As evangelical Christians, we’ve been raised to believe in right/wrong, good/bad, truth/lies. Unfortunately this absolute dichotomy mentality is rarely true. There, I said it, call me a heretic! It’s just not true! Not everything your grandma said was true, and not everything the satanists say is a lie. Not everything your pastor does is right and not everything a murderer did was wrong. Not everything Americans have done was good, and not everything the Romans did was bad. We live in a world of shades of gray: relative good and bad, things that are more true or less, things that are more righteous or less.
Right or Wrong: A Few Examples
Killing people is wrong, right? It says so throughout the Bible. What about killing someone attacking your children? How about killing the terrorists in Iraq? Sending the serial murderer rapist to the electric chair? Not so black and white now, right?
Let’s try another, how about stealing? That’s always wrong, right? What about the military looting? What about if you’re stealing to feed an orphanage full of starving children? What if it’s just keeping the $100 you found on the street rather than turning it into the police for its owner? Again, maybe not quite so crystal clear.
Encountering the Gray
As I’ve begun to embrace the black community, to help fight for justice from the hands of their oppressors, who often look startlingly like me, I’ve had to bump into the gray. There are the two black groups that are bickering with each other. There’s the other group that’s woven a few half truths into their narrative about the history of American policing. There’s a third that’s coming up with some crazy “solutions” that seem next to impossible to implement.
As I’ve bumped into this gray, it’s been tempting to just run away and go back to the “truth” of my holy Christian huddle. After all, I was taught to “avoid every appearance of evil.” (1 Thess 5:22). Clearly that would mean that running side by side with a group that isn’t wholly truthful, good, and righteous would be off limits. As a teen, I had learned that this verse meant: don’t walk out of a bar, don’t hang out with the smokers, don’t sit in the back seat of a car, don’t, don’t, don’t, because someone might see it and think that you were doing something evil. However, that’s neither the way Jesus lived, nor the context of the verse. This verse is talking about throwing away prophetic words that aren’t from God. For more details on this, see this quality hermeneutical article from the Biola University Talbot School of Theology: https://bit.ly/BiolaTalbot.
How Did Jesus Respond to the Gray
Now that we know that 1 Thessalonians 5:22 isn’t saying to avoid the appearance of evil, let’s talk about how Jesus responded to the gray. Jesus embraced the gray. Think about the woman at the well (John 4). In verse 27, the disciples rejoin Jesus:
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
In the modern culture, this would read something like “Peter walked up to Jesus and said, ‘Um, Rabbi, I don’t know if you realize this or not, but that woman sleeps around and if the people in town see you talking to her you’re going to loose your reputation and donors.'”
Jesus didn’t care whatsoever that him talking to that woman looked evil. His Father had called Him to go talk to that woman and so that’s what He did. For a few more examples, check out Luke 7:36-50, Luke 19:1-10, and Matthew 9:9-13.
What Are We Called To Do
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!Matthew 10:24-25 NIV
While Jesus Christ, God incarnate, walked the earth, he was called a friend of sinners, friend of tax collectors, gluton, drunkard, and Beelzebul. I have been called very few of those names…in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been called any of them! Perhaps its time that we start behaving like our master, teacher, and Lord and not being worried about the appearance of behavior and instead worry about the fruit of our behavior. Will this action lead people to Christ, proclaim Good News to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, free the captives, release the prisoners, and proclaim the favor of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19)? If so, who cares what it looks like! Who cares whether people decide we’re a friend of sinners, liars, and other disreputables! Who cares whether someone decides that we don’t fit their church, aren’t fit to minister, aren’t fit to receive their donations, or aren’t fit to lead a small group! The Pharisees didn’t think Jesus was fit to be a Rabbi, let alone the savior of the world! Let’s worry more about looking like the real Jesus, friend of sinners, and carrying out his work on this earth and less about whether we will be perceived to be doing evil. Jesus didn’t care and neither should we!