by Al Maxey
Issue #725 -------
July 17, 2017
Mirrors should reflect a little
before throwing back images.
Jean Cocteau [1891-1963]
Solomon observed, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, KJV). Almost all things may find an appropriate and approved expression given the proper time and circumstances. There are times and places when laughter is in order; there are times when it is not. War and peace, mourning and celebration, birth and death, killing and healing, planting and reaping. And, yes, there are also times when it is best to remain silent. On the other hand, there are clearly times when one must speak (vs. 7b). If only we all had the wisdom to know when to do which! I know I have failed on that count numerous times, and will undoubtedly continue to do so! We humans have a tendency to react rather than reflect, which rarely serves us well. And, yes, I speak from personal experience! When you are a public figure, and your teachings are in the public domain, you will not only have those who admire you and your work (and this can be a danger in itself), but you will also find a cadre of committed caustic critics who are determined to defy, denounce and defeat you every chance they get. It is very hard not to respond in kind to such people, and in the early decades of my ministry I must admit that I "gave back as good as I got." I like to think I've mellowed since then; I no longer find any satisfaction in theological brawling, and largely ignore the attacks of critics. Yet, I realize that if I am to be faithful to my calling as a pastor and teacher, there are times I must speak out, rather than remain silent, when Truth is being assaulted. Silence is not "golden" in such circumstances.
These days I try to focus more on reflective responses to teachings than reactive responses to teachers. It is not always easy to do, and I'm not always successful. King David shared this same struggle, and at one point determined he would simply remain silent in the face of wicked opposition, lest his responses prove to be equally ungodly. In time, however, he could hold back no longer; he had to speak out! "I said, 'I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.' I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, and my distress grew worse. My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue" (Psalm 39:1-3, ESV). "The poet was sorely tempted to speak rash words and raise unseemly questions. This he had determined not to do, particularly since the wicked were watching for such an outburst. He sought to guard his tongue closely, to muzzle his mouth, even as time passed to be mute-tongued and silent, and to make himself be quiet altogether. But it did no good" [Dr. John I. Durham, The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 250]. There were times when Jesus, our great example and pattern, uttered not a word as He was being verbally eviscerated; there were also times when He let loose on them with both barrels blazing! Yes, there is a time to be silent, but there is also a time to speak up and speak out! May God give us the wisdom to know when and where to do which!
Over the years I have had a number of readers of these Reflections (including my own dear, and now departed, mother) say they would rather I avoid responding to critics, or those teaching things harmful to the One Body, and focus my efforts only on positive, uplifting studies from God's Word. I don't take offence when people suggest this, for I believe they make a very valid point. That point is especially valid when any writer or speaker, myself included, goes after a person rather than a position (a teacher rather than his or her teaching), which I admit I have done at times. In my last Reflections (Reflections #724: "Sow Thou Not Infertile Icebergs") I pointed out the biblical truth, as perceived in several passages, that a point can be reached in one's dealings with those who are willfully and obstinately ignorant when the best course one can follow is to abandon them to their ignorance and the consequences thereof, and to move on to those who genuinely have a desire to listen and learn. A dear sister-in-Christ who lives in Texas, and who has been a solid supporter of this ministry for years, wrote, "Al, you never cease to amaze me! I always look forward to being challenged and educated by your writings. This one was absolutely excellent from beginning to end. However, you probably need to heed your own advice and 'turn and walk away from those who will not consider any position or practice not their own.' Your patience and endurance of those people have far exceeded what God expects. May you feel God's extra special blessing today and always!" A reader in Michigan was a little more blunt. He wrote, "Al, what an encouraging Reflections this one has been. You have clearly drawn a line in the sand. This is a line that many of us have already drawn. My wife and I drew this line four years ago. I dearly enjoy reading your writings, but am tiring of the mention of those who attack you. I am hoping that this article reflects a break from that form. Please ignore those folks and focus on those who realize what a powerful source of spiritual information you can be. Leave the rocks and icebergs behind and move on to the fertile fields."
I think most of us would prefer, by far, to hear positive, uplifting, encouraging messages from our spiritual leaders. I would even go so far as to say that this should be the nature of the vast majority of their teaching. After all, are they not called to be proclaimers of "Good News"? Those who are familiar with my teaching, preaching, writing and public speaking over the 41 years of my public ministry can attest that I do indeed focus more on positive themes than negative. A truly effective ministry, however, will not be exclusively one over the other, but rather a judicious balance of the two. Further, for the "negative" lessons to be effective, the focus should always be an exposition of a position, not an excoriation and/or evisceration of a person; critically examining a teaching, not a teacher (although one may need to provide the source information of that teaching [i.e., name, location, etc. of the teacher] as a point of reference so that one's hearers may examine his/her material for themselves at the source to see if what we say about that position or teaching is valid, a courtesy I have always sought to extend to those whose materials I have referenced or reviewed). Paul informed Timothy that there will always be those who want only to hear certain things proclaimed (2 Timothy 4:3-4). But Timothy was charged to preach a balanced spiritual diet: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (vs. 2). Our attitude is key, suggests Paul, in how effective our teaching will be. There is a time for pleasant speech; there is a time for pointed speech, but let the latter be done with an abundance of love, great patience, and extensive instruction. Because Truth is so precious and vital, it is essential that proclaimers of Truth not only faithfully declare it, but forcefully defend it as well. As a pastor, I take very seriously Paul's following charge: "For the overseer must ... hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach" (Titus 1:9-11).
Those who are called to speak for the Lord God must be faithful to that calling, although this will not always be popular with the people to whom God has sent them. Those of us who preach and teach know only too well that the temptation is great to amend the message so that it (more likely: so that we) might be more popular and accepted. This is not only a dangerous practice, but a deadly one! The Lord strongly condemned the religious leaders of His people for this very failing: "From the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:13-14). I like the way the Living Bible phrases that last statement: "You can't heal a wound by saying it's not there! Yet the priests and prophets give assurances of peace when all is war." If there is a gaping wound in the Body, then those called to be watchmen must speak of that wound, how it got there, and how it is to be healed. If there is conflict, it must be addressed; if there is division, it must be confronted; if there is false teaching, it must be exposed and refuted. We dare not do less, for we shall be called to account if we do. The writer of Hebrews informs the believers that their spiritual leaders "keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account" (Hebrews 13:17). "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur stricter judgment" (James 3:1). Yes, there are some great blessings associated with our calling to serve as pastors of His flock: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Timothy 5:17, NIV). But, judgment will be severe for those shepherds who failed to guard and protect, as well as feed and nourish, the Lord's sheep. I would urge a careful, prayerful reading and study of Ezekiel 33-34, for in it our God has some fearful warnings for those He calls to be watchmen and shepherds. Yes, there is a time and place for being silent; there is also a time and place for speaking out against teachings and practices contrary to God's Will and Word. There are even times when the persons promoting such teaching and practice must be exposed, yet I pray the Lord will help us be judicious in doing so, and I also pray His people will be patient and understanding when those times become necessary for those of us called to guard the Flock and defend the Truth.
From an Author/Lecturer in Arizona:
Dear Brother Al, I finished reading your book "Down, But Not Out" weeks ago, so this note is long overdue, and I apologize for not doing this sooner. Your book proved to be by far the most helpful, insightful, logical, spiritual and biblical information I have ever read on this topic, and I have been preaching for 62 years, and have even written a book on marriage and divorce myself. I just wanted to let you know the depth of my gratitude for the study, insight, knowledge and spiritual wisdom I found in your book! Thank you, and may God's blessings rest upon you. I hope to meet you face-to-face some day and get to know you better.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
I continue to enjoy your Reflections. That you have collected in your writings the diverse thoughts of Christians, living or dead, sincere or dogmatic, is a credit to you and a great resource for us. With regard to the thief on the cross and his salvation (Reflections #723: "Unplunged Penitent Perpetrator: A Question about the Thief on the Cross and the Sacramental View of Baptism in Water"), I merely reflect that it can be as simple as this criminal observing the witness of the life of Jesus as He underwent His passion, thus coming to full belief that He was indeed who He said He was, for even though He had taught like no other, He was now dying like no other. It was the powerful witness of the very life and death of Jesus the Christ that convinced him and converted or restored his heart to saving belief.
From a Reader in Arizona:
Al, I just finished "Sow Thou Not Infertile Icebergs: Inspired Injunction Against the Invincibly Ignorant: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 14:38" (Reflections #724). This article is truly delightful. Jesus' words in John 8:32 ("You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free") offer hope for all who will recognize their need for Him. In John 9:41 we hear Jesus saying to the Pharisees, who were obstinate in their ignorance, "But since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains!" I'm looking forward to meeting you, Al, and seeing His love in your face!
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Jesus told us not to cast our pearls before swine. There are times, though, when I believe we should respond to those "who can never be wrong." Those times are: (1) when the issue impacts the Faith [Jude 3], and (2) when there is a real opportunity to teach others who may be listening to the conversation. Otherwise, one is just arguing with a wall. I do not mind someone who is confident in their beliefs. I am very confident in mine, as I have put a lot of thought and study into what I believe. What I do strongly dislike is someone who effectively believes he/she is without error in what they believe and practice. I know that I am with error as I recognize and admit that I am a finite human being trying to fully and perfectly understand the infinite, something that is, by definition, impossible. As Carl Ketcherside once admitted, "Of course I fellowship with brethren who are in error. I know of no other kind." BTW I did an Internet search of "Al Maxey and Carl Ketcherside" to see if you had written anything on him, and I came across an article by Dr. Leroy Garrett that I found very interesting. It was an article that he indicated he wrote at your behest, calling for the Churches of Christ to admit to being a denomination, but to strive to be a "denomination in protest." That article is titled: "Future of Churches of Christ." His article was published on September 29, 2006. He began it with this introduction: "Al Maxey, who writes provocative and resourceful essays on the Internet, plans to do a series on the future of Churches of Christ. He asked me, along with other of his readers, to submit our observations on this subject. Once I did so, I decided you might be interested in what I had to say." Further, I don't know if you ever run "repeats" of your Reflections, but I came across one of your older articles called "Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9" (Reflections #215). This was very good, and I think you should consider a rerun, as it provides great context for your response to men like Hugh Fulford.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
"Sow Thou Not Infertile Icebergs" is an excellent article, Al. I am reminded of the Lord's warning recorded in Matthew 7:6 - "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their foot, and turn and tear you to pieces." God bless you!
From an Elder in North Carolina:
Boy!! I thought for a couple of paragraphs ("Sow Thou Not Infertile Icebergs") you were talking about our current President. I am sure that is not the case, although it all applies in my view. I do know the ones you were talking about in this article, but the principles you mention certainly apply to a lot more areas than just religion. I have thought for some time that God must have had a purpose in giving us the leader He gave us, and after reading your entire article, I wonder if this is exactly where we are with God today: Is He giving us a real taste of what ignorance and arrogance will do? Will we learn, or not? Everyone is ignorant about something, but refusal to learn is by definition "stupidity." "I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech" (Proverbs 8:13).
From an Elder in Texas:
Someone once said, "Ignorance is not a great problem as long as we realize the extent of our ignorance." I think that is true, because in a sense we are all ignorant - just ignorant about different things!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, I have read your article on "sowing icebergs," and couldn't help but think of Matthew 13:10-15, especially the quote there from Isaiah 6:9-10 - "You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them." Have a great day in Jesus!
From a Reader in Nova Scotia, Canada:
I once worked for a store manager who thought he knew everything. He was never open to suggestions to improve the store. This store was one of the last of the 103 stores in that chain that operated in Canada. I was so upset with him one day that I said, "The only thing that exceeds your arrogance is your ignorance!" I needed a new job the next day. That chain of stores has long since gone bankrupt. I heard it said that there is only a slight difference between stupid and genius. You can't help those who don't want help, or who don't believe they need help. Love ya, brother.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Excellent issue of your Reflections, Al. I am going to be borrowing the quotes from your first paragraph for use later! So many applications. I was encouraged by the comments made on 1 Corinthians 14:38 regarding the arrogance of the Corinthian church. It is my understanding that Paul is commenting directly on their position that women should remain silent in the assembly according to some local law. Perhaps Paul was still miffed by what their position was regarding women praying in and speaking to the assembly without proper attire (chapter 11)? Seems the men were indeed arrogant regarding their "superior" position in the church. Talk about a long-held ignorant position! Keep knocking down walls, brother!
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