“Don’t Judge”—What Jesus Really Meant

Fewer and fewer people today know the Bible. But if there’s one verse that’s still commonly quoted, it’s, “Judge not, and you will not be judged”.

These are the words of Jesus. And what people normally mean when they repeat them is, “It’s not your place to judge my moral choices. It’s 2019—everyone should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.”

“Let me sin in peace,” is another way to put it.

But there’s a problem with this. Those who hold to this worldview are often very quick to judge Christians—even quite harshly. It has to be one of the great ironies of our time.

So apparently there is a place for judgment. As it happens, this is what Jesus himself said all along, if we read his quote in context. It’s from Matthew 7:1-6, and it famously begins like this:

1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.

2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

After telling us how not to judge, Jesus goes on to highlight three ways that we should judge. 

See the Master Teacher is aware of something we often forget. As humans, we’re making judgment calls all the time. There’s no way to avoid it.

So the question isn’t, Should we judge? But rather, Who and how should we judge?

Judge Yourself Honestly | v3-5a

First, in verses 3-5a, Jesus says:

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?

4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye…

If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour. Being a carpenter, Jesus knew wood, and he chose a Greek word that means a big timber beam—the main one holding the house roof up.

The picture is of two people—one with an almighty beam projecting out of her eye offering to help her friend get a bit of sawdust out of his. Slapstick at its finest.

“If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour.”

If we’re going to help someone else sort out their problems, Jesus insists, we first need to deal with the problems in our own life. We need to judge ourselves honestly.

When we’re quick to judge others, we develop a self-righteous and insensitive heart. The only way to counteract this is to readily find the faults in our own lives before we go trying to spot them in others.

Judge Others Humbly | v5b

So is Jesus saying that our lives need to be perfect before we’re able to offer others critique or counsel? No, he’s not.

In fact, his whole point in telling us to judge ourselves honestly is so that we’ll be able to help others. That’s what he says in verse 5b:

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus wants us to see well enough to deal with the speck in our friend’s eye. There is a place for judging others, providing that it’s done with clear vision and humility.

If we’re going to be of any use to others, we need to be striving to live a life of integrity ourselves. In other words, we need to judge others humbly.

The world would have us believe that there are only two ways to respond to sin: wholehearted endorsement, or prickly hatred. But Jesus shows us a third way: the narrow way, the way of humility.

Judge Critics Wisely | v6

This passage ends with an interesting and provocative twist. In verse 6, Jesus says:

6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

It may sound like Jesus has changed topics here, but he hasn’t. He’s still talking about judgment. He’s telling us to judge our critics wisely.

If we follow him on the path less travelled—the path of humility—Jesus warns us that there’s a risk involved. People may see us as a soft target, and try to take advantage of us.

A perfect example is the kind of people I mentioned at the start, who are apt to misquote this passage. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” can be used in an attempt to silence Christians. Even to accuse us of hatred—and a phobia or three.

“Jesus opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble.”

Maybe someone who makes these accusations is simply hurting, and they need our love and compassion. There are times when the right thing to do is apologise on behalf of other Christians who’ve caused the hurt.

On the other hand, this may be smoke and mirrors to hide a calculated motive. When this is the case, any concession or apology we make will end up as trampled pearls. And the attack will only grow worse.

This is why we’re going to need all the help that Jesus has to offer. He opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble—and He never missed a beat. We need His wisdom to do the same.

Good and Bad Judgment

It’s easy to misquote Jesus. Even Christians can cave in to the pressures of the world and make “judge not” an excuse for sin. But this leads only in one direction: judging Christians who won’t play the game.

Judgment is part of human nature. Some judgment is good. But the only way we can avoid bad judgment—also known as condemnation—is to know that condemnation no longer hangs over our heads.

“It’s easy to misquote Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t just teach the world about judgment. He actually took the world’s judgment on his own shoulders. He suffered and died on a cross to save each of us from God’s eternal judgment.

When we know this, we’re free. We no longer need to try scramble up the heap by finding fault in the lives of others. We can rest in God’s verdict that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

And then we can judge as we should, with the honesty, wisdom and humility that he supplies.

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But God is the Strength of My Heart

The question we all ask when faced with suffering is “Why?” 

Sometimes we ask it personally: “Why is this happening to me?” Other times, existentially: “Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?” Either way, it’s an instinctive and very human response. 

When we feel like this, we’re in good company among the world’s nearly eight billion people. Because if one thing is true about this life, it’s that everyone suffers. It’s a universal experience; something we can expect to face at various turns in our life.

“None of us choose to suffer, but each of us gets to choose how we suffer.”

Given that this is true, maybe there’s a better question we can ask. Rather than, “Why do I suffer?” instead we could inquire, “When I suffer, how can I face it well?”

See none of us choose to suffer, but each of us gets to choose how we suffer. If we’re willing to shift our question in this way, Psalm 73 gives a brilliant answer.

A worship leader called Asaph penned this Psalm. It is a beautiful piece of poetry from Israel’s worship playlist. In it, we’re swept up into Asaph’s emotional journey of suffering so that we can better make sense of our own. The Psalm has three parts.

1. Problem

First, in verses 1-14, Asaph tells us about the problem that he faced. 

2 But as for me, I almost lost my footing.

    My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

3 For I envied the proud

    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.

Asaph is resentful of those around him making ungodly life choices but facing no consequences for it. He describes their cruelty, greed and pride in depth and then remarks, “Look at these wicked people enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.”

Maybe you feel the same sense of injustice in your own life; maybe you don’t relate at all. But one thing we can all take away from Asaph’s complaint is that God is big enough to handle our problems.

“God doesn’t require eloquent prayers—he just wants our hearts.”

We don’t need to paper over them. Like Asaph, we can express our frustrations to God. If we need to whinge, far better to whinge to the One who has supernatural patience, and who can actually do something about it.

God wants us to draw near and tell him about our struggles. He doesn’t require eloquent prayers—he just wants our hearts. This might be why the word ‘heart’ is mentioned six times in this Psalm.

At the height of his complaint, Asaph moans,

13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?

    Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?

14 I get nothing but trouble all day long;

    every morning brings me pain.

In other words, “God, I’m trying to do the right thing, so why am I still suffering so much?” Does that question sound familiar? Yes, Asaph is asking the wrong question. He’s in need of some perspective—and that’s exactly what he’s about to get.

2. Perspective

So in verses 15-22, we hear about the perspective that he gained.

A sudden shift takes place as Asaph realises,

15 If I had really spoken this way to others,

    I would have been a traitor to your people.

Up until this point, Asaph hadn’t been seeing straight. He’d been in a deep well of self-pity, and now he’s starting to ascend out of it. His eyes have been opened to something we’re so often blinded to: our feelings are not facts. In such moments of self-pity, we need the facts to reshape our feelings. This is exactly what happens to Asaph: 

16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.

    But what a difficult task it is!

17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,

    and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.

We moderns don’t like this idea—the destiny of the wicked. Surely at the end of time, we reason, God will be kind to all. But is that really what we want?

How terrible it would be to catalogue all of the evil, committed through all of the centuries, by all of the tyrants and terrorists, tricksters and transgressors. It would leave no doubt that the world truly cries out for justice.

“Deep down we long for the God of Asaph.”

A God that lets every wrongdoer off the hook is not a God worthy of our affection: he is a moral monster. Deep down, we long to see vindication for those who have suffered.

Despite our modern objections, deep down we long for the God of Asaph—the God who will right every wrong, who steps in to defend the oppressed.

God will bring about ultimate justice. This is the perspective that Asaph gained. Finally, he could see how wrong he’d previously been:

21 Then I realised that my heart was bitter,

    and I was all torn up inside.

22 I was so foolish and ignorant—

    I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

3. Presence

Fortunately, this is not where Asaph’s journey ends. As he concludes his Psalm, in verses 23-28, Asaph testifies to the presence of God that he experienced.

What a relief that our problems don’t get the last say. And what a relief that even the right perspective isn’t God’s end-game when we suffer. The point of it all—the way to face suffering well—is to let it drive us into the very presence of God:

23 Yet I still belong to you;

    you hold my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel,

    leading me to a glorious destiny.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?

    I desire you more than anything on earth.

26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,

    but God is the strength of my heart;

    he is mine forever.

Your suffering might not be understood by a single soul on earth. But nothing escapes God. He knows your struggle. He wants to meet you in it. He offers you the comfort of his presence.

In this Psalm, Asaph lands on a truth that you and I are still catching up with: there’s a gap between the real and the ideal, between how life is and how it should be.

“Nothing escapes God. He knows your struggle.”

But standing in that gap is a God who listens intently to our problems, resets our perspective, and welcomes us into his presence.

If he were just any god, that might be cold comfort. But this is the God who himself faced incomprehensible suffering.

He didn’t remain aloof—instead, he took on flesh, walked among us, and dealt with all the world’s injustice at Calvary. Because of this, every wrong will ultimately be made right.

This side of the cross, we have even more reason than Asaph to confidently declare:

28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God!

    I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,

    and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

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Last Year I Was Single—Now I’m Engaged

A few years ago I wrote about singleness. That article, Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single, has remained one of my most-read.

I didn’t plan on it, but for a while I became a kind of poster-boy for singleness. I’ve never enjoyed the spotlight, but I was grateful for the opportunities I had to encourage people who were on a similar journey.

Well last year I was single and now I’m engaged, so I guess it’s time for an update. Not just about my life-stage, but also my thoughts on singleness and relationships from the other side.

“For a while I became a kind of poster-boy for singleness.”

Angie and I met last November through mutual friends. I promised myself I’d never go on a blind date. Now I’m so glad I broke that promise.

Angie is an absolute joy to be with. She’s full of energy, hilarious, resilient, enterprising, prayerful, and intuitively selfless. I’m beyond blessed to be on the receiving end of these qualities of hers every day.

Like many who’ve walked the relationships road, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in love. But it is the first time I’ve known wholehearted love in return. I know I’m adored by Angie—and that’s a new and amazing experience.

“I’m beyond blessed.”

Angie has been an avenue of God’s healing in my life. Through her, I have a newfound clarity about my past, and in the present a big relief that a long wait is over.

But I also want to be clear about a few things. Angie doesn’t complete me. I haven’t ‘graduated’ from singleness. My life isn’t suddenly perfect. And I don’t expect marriage to change that either.

Three things remain true in my life, even as I’ve enjoyed the ride this last year.

Singleness is better than misery

Speaking about relationships and marriage, a wise mentor once told me, “It’s better to wish you were than to wish you weren’t.” He’s one hundred percent right.

When I dated in the past, I lost count of how many sleepless nights I endured, and how many problems my prayers just wouldn’t erase. As well-intentioned as a relationship might be, the reality is that some people just aren’t compatible.

One simple test for compatibility is 2 Corinthians 6:14. God says that people who follow Jesus aren’t compatible with those who don’t. Many Christians compromise on this, believing that singleness is misery. But they pay the price later, whether through irresolvable difference or their own fading faith.

The harder lesson I had to learn is that not even all Christians are compatible—and not all Christians are easy to be with.

“Find an Angie. Like me, wait 15 years if you have to.”

So if you’re still waiting patiently for the right person, don’t rush in where you see problems, hoping that love will fix them. Trust me, it won’t.

If you’re intent on a relationship, save your love for someone who will truly reciprocate it. Find an Angie. Like me, wait 15 years if you have to. Until then, stay single, serve God, and enjoy your life.

In my original post, I said that singleness is awesome. I believe that as much as I ever did. One thing’s for sure—it’s far better than the misery of a relationship that just won’t work.

Like it or not, God is in control

If you haven’t seen the video below called Stuff Christian Singles Hear then you need to—for a laugh, if nothing else.

Christian singles hear a lot of stuff, mostly from married people, and I’m sure it’s comes from a sincere heart. But I’m not convinced that one person’s experience can be packaged into a rule for others to follow.

Well-meaning people told me almost everything in this video in one form or another, but none of it changed my situation. I believed that I would one day marry, yet I remained stubbornly single.

I could try to explain that in a hundred ways. Maybe there were lessons God was still teaching me. Maybe he was still preparing Angie. Either way, exactly what God was thinking wasn’t available to me—then or now.

“I believed that I would one day marry, yet I remained stubbornly single.”

All I know is that I had very little control over my situation. And fortunately, the same was true when I met Angie last year.

So here’s the story. I’d been serving as the youth and young adults pastor at my church—a role that I loved. But I also had a growing disquiet that stayed with me for over a year, a sense that God was soon calling me on to something else.

I faced some big challenges last year. After speaking with my mentors, I knew the time was right for me to discover God’s ‘something else’, having no idea what it was.

I handed in my resignation, and within a few weeks, I met Angie. I was also offered a new job, one that was online. This would enable me to travel to America to meet Angie’s family and friends, and also to take her to meet my second family in Indonesia, all of which we’ve done this year.

“God’s wisdom and kindness are far greater than ours.”

I’ve long sensed a call to Indonesia but I still had my doubts. I had an inkling that God would confirm that call to Indonesia by sending someone into my life who felt the same call. It turns out that Angie has been a fulfilment of this too.

There’s no way I could have predicted or planned any of these events. I don’t tell my story with the assumption that anyone else’s will look the same. I share it as a reminder that, like it or not, God is in control.

And that’s a good thing, because God’s wisdom and kindness are far greater than ours. Consider the words of Tim Keller: “God will either give us what we ask for in prayer, or he’ll give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows.”

Contentment can be found in every life stage

What all of this means is that we need to learn to be content in every life stage.

We live in a culture that thrives on the exact opposite of this—namely, discontentment. Social media reinforces it. Advertising depends on it. Politics has perfected it. Our whole economy is built on it.

And we don’t help each other when we continually ask about the next big life event. First it’s, “When are you getting engaged?” and then, “When’s the wedding?” But it doesn’t stop there. “When are you having kids?” “When’s the next one on the way?” The questions continue on into retirement.

“We need to learn to be content in every life stage.”

Maybe we all just need to slow down and enjoy the present. If we can’t learn contentment in one life stage, it’s unlikely we’ll experience it in the next.

Finding the person I want to marry has been incredible. This last year has been the best year of my life. But it hasn’t solved all my problems—it’s solved some and introduced others.

And now that we’re engaged, Angie and I have a thousand plans for the future. Even now, in such a fun season, it can be easy to get frustrated at how slowly they’re all coming about.

“Contentment isn’t found in the next life stage.”

But the key to contentment in every season is God himself. Proverbs 19:23 says that, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

Contentment isn’t found in another person, or the next life stage. It’s found in God. This is as true for a newly engaged couple as it is for anyone.

So I’m going to enjoy this time with the beautiful Angie as we prepare for our wedding. But we’re going to enjoy it with God at the centre, knowing that he’s the source of our contentment.

We can be sure of this because God is love—and even the best earthly love is only a shadow of the perfect love God has for us.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

The Battle is Not Yours But God’s

What’s the battle that you’re facing right now?

Three thousand years ago, God’s people faced their own battle. Victory came, but only after struggle. And it came in the most unlikely of ways. The lesson they first had to learn was this:

“This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf.”

It’s the story of Jehoshaphat, found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.

The setting for the story is this: the tiny kingdom of Judah find themselves surrounded by not one, but three invading armies. From a human point of view, they’re about to get decimated.

Judah’s king at the time is Jehoshaphat. He’s in the middle of a 25-year reign. He’s a good king—a man of integrity, and a skilled diplomat. Most importantly, he is deeply committed to the ways of the Lord.

With armies about to wipe Judah off the map—in the face of great discouragement and defeat, Jehoshaphat does five things that change the game for God’s people.

These are five things we can do when nothing else is working, when we need our own But God moment.

1. Own Your Problem | v1-4

The first is own your problem. It’s possible for weeks or even years to pass before we’re honest about our need for help. Human cultures reward performance and encourage us to hide our battles behind an “I’ve-got-it-together” facade.

Jehoshaphat dropped the facade. In verses 1-4, we read that:

“Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.”

He owned his problem. He didn’t hide his fear and pretend everything was okay. He begged God for guidance, and wore his weakness in public.

If only you and I allowed ourselves to be that vulnerable. When’s the last time you shared your deepest fears with a friend? Or cried in public? Or healed a broken relationship with the word sorry? Or asked someone to pray for you?

You’re not weak if you admit weakness. Admitting weakness is actually what makes you strong. That’s what takes courage. That’s how you live from the heart. So own your problem, and be vulnerable, like Jehoshaphat was.

2. Lean Into God | v5-12

The second is lean into God. Notice that Jehoshaphat doesn’t go to the pantry and binge. He doesn’t medicate himself with Netflix, a night out on the town, or a sinkhole of self pity.

He goes to God. Read his prayer in verses 5-12. He begins by reflecting on how good God has been in the past, helping Israel take the promised land, and fight off their enemies, and build the temple.

What are the good deeds God has done in your life that you can recount? If you’ve grown up in Australia, you’ve probably got thousands you could list.

When we refocus our vision on the character and faithfulness of God, as Jehoshaphat did, it actually changes the way we view our circumstances. Our circumstances themselves may not change, but we can always choose to wipe our tears and lean into God for another day.

3. Trust His Promises | v13-17

The third is trust his promises. The Bible is full of promises. Some have counted 8000 of them. That’s a lot of promises (and a lot of counting).

Here, in verses 13-17, God gives a promise through one of his people. He doesn’t use someone famous like Isaiah or Ezekiel. Instead, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon a man called Jahaziel, who we know almost nothing else about. This is what he says:

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

“Tomorrow, march out against them… But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”

The timeless truths of Scripture, so full of God’s promises, are our sure foundation. But we also must be ready to trust his promises when they come as a word for the present moment. We even need to be ready to be the prophetic voice he uses.

Just think. Those powerful words, the battle is not yours but God’s, weren’t uttered by anyone famous. They came through a little person—Jahaziel—someone like you or me.

4. Choose To Worship | v18-21

The fourth is choose to worship. A prophet has given a rousing speech, but Judah is still on the brink of annihilation. Peasants have taken refuge inside Jerusalem’s walls. Invading armies close in. The people are terrified.

What do they do? In verses 18-21, they worship. Jehoshaphat bows low with his face to the ground. Then the whole nation joins him. Imagine the scene: hundreds of thousands prostrating themselves together before God.

Then three groups of worship leaders, who are probably scattered around, stand up and begin singing with a loud voice, praising God.

And as the story fast-forwards to the next day, King Jehoshaphat gives a Braveheart-like speech.

“Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm.”

They don’t sharpen their swords or conduct last-minute training for battle. Instead:

“The king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendour, singing: ‘Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!’”

Remember that still, nothing has changed. They’re putting on their armour. The enemy draws near. Besides a prophecy, they have no reason to believe they’ll be alive by sundown. Yet they choose to worship. “Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever.”

If Judah could worship God in the face of all this, will you worship God in the face of your battle?  Will you stubbornly give God glory and declare his goodness over your life?

That’s what Judah did. And if you peek ahead, it says God came to their rescue “the very moment they began to sing and give praise”. Worship, in other words, was the key to their triumph.

5. Wait for Victory | v22-30

That leads to the final point, wait for victory. Judah’s victory was incredible. Verses 22-30 tell us that:

“The Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves…

“So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped.”

Not only did Judah survive an imminent invasion. Not only did they survive it without swinging a sword. But we also read that it took them three days to collect the booty. They went home with more showbags than they could carry.

And the story ends with these words:

“So Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.”

You might be staring down a big army at the moment. But take heart, because victory is on the way. It might not feel like it right now, but as we see in the story of Jehoshaphat, God sometimes lets the odds get stacked against his people so that he gets even more glory in the end.

When you’ve owned your problem, leaned into God, trusted his promises, and chosen to worship, there’s only one thing left to do. You need to wait for victory.

This is the hardest thing to do, because it doesn’t involve you at all. But that’s the point.

“This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

Israel Folau and the Crush of Corporate Activism

The corporate activists are cheering, but they shouldn’t be.

Back in April, Rugby Australia, under pressure from its major sponsor Qantas, sacked rugby superstar Israel Folau for posting a paraphrased Bible verse on Instagram. In May, a tribunal upheld the decision, allowing his $4 million contract to be officially torn up.

Now in June, GoFundMe has discovered the power of corporate activism too. Using the fund-raising site, Israel had reached out to likeminded Australians who wanted to support him in his court appeal for religious freedom. $700,000 had been donated to his cause before GoFundMe suddenly pulled his page from their platform.

“Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon.”

The reason GoFundMe gave for their decision was “violation of its terms of service”. Exactly which terms Israel has violated is still unclear.

Some suggest it’s because his fund promoted harassment or vilification. But clearly this can’t be the case. Anti-Folau campaigns abound on the website, including the “Israel is a knob cause”, the “F*** Israel Folau Foundation” and others raising funds for his ‘mental health issues’ or even for a rainbow sex toy to gag him with.

Others suggest that Folau’s campaign was canned because his was a legal fund. But this can’t be the reasoning either, given that GoFundMe continues to allow around 17,000 other legal campaigns on their site. This includes the fund for the fabled ‘Eggboy’ who (deserved or not) assaulted a sitting Commonwealth senator.

“By including some groups, these corporations exclude others.”

It seems increasingly clear that what GoFundMe has an issue with—and what Qantas and Rugby Australia before them take issue with—is the historic teachings of Christianity.

Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon. Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like. And by all means, they’re free to: they’re private enterprises, and this is a free country.

But in doing so, they’re creating a new set of marginalised minorities. By including some groups, these corporations exclude others. They preach tolerance but practice intolerance. And the gentle giant Folau—a Pacific Islander who counts Christianity as core to his identity—is only their latest victim.

“Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like.”

Folau’s fight is far from over. The Australian reports that GoFundMe’s decision has only hardened Israel’s resolve to have his day in court. 

And in the 24 hours since the Australian Christian Lobby began hosting a new fundraiser for Folau, almost double the amount given on Go Fund Me has been raised again. At the time of writing, that amount sits at $1.3 million.

What his opponents are yet to realise is this: Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy. He’s no pushover.

Not only that, but there’s a band of quiet Australians waiting in the wings who helped ScoMo to  shock victory, and who are more than willing to put their money where their mouth is and get behind Folau’s fight for religious freedom.

“Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy.”

It may just turn out that Go Fund Me’s late great grubby move is the spectacular own-goal that helps Folau and his followers to the victory they’ve been waiting for.

In any case, as the dust settles on this latest development, there are three questions that every Aussie Christian can be reflecting on.

1. Do You Really Believe?

The entire Israel Folau saga boils down to this: he lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This now infamous passage says:

“Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

“Israel lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.”

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

It’s hard to find a crisper announcement of the gospel in all of Scripture than the one Israel posted. So the question for every Christian is, do you really believe the Bible?

Notice that the question isn’t “Would you post this verse on your own social media account?” Certainly, there are more winsome ways to reach out to a secular world. Still, the question remains, do you actually believe what this verse says?

2. Can You Still Love?

It’s easy in a climate like this for us Christians to see ourselves only as an oppressed subculture. Yes, this is becoming increasingly true. But the early church had it far worse than we do, and still they found a way to love.

They were radical not only in their unwavering commitment to truth, but also in their unwavering commitment to love. Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and bless those who persecute you are words for us today as much as they were for early believers.

21st century Christians are sobering up to the realisation that we live in a modern-day Babylon. 

“God isn’t calling us to start a revolt.”

This makes the story of the Babylonian exile a great source of wisdom for us today. So consider the words that Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon:

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7).

God isn’t calling us to start a revolt. He wants us to work and pray for the peace and prosperity of Australia. As Timothy Keller puts it, God calls us to be a “counter-culture for the common good”.

3. Will You Speak Out?

Keep in mind though that this doesn’t mean we just fall in line with what the mainstream culture demands of us.

If we truly long for peace and prosperity in Australia, then surely we want to see our civilisation’s hard-won freedoms continue to flourish.

“Political silence is tough to shake.”

Israel Folau lost his job for being a Christian: for believing and expressing a central Christian conviction. If someone with a profile as high as Izzy’s can be fired for his faith, anyone can. The only difference is that everyday religious people won’t have any fame to leverage for their cause.

Now is the opportune time for Christians to speak out.

For some, this might mean swallowing our pride. It’s not sexy today to stand for ‘conservative’ causes—especially not Christian ones. Political bias, like political silence, is tough to shake.

But if we truly believe in freedom for all to practice their faith, then speaking up now is the right thing to do.

So will you?

Feel Like a Fool? All Good, God Chose the Foolish Things

Have you ever left a comment online taking a stand for Jesus, only to return an hour later to a barrage of criticism? Or sat in the lunchroom listening to someone unleash on the evils Christianity, not knowing how to respond? 

It’s a common experience. Standing for truth in the public square comes at a cost. Go against the flow of mainstream ideas and you’ll rarely find favour for your faithfulness—more likely you’ll be made to feel like a fool.

If that’s you, then hear the words of 1 Corinthians 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.”

“Standing for truth in the public square comes at a cost.”

This is so counterintuitive that it sounds almost ridiculous to our modern ears. God chose the foolish things?

Maybe a contemporary illustration will help. In recent years, billions of people have avoided the mainstream hotel industry to take advantage of AirBNB. They’ve found cheap accommodation in other people’s homes and even made money from their own.

Likewise, Uber has turned regular cars into taxis, to the advantage of passengers and upstart drivers alike. Both of these ‘disrupter’ companies, as they’ve been called—and now dozens of rivals—have upended conventional markets.

“You and I, as followers of Jesus, are ‘disrupters’.”

And here’s the thing: when Uber and AirBNB were struggling to get off the ground, the corporate world probably peered down from lush offices above, scorning them as foolish—if they even noticed. But fast forward a decade, and these companies have sent corporations broke and reshaped entire industries from the ground up.

This is the vibe of 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are ‘disrupters’. Here’s the meaning of this passage: A foolish message shared by foolish people is exactly how God has chosen to save the world.

A Foolish Message | v18-25

The gospel is a foolish message. We’ve made the cross a very tame, middle-class, domesticated symbol. We’ve forgotten that it was a symbol of shame and slaughter in the first century.

Imagine a small, golden electric chair dangling from a necklace. Or an atom bomb depicted in a church’s stained-glass windows. Or a noose hung high above a sanctuary altar.

Are you shocked by these suggestions? If so, then you can empathise just a bit more with those who’ve rejected the gospel today. Many scoff at the thought that a crucified Saviour is the hope of the world. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. (v18).

“The gospel is a foolish message.”

The reason so many see the gospel as foolish is because it confronts the idols in our culture. In Paul’s day, The Jews wanted power. They were waiting for a leader who would liberate them from the Roman Empire. They weren’t expecting a crucified Messiah: to them, that was weak, and it made no sense.

And likewise, the Greeks wanted wisdom. They were looking for the world’s greatest orator or philosopher—someone to rival Plato or Aristotle. They weren’t interested in a shabby carpenter from a backwater province of the empire.

So what does God do? Does he give the Jews and the Greeks what they want? No, he decides to offend everyone. He gives the world Jesus. God in the flesh, hanging on a cross.

“It’s a message to make every culture stumble.”

Jews seek signs. Greeks seek wisdom. In our day, millennials seek image. The middle class seeks comfort. Religious people seek rules. Irreligious people seek autonomy. But we preach Christ, and him crucified, Paul says (v23).

It’s a message to make every culture stumble. With the gospel—with this one simple message—God confronts every sub-culture’s idol. All of our false gods. All of our false salvations.

The gospel declares that the only thing we can offer God is our brokenness. Only then—only when we confess our sins, our weaknesses, and our need for Jesus—can we be saved (v21). This is why the gospel seems so foolish to so many.

Foolish Messengers | v26-31

Not only do we bear a foolish message—we ourselves are also foolish messengers. This is what Paul means when he says, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (v26).

Paul uses the word ‘foolish’ five times in eight verses. In the Greek, that word is moros, from which we get the word moron. In case you missed it, Paul is essentially calling us morons.

Yes, it’s encouraging when rich and powerful Christians use their platform for Jesus. But we shouldn’t hang our hopes on this. Fame, prestige and political power have never mixed well with the church. And that’s never been God’s plan to save the world anyway.

“Paul is essentially calling us morons.”

In his mission to bring redemption to this planet, God’s plan is to use really ordinary, average people. Fools. Morons. Us.

It’s confronting to realise that the average Christian today is extremely poor, and is part of an oppressed minority group, living somewhere in a rural or outer urban city in Africa or Asia. They’re the world’s forgotten people.

This might sound kind of gloomy, but only if we’re thinking in a worldly way. In fact, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” (v27-28).

“God’s plan is to use really ordinary, average people.”

In other words, with God, you don’t have to be strong or powerful or religious or rich or intelligent or spiritual or anything. You just have to be willing.

God uses the little people. God is with the underdog.

From the very beginning, the church has been most effective when it has been a prophetic voice on the margins of society. This is where we thrive. This is where we’re most at home.

“God is with the underdog.”

That’s where Jesus was in his day. It’s where the early church was when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. It’s where we believers in the West find ourselves in this cultural moment.

A foolish message. Foolish messengers.

If sometimes you’re embarrassed by the Christian message, that’s a good thing. Society around us elevates wisdom, intelligence, and brilliant philosophies. But God has chosen the foolish message of the cross to save the world.

If sometimes you feel like a fool as a Christian, get used to that. It’s a good thing. It should feel normal. The world elevates people with power and strength and noble birth. But God has chosen to use foolish messengers like you and me.

I’ve got some big writing and travel adventures planned for 2019. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

The Christian Roots of Human Rights

Religion has fallen on hard times across the West—at least in the media, the major universities, and our other culture-shaping institutions.

But there’s one form of religion today that’s praised and promoted widely, and that’s the religion of human rights. Human rights might be secular. But to the secular, they couldn’t be more sacred.

In the words of British legal academic Anthony Julius, the human rights movement “is the new secular religion of our time.” Samuel Moyn, law professor at Yale University, calls them “the premier values of the day”.

“For most of time, rights were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.”

This elevation of human rights to such a holy status has made many believers, Christian and otherwise, quite suspect of the whole movement—rightly so perhaps.

But when Christians take such a combative stance, they forget the distinctly Christian origins of human rights. In fact, like so much that we take for granted in our secular age, human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.

It would be foolish to argue that Christianity alone has shaped human rights as we know them. Likewise, only a fool could deny church abuses of human rights through the centuries.

“Human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.”

But if all this is true, then far more foolish is the claim that human rights were some kind of inevitable discovery—a ‘fact of nature’ that our human family always would have stumbled upon.

Most cultures for most of time, including many in our present day, simply do not accept human rights as a given. They were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.

An honest look at history reveals that human rights have been profoundly shaped by Christian ideas. Consider ten moments of time that make this clear.

1. The Creation of Humanity

Whatever you believe about the first chapter of Genesis, there’s no denying that the concept of the imago dei or the ‘image of God’ has played a big role in shaping the West’s understanding of human rights.

Genesis 1:26-27 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Inspired by these words, a despised Christian minority ended the barbaric practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire, and stood against the ancient slave trade.

“God created man in his own image.”—Genesis 1:27

Inspired by these words, William Wilberforce finally abolished slavery in the British empire, and Martin Luther King Jr. fought bravely for civil rights in the United States.

Inspired by these words, Mother Teresa served the poor in India’s slums for fifty years, and Nelson Mandela dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

In fact, new research has made a very politically incorrect discovery. Christian missionaries exporting the idea of imago dei to colonial lands were the single greatest force in creating free and stable democracies in the developing world.

2. The Mosaic Law

Human rights today have been deeply influenced by the Old Testament scriptures—especially the law of Moses.

In The Evolution of the West, Nick Spencer calls the Mosaic Law’s focus on widows, orphans, aliens and the poor ‘obsessive’, and argues that in ancient Jewish thought, to deprive these groups of justice is actually to deprive God of his rights.

Says Spencer, “If one acknowledges this—that God, in effect, has rights—one has made a crucial move towards recognising natural human rights.”

“Today we consider rights fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention.”

And Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher at Yale University, makes the case that if God has such rights, then so do humans who are made in his image.

So, for example, he says, “The proscription against murder is grounded not in God’s law but in the worth of the human being. All who bear God’s image possess, on that account, an inherent right not to be murdered.”

Today we don’t make human rights dependent on something that humans do or possess—instead, we consider them fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention; it can clearly be traced to the Jewish scriptures.

3. The Life of Jesus

Jesus’ treatment of women, children, and society’s down-and-outs was remarkable in an ancient context.

The way Jesus spoke to women, healed them, taught them, praised them and involved them in his ministry made it clear that he saw women as equals. And he broke many social conventions to do so.

Ancient wisdom said that children should be seen but not heard. Yet on this backdrop, Jesus welcomed children and embraced them. He had scathing words for any who would harm a child. And he frequently praised children and their faith as the ideal for grown-ups to imitate.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”—Jesus

Jesus is still admired today for the care he showed to the sick, poor and dying. The gospels are peppered with too many of these stories to recount. In fact, Jesus so identified with the world’s forgotten that to feed, clothe and care for ‘the least of these’ was—in his words—to do the same for him.

For all these reasons, Wolterstorff argues that human rights ultimately trace their origins to Jesus. “Being loved by God,” he says, which was one of Jesus central teachings, “gives to each human being who bears it the worth in which natural human rights inhere.”

Or in the words of author John Ortberg, “It’s really Jesus who brought that notion of the dignity and worth of every human being from little Israel to the much larger world.”

4. The Early Church Fathers

Historians also see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.

The most famous perhaps is Basil of Caesarea, who in a 4th century sermon claimed that the wealth of the rich in fact belonged to the poor.

“That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.”

“Historians see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.”

John Chrysostom, living at the same time, also taught that generosity is a duty and not merely a choice. “Even if he is the most wicked of all men, let us free him from hunger. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune.”

And consider that the only criticism of institutional slavery that has reached us from the ancient world was also from an early church father, Gregory of Nyssa, who asked, “Who can buy a man, who can sell him, when he is made in the likeness of God?”

5. The Middle Ages

Our next stop through the sweep of human rights history is the Middle Ages. In this period, canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights, a concept that is simply taken for granted today.

In the 1280s, for example, Godfrey of Fontaines argued that if a beggar stole a loaf of bread from his rich neighbour, he couldn’t be charged for theft since he had a natural right to that bread in order to survive:

“Each one is bound by the law of nature to sustain his life, which cannot be done without exterior goods, therefore also by the law of nature each has dominion and a certain right in the common exterior goods of this world which right cannot be renounced.”

“Canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights.”

By the year 1300, Godfrey and other Christian thinkers had recognised at least five natural rights: the right of the poor to the necessities of life; the right of self preservation; rights to property; the right to a fair trial; and the right of self-defence.

These are remarkable advances for a period often dubbed ‘the Dark Ages’.

6. The Reformation

Another momentous step towards modern human rights took place during the Reformation—a social and spiritual revolution in 16th century Europe.

The Catholic church had been selling indulgences. Put crudely, they were exchanging the promise of heaven for money. A monk called Martin Luther was enraged, believing the church had come to wield far too much power over the inner lives of its people:

“For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but Himself… therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys the souls.”

The battlecry of the Reformers was salvation by grace alone. All have sinned—even priests and bishops. Yet all who believe are priests unto God—even beggars and outcasts.

“Reformers set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.”

Their great vision was to see the Bible in the languages of the people so that every soul could discern God’s truth independently, so that every conscience could answer to heaven directly, and so that every heart could know God personally.

The Reformers had set out to redefine faith. But in the process, historians now say that they also redefined the dignity of the human person, endowed the self with moral authority, and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

According to Joseph Loconte, Professor of History at The Kings College in New York City, “Virtually every important defence of religious freedom in the 17th century—the liberal politics of William Penn, Roger Williams, Pierre Bayle, and John Locke—took Luther’s insights for granted.”

The Reformation has had such a profound impact on our understanding of human rights today that even the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights uses language that tips the hat to Luther and his vision.

7. The Birth of the Modern World

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So run the most familiar words of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776).

Among the other political documents that have profoundly shaped our modern world are the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the United States Bill of Rights (1789).

“All men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”—United States Declaration of Independence

Collectively, these are the precursors of today’s human rights documents. And all of them arose in distinctly Christian lands, resting on and expressing Christian ideas.

Some would include in this list France’s more secular Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). And to be sure, not all of America’s founding fathers were of orthodox Christian faith.

Still, it’s hard to deny that Christendom was the greenhouse in which all of these important documents came to flower.

8. The World at War

The two world wars of the 20th century caused unimaginable devastation to the human family. Because of this, the wars were also a cause for deep reflection on what it means to be human.

Samuel Moyn, an expert on human rights from Yale University, explains that during this period, the idea of the ‘human person’ was becoming central in Christian political thought.

Evidence of this can be seen, he says, in the new Irish Constitution, drawn up in 1937, which began: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions of both men and States must be referred.”

The constitution went on: “Seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured…” Moyn observes that never before in history had the word dignity been used this way in reference to humans.

“During the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.”

In the same year, Pope Pius XI issued With Burning Concern, an encyclical written in German and smuggled into Germany to decry Hitler’s Nazi regime, declaring:

“Man, as a person, possesses rights that he holds from God and which must remain, with regard to the collectivity, beyond the reach of anything that would tend to deny them, to abolish them, or to neglect them.”

These words, argues Moyn, along with Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message of 1942, were landmark declarations about human dignity. In other words, during the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.

9. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Surely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a secular document? This is certainly what its drafters set out to achieve, in order to give it widespread religious and cultural appeal.

But the University of Notre Dame’s Iain Benson points out that some of its key framers were followers of Jesus:

“The major proponents of human rights as it was developed and codified in the twentieth century were themselves Christians—people like Jacques Maritain from France and Charles Malik in Lebanon.”

“Some of the Declaration’s key framers were followers of Jesus.”

Nick Spencer, author of The Evolution of the West, contends that not only did Christians help draft the document, but that the ideas it contains betray their Christian influence:

“In the sense that the Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t draw explicitly on any religious doctrines of course it’s thoroughly secular, but if you lift the lid you find an awful lot of Christian workings underneath the bonnet.”

10. The Post-War Period

The tragedies of the World War I and II kept the nations of Europe focussed on the issue of human rights over the following decades. Moyn observes that in this period, just as they had earlier, Christians once again led the charge:

“Conservative Christian thought bore the language and logic of human rights in the immediate pre-war and war years and it was generally conservative Christian thinkers and parties that nurtured it in the post-war period.”

Moyn calls this the last European golden age for the Christian faith,arguing that the Christian Democratic parties that came to power between World War II and the 1960s played a key role in embedding human rights in global politics.

The One Who Gave Up His Rights

Today the tides are shifting. English philosopher Roger Scruton has remarked that “Europe is rapidly jettisoning its Christian heritage and has found nothing to put in the place of it save the religion of ‘human rights’.”

Some may call this progress. But we’ve got to ask the question: if human rights are in large measure the fruit of Christian ideas, what is their future as those Christian roots continue to die?

Maybe there’s another set of ideas that can sustain human rights in the modern world.

“Followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.”

But that’s a big maybe. Because to date, what has sustained them through time—what has influenced them more than anything else—is Jesus.

In the words of Samuel Moyn, “No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”

From the earliest days of the church, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation and into the modern world, followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.

“No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”—Samuel Moyn

Followers of Jesus did this for the simple reason that they were following Jesus.

Let it be remembered that in his mission to earth, Jesus’ ultimate act was to lay down his life to redeem the world. In that great sacrifice, he declared the immeasurable value of every human life.

In that sacrifice, he gave up his rights entirely—so that we might have ours.

Originally published as Ten Reasons Our Human Rights Come From Jesus at the Canberra Declaration.

Ten Reasons Jesus is the Most Influential Person in History

Let’s be honest: it’s all too easy to highjack Jesus and make him the pin-up boy for our cause. Depending on your flavour he’s the middle-class moralist, the enlightened guru, the hellfire preacher, the social justice warrior—and the list grows every year.

The reason Jesus keeps getting a rebrand—the reason he simply refuses to go away—is that he is without question the most influential person in history.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.

1. Jesus Is Permanently World Famous

Most of the world is religious. But only one faith figure has over half the world’s attention. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up 54% of the world’s population. And a common thread of all three is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by the Jews as a false Messiah—but he was the most compelling candidate to date. And he remains the most famous Jew who ever lived.

“The Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history.”

Jesus is the central figure of the world’s biggest religion. Christianity has always been a contagious faith. As a result, a third of the planet has pledged its allegiance to Jesus, with dramatic church growth continuing in Asia, Africa and South America.

Even Muslims, who deny that Jesus is God’s Son, acknowledge him as a prophet. The Qur’an calls him ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah, and it refers to him 93 times—four times more often than Muhammad himself.

But the Bible—whose central character is Jesus—has had better traction. At five billion copies, the Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history. It’s also the world’s most translated, written-about, and shoplifted, book of all time.

2. Jesus Launched An Equality Revolution

Staggering inequality still exists around the world. When people face discrimination for their gender, ethnicity, age or creed, a deep sense of injustice wells up in us.

But did you know that not everyone feels the same? For most of human history—and in much of the world today—it’s perfectly normal to treat people unequally.

Most ancient civilisations practiced slavery; even Plato and Aristotle defended it. Fast forward to the modern world and there are more slaves now than when slavery was abolished.

“Staggering inequality still exists around the world.”

Besides that, the caste system, FGM, child marriage and honour killings are tragically commonplace. This isn’t a matter of spite—these cultures are simply acting on deeply-held beliefs.

Thankfully, the equality we enjoy is having a ripple effect around the planet. But notice where this ideal originates: generally in western cultures which have been deeply shaped by the Bible.

Others will protest that our emphasis on equality comes from the Renaissance or the human rights movement. But even these were birthed in a Christian-saturated worldview. Uncomfortable as it might be, this equality revolution finds its beginnings in Jesus.

“All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not.”

From his embrace of women and children, to his claim that God knows the number of hairs on our head; from his call to leave the ninety-nine for the one, to his charge for costly love to the least of these, Jesus defied the ancient world to insist that every life matters.

All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not. Objectively speaking, Jesus taught a better way.

And in a time when “progress” has taken us beyond equality and into the frightful realm of identity politics, quota queens and reverse racism, Jesus still teaches a better way.

3. Jesus Redefined “Hero”

Here’s another confronting truth about the ancient world: its heroes were—let’s be honest—mostly murderers. Think conquering caesars, samurai warriors, and knights in shining armour.

Thousands of years later, it couldn’t be more opposite. In the West at least, we esteem the nun who serves in the ghetto, the rescuer who sacrifices his life to save a child, and the head of state who relates to the humble and lowly.

This is an extraordinary reversal. And once again, Jesus helps explain it.

As Jesus hung on the cross crying out in agony, his devastated followers had to decide: either he wasn’t the hero they once thought—or their very definition of hero had to change. They chose the second option.

“This is an extraordinary reversal.”

Slowly the continent of Europe marinated in a single, world-changing idea: the universe-creating God stepped down to earth, became a peasant carpenter, washed his disciples dirty feet, made upside-down claims like the meek will inherit the earth, and then gave up his life for his friends.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, if your idea of a hero is a humble, self-giving servant, then you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

4. Jesus Inspired Universal Literacy

Most cultures have turned their language into writing. Some have gone on to develop beautiful literature. But from time immemorial and on every continent, education was for the elite.

That is until followers of Jesus saw otherwise. As the Reformation swept Europe, reformers like Luther and Wycliffe had a vision to make the Word of God available to the masses, taking it from Latin into the languages of the people.

“Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.”

Missionaries continued this project. To translate Scripture, they systematised national languages like Hindi, Urdu and Bengali which helped birth nations. In fact, thousands of indigenous dialects have been saved by Christians in this drive to democratise language.

A Bible you can understand is only useful if you can read. So the other goal of reformers and missionaries was mass literacy, for which they enlisted the help of governments. From the earliest days, Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.

As for higher learning, don’t forget that monks invented the university—and that the world’s leading institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale (and too many more to list) were established to teach the Bible.

5. Jesus Is The Star Of Ancient History

It’s often assumed that the Bible is historically unreliable. Some even question if Jesus ever lived. But it’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.

Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was born. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after the event. The writings we have about Jesus, on the other hand, were written within 20-60 years of his life.

“Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.”

In case you didn’t catch that, our records about a ragtag rabbi called Jesus are better than those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

But it gets more impressive. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

By contrast, 24,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the world’s libraries. With these, it’s possible to reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

“The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.”

And if you’re concerned that the writers of the Bible were biased, consider just some of what we know about Jesus from non-Christian authors:

Jesus came from Nazareth; he lived a virtuous life; he was crucified in Palestine during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar; he was considered a Jewish king; his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died; and they worshipped him as God.

Yes, faith is needed to follow Jesus—but it’s not a blind faith. The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

6. Jesus’ Followers Discovered Science

Many believe that science and religion are at war. Take Richard Dawkins for example, who says, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

But this would be news to the founders of modern science, who were mostly Bible-believing Christians. Think Pascal, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin—or Newton, who discovered gravity but wrote over a million words about the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.”

Quite simply, science arose only once in history—in Christian Europe. Many other cultures had scientific insights. But it took a lot more than insights to develop a culture of science. For that, Christian assumptions were needed. Like these:

Objective truth exists. Many eastern faiths say that each person can find their own truth. But science only works if truth exists and can be discovered—a thoroughly Christian idea.

The universe exists. It’s also common in the East to see the world as an illusion. By contrast, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.

The universe is orderly. Most faiths imagine an array of gods competing to run the universe. However, one Creator using one set of laws made life much easier for scientists like Kepler who said that to do science was to “think God’s thoughts after him”.

“All of these ideas are at the heart of Christian belief.”

We’re fallen and sinful. No one likes the Christian doctrine of original sin, but it inspired the scientific method which stresses that a discovery is only made when we’ve doubted our theories until we can doubt them no more.

Our brains can be trusted. If we’re here by some cosmic accident, how can we trust the conclusions our brains come to? But if we’re made in the image of an intelligent God, that problem is solved as well.

All of these ideas—which are at the heart of Christian belief—made science possible.

7. Jesus Is The World’s Greatest Force For Compassion

Early Christians were despised in the Roman Empire. Despite this, their program to feed Rome’s poor was as big as the city’s civic guilds. And they scoured streets and trash heaps to rescue discarded babies—their example ultimately ending infanticide.

Christianity and compassion are deeply linked. The history of hospitals, for example, is mostly a history of the church. Public healthcare was unknown in the ancient world, before St. Basil opened a 300-bed hospital. His vision spanned a thousand years until monks were caring for the sick in 37,000 European monasteries.

As modern medicine was born, followers of Jesus led the charge again, pioneering antiseptic surgery, clinical teaching, physiology, transplant surgery, the vaccine, and writing what became the standard medical textbook for two centuries.

“Christianity and compassion are deeply linked.”

The world wouldn’t be the same without Christian heroes like William Carey who ended widow burning in India, William Wilberforce who abolished the slave trade, Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed civil rights in the U.S, and Mother Teresa whose name is literally a synonym for compassion.

By no means do Christians have a monopoly on care. But Jesus—who gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, and backed it up with his profound love for the hungry, sick and dying—has inspired more compassion than any other force in history.

8. Jesus Paved The Way For Democracy

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He must be right if almost 70% of nations have adopted it.

Rule of law is the remarkable idea that a nation is governed by its constitution—something with a higher authority than senators, kings, or the mob majority.

For this, followers of Jesus were inspired by ancient Israel’s law—and they were central in drafting the foundation texts of modern democracy like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.”

They reasoned that if we’re all made in God’s image, we the people should get a say in how government is formed, not just the elite. But if we’re fallen and sinful, we also need checks and balances to restrain our own corruption.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth. Even human rights, which are slowly being adopted worldwide, have deeply Christian roots.

As secularism spreads, it’s worth remembering that the separation of church and state was originally Jesus’ idea. And that freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.

If it did, we never would have discovered democracy in the first place.

9. Jesus And His Church Are The Most Hated People On Earth

Many people suffer oppression today—but none more than followers of Jesus. Though they make up only one third of the world’s inhabitants, Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.

100 million Christians are targeted for their faith in 139 countries—or three quarters of all nations on earth. Every year, 150,000 believers are put to death simply for what they believe. In its Middle Eastern homeland, the church is under threat of extinction.

What doesn’t make sense about all of this is that the western media will stand up for almost any minority group—but it’s almost silent when it comes to the global war on Christians.

“Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.”

This silence, in fact, is key to understanding another trend: a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the West.

Christians who report discrimination in places like Australia, Europe and North America are often dismissed as having a martyr complex. But real data has led Open Doors, the leading authority on global Christian persecution, to warn that western nations will soon be included in their annual reports.

When a single faith is the target of so much worldwide opposition—and this despite the many benefits it has brought the world—it should get our attention.

Maybe Jesus really did come to rescue humanity from its deep hostility towards God.

10. Jesus’ Claim To Be God Was Unique

One final quality that sets Jesus apart is his claim to be God. That might sound odd, given that countless people through time have done the same.

But actually, the claim of most was that they were a god. Jesus however claimed to be the God—the Creator of the universe, walking among us in human flesh.

“Jesus seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.”

No one else who launched a world religion has gone there—certainly not Muhammad or the Buddha. And most who’ve done so in modern times have actually taken a shortcut: claiming to be a reincarnate Jesus, they’ve simply hoped to borrow some of his unassailable fame.

When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I AM was the name he gave himself. What got Jesus in so much trouble with the religious leaders was when he took this title to himself, saying “before Abraham was, I AM”.

Jesus forgave sins, which any Jew knew was God’s business alone. He accepted worship, which was an even greater scandal. In these and countless other ways he made himself equal with God—which is what ultimately got him crucified.

“Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the universe.”

Jesus could have been lying. It’s also possible that he was insane. But if his biographies are true, he seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.

The only possibility that remains is that he is who he says he is. The implications of this are profound. It means that he is Lord—and I am not.

And it means there is hope. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

He was born in an obscure village

The child of a peasant woman

He grew up in another obscure village

Where he worked in a carpenter shop

Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him

 

He never wrote a book

He never held an office

He never went to college

He never visited a big city

He never travelled more than two hundred miles

From the place where he was born

He did none of the things

Usually associated with greatness

He had no credentials but himself

 

He was only thirty three

His friends ran away

One of them denied him

He was turned over to his enemies

And went through the mockery of a trial

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves

While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing

The only property he had on earth

When he was dead

He was laid in a borrowed grave

Through the pity of a friend

 

Nineteen centuries have come and gone

And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race

And the leader of mankind’s progress

All the armies that have ever marched

All the navies that have ever sailed

All the parliaments that have ever sat

All the kings that ever reigned put together

Have not affected the life of mankind on earth

As powerfully as that one solitary life

 

One Solitary Life—Dr James Allan Francis, 1926

The Safest Place on Earth

A mother’s womb is an incredible place. In this warm and nutrient-rich environment, a tiny egg is fertilised, and 40 weeks later a beautiful, fully formed human emerges. No wonder the word miracle is so often used by parents to describe the birth of their child.

Given how fragile life is through these nine months, the womb should be the safest place on earth. But in recent decades, tragically it has become the most dangerous.

Abortion is now the leading cause of death worldwide. Around the world each year, some 56 million pre-born babies have their lives cut short. 70,000 of them would otherwise be raised by Australian parents.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”—Gandhi

Without doubt, some women who choose abortion have faced harrowing circumstances. A recent study, for example, has found that pregnant women who suffer violence are much more likely to seek an abortion than those who haven’t. The only humane response to someone who sees abortion as their only option is compassion and care.

Compassion and care are also desperately needed for expecting mothers, so they’re well supported when they choose to carry their baby to full term in the face of great difficulties.

But if all this is so, then surely compassion and care are needed most for the unborn, who are truly the world’s most vulnerable. Rightly did Gandhi say that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”.

“The only humane response to someone who sees abortion as their only option is compassion and care.”

How we treat the unborn hit global headlines again recently, when the state of New York passed a law legalising abortion up to birth. Buoyed by this, in following days the Governor of Virginia even called for infanticide to be legalised.

But these latest developments aren’t just taking place on distant shores. In South Australia, the Greens have introduced a bill that seeks to make abortions available without medical reason, without a doctor, and up to birth.

It is difficult to see how any of this could be called progress.

Progress is what happened 2000 years ago when an unpopular religious sect opposed the wisdom of the Greco-Roman world—and many other ancient cultures besides.

“A pre-born baby can feel pain and hear your voice by the sixth month of pregnancy.”

Those early Christians believed that every human life must have equal and intrinsic worth if we’re all made in the image of God. And they walked Rome’s streets and scoured her trash heaps to rescue the babies that had been discarded by a people who didn’t know better. 

Within centuries of this revolution, Emperor Valentinian, a Christian, had outlawed infanticide—setting a precent that has profoundly shaped the western world since.

Until recently, that is.

See, unlike the ancient world, we do know better. And it’s not just our collective conscience, shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic, that informs this.

“Every human life must have equal and intrinsic worth if we’re all made in the image of God.”

Modern science—which was also heavily influenced by the Christian worldview—tells anyone who cares to listen that a pre-born baby can feel pain, hear your voice, and will survive outside the womb by the sixth month of pregnancy.

Even simple logic exposes where we’ve gone wrong. In Queensland, for example, a drunk driver who kills an unborn baby can be charged for homicide. But in one of the state’s abortion clinics, the same victim can be deemed a non-entity and be quietly disposed of.

Humans deciding each other’s worth in such an arbitrary way should disturb us. Do other human rights even matter if one’s right to life isn’t first protected under the law?

“As you try to make sense of these contradictions, take a moment to be thankful.”

But despite ethics, science and reason, in 2019 great swathes of the media and political elite seem intent on a return to the status quo of the ancient world. All, ironically, under the banner of progress.

So wherever you are, as you try to make sense of these contradictions, take a moment to be thankful. Outside of the womb, you live in the safest place on earth.

Then spare a thought for the little ones who haven’t joined us here yet.

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

You’ve probably heard the accusation: the Bible contradicts itself. More evidence—if we needed it—that the Bible was written by simple people in a much simpler era.

In fact, there’s a group called the Reason Project who claim to have found five hundred such contradictions in Scripture.

So does their accusation stand?

On closer inspection, most of these so-called contradictions are little more than silly word games: cherry-picked verses that ignore both the culture and the theology of the Bible.

But some are worth a closer look.

One Angel Or Two?

When Matthew wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, he mentioned the angel at the tomb. But in John’s gospel, there are two angels. So which is it?

Notice that Matthew didn’t say only one angel was present. Basic maths says that if you have two of something, you also have one of them.

“These reports aren’t hard to reconcile.”

This solution might sound a bit too cute for the cynical-minded. But it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which two angels were at the tomb, and one played a more prominent role in the conversation that took place.

Matthew chose to focus on the one, while John felt it was worth mentioning both. That’s hardly a contradiction.

How Did Judas Really Die?

Or there’s the death of Judas—the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas hanged himself, according to Matthew’s account. But Luke records that he fell headlong and was found disembowelled.

It’s interesting that the traditional site for Judas’s field is a pasture at the bottom of a cliff outside the city of Jerusalem.

A very plausible scenario is that Judas indeed hanged himself, and that eventually his rope broke or was cut, causing him to plummet to the field below. Once again, these reports aren’t hard to reconcile.

The Contradictions of Jesus

Contradictions are often pointed out between Jesus’ teachings recorded in different places. The details seem to differ depending on which gospel account you read.

But I’m a preacher. And I’ve used my favourite illustrations and teaching points on many occasions, often modifying them for my audience or to make a slightly different point. Surely Jesus is allowed the same freedom?

So much of what passes as contradiction is actually nothing of the sort. It’s worth bearing this in mind the next time you hear this accusation made.

More Trustworthy, Not Less

In fact, much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.

Imagine, God forbid, a murder took place on the streets of your city. Four witnesses stepped forward who claimed not to know each other, but who gave near-identical testimony, pointing the finger at the same suspect.

“The four gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry.”

Any lawyer would be right to assume the four witnesses had colluded, agreeing to give the same account. Suddenly they are the guilty ones. They’ve been caught selling a fake story—probably to hide a darker truth.

Likewise, if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s accounts were nearly identical, we’d be right to think they’d collaborated, trying to fool the world with a concocted story about Jesus.

“Much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.”

As it is, however, their gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry. At times, they differ so much that harmonising them takes time and consideration, as we’ve seen.

And this is exactly what we’d expect if their accounts were honest, independent, and based on eyewitness testimony.

Warts and All

The same holds true of other embarrassing details in the Bible. Too often, the main characters in Scripture are—to put it bluntly—idiots.

Abraham is a chronic liar. David has an affair. The nation of Israel can’t stop sinning. The disciples betray Jesus and run away. The early church was a hot mess.

“For Bible writers to include these details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.”

If the Bible really was made up by the people who wrote it, why didn’t they try to make themselves look less stupid?

Ancient cultures had a strong honour-shame dynamic. In other words, for Bible writers to include these warts-and-all details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.

The Best News in the World

During the last four posts, we’ve explored the Bible’s uniqueness, its preservation, its historicity and its internal coherence. On each count, it has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.

People today are reluctant to accept the Bible’s claims. At one level, this is understandable. Scripture holds out high moral standards; it strips away our self-reliance; it speaks of a great day of accountability for every soul.

“The Bible has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.”

But that’s not all it does. It also gives us unspeakable promises, like these from Romans 8.

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

“The Bible gives us unspeakable promises.”

No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If the Bible is a trustworthy document, it’s not bad news. It turns out to be the best news in the world.

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Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.