“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12 NASB).
We often look to Bible heroes with rose-colored glasses. Abraham was so faithful! Paul was the first itinerant missionary! David was a man after God’s own heart! Peter was a great preacher! But all of these men had their serious faults. Abraham was a liar and adulterer, Paul was a murderer and hardly got along with his own missionary team, David used his power for great abuse and coverup, and Peter was still struggling with doing the right thing in public well after his conversion. I don’t wish to focus on their faults, but rather to point out that human vessels are like jars of clay. God can use anyone, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can be doozies with far-reaching implications, even in the midst of doing God’s work. Nevertheless, these are folks who have been used by God in powerful ways.
I think of Nehemiah, one of the men called to inspire post-exilic Israel to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. What a noble task! He left his high-ranking job in service of a king in order to go and do the difficult task of organizing a bunch of aimless men, while also dealing with flak from neighboring countries who didn’t want to see the project completed. The man was a skilled orator, project manager, and politician. Aside from that, he was faithful to God’s word, and sensitive to turning away from past practices that caused Israel’s exile in the first place.
As a strong defender of right practice, Nehemiah promised to “use force” against merchants who fostered the breaking of the Sabbath (13:21). Regarding families who were considering letting their children marry outside the Jewish faith, Nehemiah quarreled with them, cursed at them, and pulled their hair out until they vowed not to do such a thing (13:25). We may, to some degree, celebrate this zealous show of force. Somebody had to step in and do something, we may say. However, author Sigve Tonstad in his book The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day makes the inference that it may be this show of force that set the tone for some of the baser elements of Second Temple Judaism. It may be this very strategy of beating down those who we disagree with that produced the strict and forceful Pharisees who clashed so starkly with Jesus.
Jesus certainly reacted strongly in His own way, when confronted by His Father’s house being treated like a den of thieves. However, he did not ever harm or threaten to harm people’s wellbeing, even if he did turn over some tables. In the end, Jesus’ reaction to the worst sins of the world was to go willingly Himself as a lamb to the slaughter. The Pharisees, perhaps taking a cue from Nehemiah, saw Him as a threat: ultimately resulting in their literal stamping out of the Savior of the world. Later on, the Apostle Paul (a Pharisee) did similarly to professing Christians, before His own encounter with Christ.
The point being this: we often think we are doing right when we attack someone we think is wrong. God, however, says this: “vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Jesus’ ministry included standing up for truth and telling some folks they were wrong about some things. But He never went on a campaign to hurt, “cancel,” or kill anyone He disagreed with. Instead, He focused on the important elements of His ministry: teaching, healing, and even dying for the sake of sinful humanity.
So while it’s important to stand up for what we believe is right, there is also a way to do so that reflects Jesus and a way to do so that does not. Reflecting on the verse from the top of this article, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12), it is apparent that the very death of Christ is attributed to people thinking they were doing the right thing. We are called to go beyond that: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
In today’s culture, we have not strayed far from the Pharisees. It is seen as a virtue to hurt people—even to ruin their lives or kill them—if they are deemed “wrong” enough. But it is that very impulse that led people to do the evil of killing the wrong person: Jesus. Could it be that we need to stop relying on what we see to be right and leaning on our own understanding, and instead to follow Jesus? Focusing on pursuing and teaching truth, as opposed to destroying those we disagree with, will prove to be both more fruitful to our ministries as well as healthier to our own souls in the end.
I’ll end with this quote from Ministry of Healing, p.492
“By dwelling upon the faults of others, we are changed into the same image. But by beholding Jesus, talking of His love and perfection of Character, we become changed into His image.”
Zack Payne, Youth Director