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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Images of the Savior (20 – His Forgiving of a Sinful Woman) | Main | Images of the Savior (21 – The Accusation of Partnership with Beelzebub) »

    Not Pursuing Justice

    Matthew 26:59-63

    Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent.

    We have a tendency to rabidly pursue justice for ourselves, and to ignore when others are wronged or oppressed. That's why we look at Jesus' silence in the face of death-by-false-witness, and wish we could yell at him to defend himself. It just isn't right that a man who has done nothing wrong wouldn't stand up for himself, especially when he's facing certain death because of his silence. So Jesus is weird. We knew that.

    Peter doesn't seem weird to us, however. Even if our best inclination is that he should go try to defend Jesus from the murderous clergymen, we're not really surprised that he doesn't. It's a rare man who goes out of his way to risk his life for another. So Peter is like most of us. We knew that.

    What do you do when you're wronged? When someone in the church accuses you of sin you didn't commit, or when some busybody threatens to call the police because you disciplined your child in public? When the boss fires you for no reason, or when the persecutors come to set fire to your home because you're a Christian? When anyone says or does anything that wrongly damages your reputation?

    We would all probably instinctively get defensive, stand up and shout out, "I've done nothing wrong!" We would pursue justice for ourselves. But then we look at what Jesus did when he was falsely accused, and it gives us pause to rethink. Should we instead be silent like he was? Should we stand there, like Stephen, and let the evildoers throw their stones? Even if it means our death? And should we be expected to muster up the grace, like Jesus and Stephen both, to call upon God's mercy for those who do us harm?

    I wish I could say, "it depends." Maybe it does, but I think generally it's pretty clear what Christians are supposed to do when wronged. The Scriptures do not call on us to defend ourselves. Christ is our defense, even if those who would harm us couldn't care less. We would like to get the good that we deserve (and not get the bad that we don't deserve). But in Christ, graciously, we get far better than what we deserve (and, mercifully, don't get what we do deserve). Superjustice has already prevailed, as God has punished all our wrongdoings in Jesus, and we now stand before him acquitted of all things. Who can bring any charge against us, in God's sight?

    If we know that our identity, our reputation, our defense, our justice is secure in Jesus, we can stand there and let people wrong us all day long (isn't that what sinners do to each other, anyway?). We don't have to pursue justice for ourselves. That's not to say we don't pursue justice for others—the Bible is replete with commands to defend the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan.

    Christian Martyrs inspire us. We're not sure we could do what they have done, but we know we ought to be able to. How can we speak blessing over those who would harm us? They certainly don't deserve mercy and grace from God for what they're doing to us! Should we really be expected to say, "Forgive them, Lord—don't hold this against them"…?

    We should be able to pray for those who wrong us. God isn't gracious toward those who deserve it—no one deserves God's grace, even those of us who are being killed for our faith! If we don't ask for grace for those who kill us, we're making a statement; "I'm better than you, I deserve grace, but you don't." This is a terrible lie, self-deception, and rejection of God's clear revelation that we're all sinners. If we don't ask for grace for those who kill us, we're not really asking for grace for ourselves (because we're not asking for grace for people just like us).

    Jesus didn't pursue justice for himself, but was silent and let himself be wronged. And he did it for the sake of others (namely God, you, and other sinners like you). Imitate him.

    Posted by Eric Costa on May 4, 2007 12:50 PM

    Comments

    thanks for the post...very encouraging and convicting for me. i am possibly the worlds most defensive person. i really need to learn God's grace and Christ's willingness to be persecuted.

    shalom
    peter

    So, a Christian woman who is raped should not scream, much less file charges? If your car is stolen, it would be un-christian to call the police? If people at work are deceitfully ruining your reputation to the point that you are going to lose your job purely because of slander, then being a Christian requires that you just let it go?

    Does a Christian have absolutely no responsibility to challenge evil now in order to spare future victims of the same assaults?

    Cowardice is virtue, and courage is sin?

    The author of this article has posited the text as though Matthew 26:59-63 is the sole account we have of Jesus "dealing with" evil doers. It is not the sole account we have. In fact, this was a rare occasion when Jesus was not verbally confrontational towards evil. Do you think they wanted to kill Him because He was nicely silent all the time?

    The author also mentions that Stephen did not resist the stones that were being thrown to kill him. No, but he sure did plenty of confronting right before that!

    Job was hardly passive when his three friends misunderstood and even slandered him. Maybe I missed it, but I don't recall God calling Job a merely self-preserving slob for having done so.

    Sometimes, remaining silent is one of the most self-preserving and self-serving things a person can do. It really does "depend" on the circumstance. The author of this article seems to think that all circumstances are created equal, and that silence in the face of evil ought always to be the stuff of Christians.

    Many times, it is only a cloak for cowards.

    It is disturbing to find a teacher hanging the entirety of anything on a single passage of scripture.

    Cindy

    I'm apologize for being hasty. Often I don't qualify my statements enough, or balance them, or provide biblical support, when I'm just trying to get thoughts out of my head before they escape. I should say that I was dealing mostly in the realm of receiving false accusations against oneself.

    It's completely understandable, normal, and human to respond to situations like rape or other personal injury with violence in search of justice. I wouldn't blame anyone for doing it (I myself have many weapons at my disposal for such, "just in case"). I have very little idea how Jesus would respond to such things, and I hope such things never come close enough to my life that I should have to try to figure out how a Christian response would be different. I'm not a pacifist (does that make me a violentist?), as I believe in just war, defending one's home and country, etc. I'm not entirely sure how this interacts with letting oneself be wronged, and I shouldn't paint so broadly that it comes across like I do. Again, I apologize.

    Let me say, however, that the Bible gives more than one example of people allowing themselves to be wronged, even to the point of death. I pointed out Jesus and Stephen. I can't think of any time when Jesus actually defended himself in the face of false accusations—I only quoted the text I did to show that our Savior suffered injustice at the precise moment when he pursued Great Justice for his people.

    Joseph in Genesis also suffered great wrong, and the Bible says nothing about him defending himself. Potiphar's wife had him thrown into jail for how many years on false charges? God obviously wanted him there, providentially, so it's a good thing he didn't make an appeal.

    God told Hosea to suffer having a prostitute for a wife, even though that reflected very badly on him, and his wife sinned against him repeatedly in surely painful ways.

    Jesus said, "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also [personal injury?]. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well [legal trouble?]. And if anyone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles [kidnapping?]" (Mt. 5.39-41).

    1 Cor. 6 talks about the fact that Christians ought to let themselves be wronged and defrauded rather than take a brother or sister to court.

    1 Pet. 2.18-24 says, "Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."

    Then, two verses later, Peter admonishes women to "likewise be subject" to their husbands, to win them over by pure conduct. (That means, like servants who suffer at the hands of unjust masters, like Jesus suffered revilings and didn't revile in return, wives are to submit to authority in their lives, even if it means suffering.)

    Paul says in Rom. 12, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'"

    Cowardice is no virtue (Rev. 21.8), and I'm not proposing this as a way to cloak one's cowardice. On the contrary, it is supremely courageous to believe that justice WILL be served, even though you die and do not see it until The Day Of The Judge.

    I don't know where the boundaries are, but I see as a general rule in Scripture that we are to allow ourselves to be wronged, to pursue grace for our persecutors, and to let God bring justice in his own time. This is imitation of Christ, and obedience to his Word.

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