about Jesus.

There are two things we must do.

One, keep it simple.  Don’t allow the truth to be killed by qualifications or complicated by compromises.

Two, keep it true. Firstly, that means true to the Bible.  Without apology, the Bible is our objective but personal revelation of what is absolutely true.  The culture wants to deny that absolute truth exists.  We will not allow that.

Secondly, that means true to the social context.  As we will see, there are a set of appropriate and effective behaviors in the context of the Church and another set in the context of the world; they are slightly different.  Context also takes in our immediate surroundings and the persons involved.  This is not complicated, but it does require some sensitivity and benefits from some forethought.

Fortunately, we have an example set by the Apostle Paul.  He sets forth this position in 1 Corinthians 2, where he wrote to a troubled church and explained in plain terms what he intended to do with them.  Let’s take a look.

  1. The Apostle Paul dealt in the truth alone.

What Paul wanted to avoid was diluting the Gospel by resorting to spin doctoring.  He wrote, I DID NOT COME WITH what we might call worldly words or wits.  Paul explained this decision in three ways, the first being ELOQUENCE (1).  This is personal social power, interpersonal assertiveness accomplished with word plays and/or charisma.  He vowed not to rely on SUPERIOR WISDOM (1): rhetorical tricks or lies, exercises of mental assertiveness.  Finally, Paul eschewed  WISE AND PERSUASIVE WORDS (4), which can be understood as reliance on learning, reputation, education.  This is Paul’s advocacy for the purity and simplicity of the Gospel, not for “dumbing down” the intellectual content of the Gospel.

Instead, Paul told the Corinthians the plain truth.  This claim is also developed in three parts.  First, I PROCLAIMED…THE TESTIMONY ABOUT GOD (1).  This was Paul’s personal testimony of what God has done in his life and what he’d witnessed in the churches.  Second, I RESOLVED TO KNOW NOTHING… EXCEPT JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED (2).  This is a matter of keeping our focus where it belongs: on Jesus.  Third, he came to them WITH A DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT’S POWER (4); he had relied on God’s power, not his own.  There are at least three ways the Holy Spirit’s power is revealed in the personal experience of followers of Jesus.

“Conviction” is the work of the Holy Spirit on unbelievers to convince them of their sin and their need for repentance and salvation.

“Salvation” is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  It was accomplished in Jesus’ sacrifice and fully rendered in the empty tomb.

“Sanctification” is the work of the Holy Spirit on believers to draw them into deeper spiritual maturity; to make them more like Jesus Christ.

In this way, Paul demonstrated humility and focused on Jesus, not himself.  Here the Apostle used a pair of phrases.  The first is WEAKNESS (3). In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul referred fondly to his weaknesses as opportunities for God to demonstrate His strength.  The second is FEAR AND MUCH TREMBLING (3), a

common biblical phrase for trust in God, not self.

Do these two personal descriptions sound anything like the feelings you have when you think of witnessing or standing up for your faith?  If so, you’re in good company!  The Apostle Paul felt that way too.  Remember, it’s not about you anyway.  It’s about God in you!

Interestingly, Paul’s detractors said the similar things about him.  We learn this from the way he addressed their accusations in 2 Corinthians 10:10; FOR SOME SAY, “HIS LETTERS ARE WEIGHTY AND FORCEFUL, BUT IN PERSON HE IS UNIMPRESSIVE AND HIS SPEAKING AMOUNTS TO NOTHING.”  I guess they didn’t read the first letter, especially this passage.  The truth is, Paul could have preached assertively, exercising his obvious intellect.  Instead, he chose to preach the way he did so that he would not undermine the security of their conversion. This approach is in continuity with his teaching in the previous chapter: 1CT 1:27. BUT GOD CHOSE THE FOOLISH THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE WISE; GOD CHOSE THE WEAK THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE STRONG.

Paul affirmed that the Gospel, all by itself, has the power to change lives.  It needs no adornment.  He explained his preaching and leadership style as having this objective: SO THAT YOUR FAITH MIGHT NOT REST ON MEN’S WISDOM, BUT ON GOD’S POWER (5).  If you and I do what we can do, we get the glory, but it’s not as big a deal.  If you and I do what only God can do, God gets the glory and it’s always a big deal.  Faith founded on a person is shaky; faith founded on God is steady.

As the apostle affirmed Romans 1:16, I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL, BECAUSE IT IS HE POWER OF GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES: FIRST FOR THE JEWS, THEN FOR THE GENTILE.  Any statement is more likely to be true if it points people back to God; if it glorifies Him.

  1. In our collisions with contemporary culture, we must stand on the truth alone.

What do we have to offer to the world around us?  Nothing less than the truth and nothing more than the truth.  The truth we have to offer is this: Jesus Saves Sinners.  Skeptics and critics will try to disprove or disavow any one of these three truths, but compromise here makes faith false.

How do we offer t truth to the world around us?  Two ways: in context and in compassion.

Paying attention to context can mean asking, “Which kingdom are we in? We are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Our primary behavior is love.

Our code of conduct is the Bible.

The aim of our code is to help each other find God.

Within our walls, we encourage discussion but don’t tolerate division or interference.  Differences of opinion must be resolved on the testimony of the Bible by means of the Holy Spirit.  Individuals submit to the authority of God as determined by the church as a whole.

We are, secondarily, citizens of the United States.

Our primary behavior is civility: mutual respect.

The code of conduct is the law.

The aim of the code is justice; equal opportunity to decide our own outcome and jointly decide the outcome of the country.

We realize that our American culture is an immigrant culture and as such it is always in tension, always being redefined.  Our faith, however, does not have be lead around by our culture.  We don’t have to submit to the latest trends and follow their fads.  When culture and law contradict God’s word, we stand firm on God’s word.  As Paul did, we stand firm on the word of God.  Whenever outsiders demand compromise, compliance, or silence, we must decide with Peter and John that it is better to obey God rather than men (see Acts 4:18).

In regard to compassion: start with positivity & love.  Note Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman: He established a conversation and began a relationship before He confronted her sin (see John 4).  Paul and the people of Athens (see Acts 17).  He used one of their landmarks as a symbol of what was wrong with their godless culture and presented Jesus as the solution to the problem they denied having.

Remember this universal statement of human nature: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Peggy Noonan was a speech-writer for President Ronald Reagan and has remained an advocate for conservative politics to this day.  Way back in 1992 she wrote an opinion piece for Forbes magazine entitled, “You’d Cry Too if it Happened to You.”  I heard this portion of the article quoted on the radio last week. It impacted me, so I looked it up on the Internet to share it with you.

“We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: ‘She’s going to have a baby.’

“The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

“But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

“The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (‘We disapprove’) and the particular (‘Let’s go help her’). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between ‘official,’ disapproval and ‘unofficial’ [service]. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.”

<Retrieved from http://www.peggynoonan.com/47/ on 4/29/16.>

Noonan’s point is that in becoming more “tolerant,” our culture has become less caring.  We spread our approval further but have become miserly with our love.

I mention this to restate the point of this message: The truth is better than ‘spin.’ To love in deed and in fact is better than loving in words.  And THAT is what the Church has to offer that the world does not have.  TRUE LOVE.

“How to be Politically Incorrect”

(Please read Matthew 7:1-6; the NIV is referenced here.)

Message: The politically correct view of “tolerance” is contrary to Jesus’ command to show good judgment.

The danger of being judgmental.

            Is this passage Jesus’ version of “tolerance?” No, it is a warning against judgmentalism. Jesus’ warning is misused as proof that our culture’s notion of tolerance is biblical.

The politically correct definition is to regard all opinions and religions as being equally correct, with the exception of those that are politically incorrect.

But Jesus is simply warning us: what goes around comes around.  A judgmental attitude we have toward others will be used against us.  This is a specific example of “what you sow, you shall reap.” (See Galatians 6:7.)

On the one hand, the word for JUDGE here (krinos) means to make pronouncements; to make unjust condemnation of others; to pretend we really know them & have reason to reject them.  On the other hand, it can also be understood as investigating or concluding; weighing the evidence in a fair and deliberative fashion to come up with a just conclusion.

The biggest danger is when we put ourselves in the place of God.  God is our Judge and He exercises perfect judgment because He knows our hearts. This attribute of God is explained in 1 Samuel 16:7b+c ; “THE LORD DOES NOT LOOK AT THE THINGS MAN LOOKS AT.  MAN LOOKS AT THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE, BUT THE LORD LOOKS AT THE HEART.”

John Wesley; “The judging Jesus condemns here is thinking about another person in a way that is contrary to love.” (Quoted in The Story of God Bible Commentary, The Sermon on the Mount volume, by Scot McKnight, Zondervan, 2013, p. 227.)

We must realize that Jesus condemned judgmentalism as a vice: He did not  condemn showing good judgment. In verses three to five, we see Jesus’ sense of humor; He used exaggeration to make His point.  It’s obviously silly to think about a plank in someone’s eye, even sillier to think of the plank-eyed person condemning the speck-eyed person.

The point is that we should consider it equally ridiculous for any of us, with our own issues, to think that we’re so superior to someone else to fault them for their issues.  Though it can be offered as an excuse, Jesus validates the question, “Who am I to judge?”  This question is to be the beginning of self-examination, not a flight from personal responsibility.

Judgmentalism comes from an inflated view of self and/or a deflated view of the other person.  A dose of the truth is needed.  That’s what Jesus meant when He instructed us to remove our own plank first.

Paul echoed this teaching in Romans 2:1; YOU, THEREFORE, HAVE NO EXCUSE, YOU WHO PASS JUDGMENT ON SOMEONE ELSE, FOR AT WHATEVER POIUNT YOU JUDGE THE OTHER, YOU ARE CONDEMNING YOURSELF, BECAUSE YOU WHO PASS JUDGMENT DO THE SAME THINGS.  (Romans 2:1-16 is entirely about comparing God’s judgment and ours and is a good explanation of Jesus’ teaching.)

Showing good judgment is a virtue; throughout this chapter Jesus commanded us to exercise discernment.  We have to life in the world; we have to make countless decisions daily.  Practically speaking, it’s a necessity of life to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, healthy and unhealthy.    A person simply cannot live in this world OR be a follower of Jesus with exercising good judgment.  We need to avoid two extremes:

  • Burying our head in the sand and exercising no judgment.  Turning a blind eye to our problems or situations the Lord has brought to our attention is sin.
  • Being a busybody and sticking our nose in other people’s business because of a misplaced sense of superiority.

The Bible has a lot to say about wise living and exercising good judgment is included there.  Good judgment results in doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.

The corrective virtue is humility. “Humility” is the virtue of having a true self-understanding.  It is a relentless honesty before self and God, a realistic lifestyle. Humility keeps us from judging others because we understand that we share their weaknesses as well as their potential for godliness. Humility builds relationships, rather than tearing them down because we know who we are and that is the fixed point that allows us to get to know others. Humility is the virtue of acknowledging our limits and living within them.

 The danger of being non-judgmental.

            At the other extreme, what we really have in the unwritten rules of political correctness is a cultural excuse for not having to care about the truth or about one another.  After setting forth the principle of good judgment in verses one to five, Jesus spends the rest of the chapter developing the principle.

In the enigmatic and odd-sounding teaching of verse six, Jesus warns against violating what God says is sacred. God says He is holy, His word is holy, His people are holy. Things that are holy are set apart to God and are dedicated to fulfilling His purpose.  They are important because He said so. These things need to be treated with respect.  We need to exercise judgment to know when holy things are being misused.

In verse twelve He warns us that failing to exercise good judgment puts us in danger of violating the secondary foundational principle, known as the ”Golden Rule”.  The most basic ethical principle in the world is the sacredness of human life.  If we do not agree that human life deserves special respect, then nothing else we agree upon after that matters.  The Golden Rule is expressed, in various forms, in all the world’s major religions.  Interestingly, only Jesus expresses it in positive language.  We need to exercise good judgment to know when we’re not treating others according to the Golden Rule and when we’re not receiving that basic level of respect.

As verses thirteen and fourteen reveal, lacking good judgment puts us in danger of missing the small gate and the narrow road. This is the most significant need for good judgment.  A true knowledge of our eternal destination is at stake – more important than life or death!  If we’re not on the right way, we need to know so we can make a course correction. If God makes it clear to us that someone else is not headed down the path toward God, we need to help them.

Verses fifteen through twenty detail the need for good judgment to avoid falling prey to false prophets. As much as we try to avoid it, false people enter the church & false teachers mislead the flock. Jesus warned us that not everyone who calls Him Lord is part of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said that by their FRUIT, by the outcome of their actions and attitudes, we can exercise good judgment and know the difference.

And lastly, verses 24-27 warn us that failure to exercise good judgment may result in building our lives on an unsteady foundation. In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, Jesus contrasts an unreliable, worldly, foundation for life and a reliable, godly foundation. We need to exercise good judgment to know the difference before the storms of life reveal it to us.  We can learn from the school of hard knocks, but we can also learn beforehand and avoid some of the knocks!

Scot McKnight wrote: “What Jesus does here is complex; he creates self-awareness leading to self-judgment; this leads to humility, which in turn leads to repentance and sanctification; this leads to the kind of humility that treats other sinners with mercy; it creates a kingdom society shaped not by condemnation but humility, love, and forgiveness.” (McKnight, p. 230.)

Biblical judging is very different from the attitude the world condemns.  We are to avoid the extreme positions of showing no judgment and being judgmental and instead seek a moderate approach that values discernment that makes it possible for us to navigate through life, staying as close as possible to the course Jesus set for us.  Moderation is often the most difficult form of self-control to exercise, but it is absolutely essential in this case.