read Acts 13. It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote about not criticizing others – and now we reach a chapter where Paul accuses a man named Bar-Jesus of being a “son of the devil”. It gets worse. Paul tells the man: “You master in every form of deception and recklessness, unscrupulousness, and wickedness, you son of the devil, you enemy of everything that is upright and good, will you never stop perverting and making crooked the straight paths of the Lord and plotting against His saving purposes?” Acts 13:10.
Call me crazy, but that sounds like criticism.
And I can’t say Paul was out of line. Scripture is clear that he said all this under the influence of the Holy Spirit: “Paul, filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit, looked steadily at [Elymas] And said,… ”
Well. You already heard what he said.
So what’s the difference? When are we to forgive and stay silent – as for instance, Christ did when accused by Pilate – and when are we to confront and call someone a “son of the devil”???
Ready? Here’s my answer… gurgle.
Weren’t you hoping for a nice straightforward answer there?
Of course. We all want a nice easy guideline. Confront when X. Smile when Y. But there is an easy answer. Do nothing without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the fact is – and I know many people will disagree but I KNOW this to be true – only the Holy Spirit can uproot evil.
Look at all the fallen trees in the path of Hurricane Sandy right now. How do they fall over? When they’re uprooted. And if you tell someone what’s wrong with them, they literally will not hear you unless God shows them the heart of their sin. How do I know? Because look at Christ on the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34. We don’t know what we’re doing, not really – until God shows us.
One reason for that is because we push away criticism unless it’s delivered in love. Why? Because what we’re pushing away is the underlying message of hate – that we’re to be despised if we do X, Y and Z wrong. We know that’s not right – so we throw the baby out with the bathwater. The right message is one of mercy AND judgment – what you’re doing is wrong, but you’re still loved. The right message – and the only one we’re programmed to hear – is the message of the cross: you’re so wrong that God Himself had to die for you – and you’re so loved that He did it willingly, of His own accord, even when you were too sick to love Him back or ask for His help.
That’s why the Bible says to “speak the truth in love.” And I know that nothing about the words Paul said to Bar-Jesus, a/k/a Elymas sound loving. But if Paul truly was speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit – which Scripture says he was, and so we must believe it – then his tone of voice must have been the opposite of screechy and nasty. It must have been calm and even kind. Here’s a hint of his tone of voice. Scripture says Paul looked “steadily” at Elymas while speaking. When we’re having a rage attack, our gaze is never steady – it’s bouncing all over along with our emotions. But God makes us steady. He steadies us with the knowledge that He loves us even though we’re not perfect. He steadies us with the knowledge that when others sin against us, we are not to judge because our hearts are as wicked as theirs. He steadies us most of all with the knowledge that He confronts evil in us but never stops loving us. He cares for us “like a fatherly nurse.” Acts 13:18. He “endures” our behavior. Acts 13:18. And He confronts when the time is right.
For instance, when Paul confronts Elymas – a sorcerer trying to prevent the proconsul from hearing about salvation through Christ – the sorcerer is blinded. And Scripture says: “Then the proconsul believed.” Acts 13:12. God knew when the time was right to shut the mouth of someone trying to prevent someone else from hearing the Good News of Christ.
But only God knows the right time. There is no one size fits all formula. We’re called to a living faith in a living God. Everything happens in His time, not ours. For He knows when each of us is ready to be confronted about all our various issues, flaws and sins. And only He knows. As the rest of Acts 13 shows, some people are ready to hear the Good News about God’s forgiveness and receive it with joy. Acts 13:48. Others hear it with “envy and jealousy” – not wanting to hear that there’s anything wrong with them. They contradict it, talk “abusively,” and “revile” and “slander” the messengers of God’s love. Acts 13:45.
Evil has to be pulled out by the roots; it’s a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, not human effort or reason. That’s why we should never take abuse personally, even though it feels personal. People just don’t know what they are doing – until God shows them.
In the meantime, God calls us to mercy, even though it doesn’t make sense to us. But the more we accept with joy that God has been merciful to us, the more we are willing to accept His ways with joy.
Because who wants love to always have to make sense?
posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on Oct. 30, 2012 in carolinecolemanbooks.com