Shall we entertain the notion of biblical sarcasm and satire? The response from Christians unveils the current condition of the church. In our contemporary landscape, we unravel the misguided notion that niceness trumps other biblical virtues. But this is simply not true.
The Misbelief of Niceness
We’re entrenched in a culture that’s contorted the noble virtue of ‘love’ into a feeble concept of perpetual niceness. The upright Christian virtues of ‘kindness’ and ‘gentleness’ have been tarnished. Like rebellious children, they’ve taken control of the household, dictating everything to be done their way. It’s high time we put our house back in order. Christ’s unwavering kindness didn’t shy away from causing the offence that led to the cross. Yet, in the prevailing Christian majority, the emphasis seems to be on – “faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is ‘not popping your neighbour’s emotional balloons‘”. In fact, acknowledging or addressing these emotional balloons in public is highly discouraged.
How then do we put our theological house back in order? Christ’s kindness, contrary to popular misconceptions, was not a timid and agreeable niceness but a bold and sacrificial love that led Him to the cross. A seasoned theologian is like a seasoned builder who recognises the difference between structures that need reinforcement and those that need to come down. A poor builder will either tear everything down needlessly or unnecessarily reinforce structures that will nevertheless come down on their own eventually. And the sheer wanton fragility of the modern evangelical sentiment needs to collapse like the house of cards that it is.
The divine appointment of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers in Ephesians 4:11-16 is not for the work of the “ministry”, but rather for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. The building up of the church then is primarily the work of all the saints, though leaders are saints themselves, the role of the offices of leadership in the church is to ensure that the larger congregation is working the ministry well. And that work is not to be dictated by the terms of this world, but by the directives we find in scripture. Therefore, the fragility of the modern evangelical sentiment is one that these leaders need to work to change. They ought not to educate their congregation in the building of sand castles.
They ought to educate them in whole counsel of the word.
Winsome or Wisdom?
In modern evangelicalism, a misbelief has taken root – the notion that niceness stands as the supreme virtue, a lofty ideal even surpassing love itself. This misinterpretation has led many to redefine love as an unrelenting power that avoids causing offence rather than a force passionately desiring the good of others. As Christians, we must pause and reflect, recognizing that God has granted us the right to interpret Scripture, not to redefine it. Contemplating the embodiment of love in Jesus, we find a paradox – the very essence of love became an offence to the Jews, culminating in the crucifixion of the Son of God.
In the prevailing cultural narrative, the question arises: Couldn’t Jesus have navigated the rising tension more gracefully? Perhaps a diplomatic pause, a dinner with the Pharisees to find common ground before reproving and correcting them? This line of thinking mirrors the contemporary advice we often offer one another – a call for perpetual winsomeness. Yet, love, as depicted in the Bible, is not a fragile blossom hanging by a thread in a thunderstorm. Rather, it is the thunderstorm itself, a powerful force driving the will of God in all circumstances. It mirrors the love of a mother cradling her newborn or a warrior thrusting a spear in defence of homeland – a sentiment echoed in a Christian song that asserts, “Love is not a fight, but it is something worth fighting for.”
The biblical portrayal of love transcends our delicacy, enthroned as the immutable standard seated on the throne of thrones. It is not a passive quality but a bold and bloody matter, manifested on the cross where the Son of God hung. Christianity, therefore, is not a matter of softness but of righteousness and condemnation. The Scripture warns that if the world hated Christ, it would also hate those who bear witness to Him. The call to Christians is not an unending pursuit of winsomeness in softness but a summons to wisdom. It is an understanding that different situations demand varied responses – from welcoming children to making a whip of cords and cleansing the temple.
The Call to Imitate Christ
This wisdom challenges the prevailing notion that Christians are to imitate only the kind and gentle aspects of Christ while neglecting His firmness. The call to be conformed to the image of the Son encompasses the entirety of Christ, not selective parts. It is either all of Christ or none of Christ.
In the pursuit of virtues like kindness and gentleness, Christians must not yield to timidity but embrace them as courageous virtues. Proverbs reminds us that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, rooted not in winsomeness but in the divine glory that is great and fearsome.
As we grapple with these truths, we begin to dismantle the fragile sentimentality that pervades modern evangelicalism, acknowledging that love, in its fullness, is a force that transcends cultural expectations and societal norms. The Christian journey is not one of selective imitation but a transformation into the image of Christ, incorporating both His kindness and His firmness. It is an understanding that love, in its truest form, takes no prisoners and cares more for the ultimate good than fleeting emotions.
Satire in Scripture
Now, let’s dive into the contentious waters of satire. Satire, to clarify, is the exposure of human vice or folly through rebuke or ridicule. On the other hand, a polemic is a bold and critical attack on someone or something, often expressing a controversial opinion.
Satire, to clarify, is the exposure of human vice or folly through rebuke or ridicule. On the other hand, a polemic is a bold and critical attack on someone or something, often expressing a controversial opinion.
My case rests on the assertion that the Bible itself employs satire as a literary device, and one notable master of this craft is none other than Jesus. The great Doug Wilson, in his book ‘The Serrated Edge,’ a title that inspired the sermon, and subsequently this article, aptly captures the paradox faced by Christians who dare to use satire today. He makes note of our peculiar position where a Christian who employs satire is swiftly summoned to account for their “unbiblical” behaviour. This oddity becomes apparent when we consider the scenario of a man dismissively referring to respected theologians as graduates from “Bag of Snakes Seminary.” Instantly, he would be rebuked for his un-Christlike conduct. However, the twist in this tale reveals that the speaker was none other than Christ Himself, as recorded in Matthew 23:33: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?“
To understand the nuances of satire, let’s explore two types named after famous Roman satirists. First, there’s Horatian satire, characterized by its light, urbane, and subtle nature. Luke, according to Doug Wilson, emerges as a biblical master of this form. An example surfaces in Acts 17:21, where Luke takes a sly jab at the philosophy department at the University of Athens. Those learned individuals “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.“
The second type is Juvenalian satire, named after Juvenal, known for its biting, bitter, and angry tone. Amos and Jesus’ scathing oratory against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 epitomises this form. Notably, Jesus leaned more towards Juvenalian satire than the lighter Horatian style.
While I’m itching to delve into the pervasive presence of satire in various parts of the Bible, I’ll restrain myself and save that pleasure for next week. Here, let’s lay a more basic foundation for understanding the biblical roots of satire.
Note on Arrogance
Let’s navigate the tricky terrain of arrogance and the use of satire in the Christian walk. First things first, it’s not arrogance to speak the truth with the aim of bringing glory to Christ. What smacks of arrogance is refusing to do so or, equally sinful, doing it with no regard for God’s glory. This is not the Christian way. Now, I’m not advocating for a spiteful brand of Christianity, but rather, a wholesome one. We shouldn’t cherry-pick the kindness of Christ at the expense of his polemic, nor should we embrace his satire at the cost of his willingness to die for the sake of another.
The arrogance of modern evangelicals lies in their insistence on perpetual winsome behavior in all circumstances, foolishly confident that they know what best serves the souls of others. Their misplaced confidence suggests that gentleness at all costs will trump being truly biblical. In their arrogance, they think they know better than Christ. Scripture reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6 and Psalm 127:1 that God is the one who brings growth, and unless the Lord builds, our labor is in vain. The arrogance of modern evangelicals lies in the presumption that God will only bless if we tread gently. This, however, is not the testimony of the God of the Bible. As a Christian, you’re not the master but the slave of Christ, tasked with faithfulness to Scripture and trust in God’s providence.
Know Christ, understand him, and then strive to be like him, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I can’t emphasize enough how, at times, it’s not gentleness but the sting of rebuke that has saved my soul. Some of you may have received stern or even sarcastic words from me, and while you might label them as folly, understand that I stand by most of what I’ve said. My intent is not to cater to emotions but to faithfully and fearfully follow the example of Jesus. You should do the same.
Now, the use of sarcasm, by and large, isn’t motivated by love or the desire for good. However, the issue lies not with sarcasm itself but with the one wielding it. As I’ve often said, the abuse of something doesn’t negate its usefulness; the proper response is not cessation but correct application. Biblical sarcasm, when rightly used, is concerned with the glory of God and the good of the saints. It’s intended to make a mockery of sin and those who wholeheartedly embrace it. This serves our good by embodying the true and righteous disposition of the righteous against evil.
Atheism, ultimately, is not a reasonable matter; it’s a laughable matter. Similarly, the distortion of human sexuality isn’t a worthy debate; it’s worthy of the contempt and mockery of the righteous. While there’s a place for reason, discussion, and debate, there’s also a reason to laugh at and mock certain matters. “But how can you say that?” you might ask considering passages like Psalm 1, which pronounces blessings on those who do not sit in the seat of mockers. True as that may be, the same scripture also employs mockery to mock the mockers, as seen in 1 Kings 18:25–29 where Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal.
The interplay of kindness, gentleness, and satire is not an either-or proposition, dear reader. They are not mutually exclusive but can, when used appropriately, work together for the glory of God and the good of the saints. This is what we see in the person of Jesus Christ for lo, he was sarcastic and yet without sin.
Delving into Ephesians 4:11-15, we uncover profound insights into the purpose and role of leaders in the church, unraveling the intricacies of their divine appointment and the objectives laid out by the apostle Paul.
In Paul’s characteristic style of listing, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, while not an exhaustive catalog, constitute the leadership core within God’s kingdom on earth—the leaders of the church. These leaders, as Paul emphasizes, are not self-appointed nor chosen by the people; they are a divine gift from God Himself, orchestrating the grand design.
Ephesians 4:12 shatters common misconceptions about ministry by declaring that these leaders aren’t the exclusive laborers but equippers, aiming to prepare every saint for the work of ministry, ultimately edifying the body of Christ. Contrary to conventional thinking, the ‘work of the ministry’ is a collective responsibility assigned to all believers, not a privilege reserved for leaders. The construction of the Body of Christ involves the active participation of saints, guided by leaders in their equipping role.
Ephesians 4:13 introduces the overarching goal—a unity of faith and knowledge of Christ, leading to spiritual maturity mirroring the measure of the fullness of Christ. The mention of unity underscores the role of leaders in unifying God’s people in both knowledge and faith. This unity results in spiritual maturity, conforming believers to the stature of the fullness of Christ, not a partial imitation but a complete transformation. Leaders, therefore, are not tasked with imparting arbitrary teachings but with guiding the saints to the measure of the fullness of Christ. To teach believers to emulate Christ necessitates a comprehensive understanding of His fullness, cautioning against selective adherence to Christ’s characteristics based on cultural sensibilities. The call is not to reshape Christ according to contemporary values but to embrace the entirety of His nature.
Ephesians 4:14 provides the rationale for leaders’ role in equipping the saints—preventing spiritual immaturity, symbolised by children tossed by waves and swayed by various doctrines and deceptive schemes. The image painted is vivid—a child in a storm, tossed without direction. The leader’s responsibility is to stabilise the faith of the church, shielding it from doctrinal instability, human cunning, and deceitful schemes.
To solidify this stability, Ephesians 4:15 calls for mature believers who, far from being children, speak the truth passionately and without compromise. The emphasis here is not on softness but on love—the highest virtue that propels Christians to speak the truth boldly, prioritising the good of others over mere sentiment. True love, in this context, is unapologetic, caring more for the genuine welfare of others than their fleeting emotions.
The emphasis here is not on softness but on love—the highest virtue that propels Christians to speak the truth boldly, prioritising the good of others over mere sentiment. True love, in this context, is unapologetic, caring more for the genuine welfare of others than their fleeting emotions.
In conclusion, the call is for believers to grow in every aspect into Christ, displaying maturity by speaking the truth in love. The journey is not a selective assimilation but an all-encompassing transformation into the likeness of Christ. The leaders’ mission is pivotal in steering the church toward this maturity, navigating the turbulent seas of false doctrines and cunning schemes, ultimately bringing every believer into the fullness of Christ – including those aspects of Christ, like his polemic, that we would rather avoid.
In conclusion, we have allowed the world to redefine our language and prioritized human feelings over biblical truth and love. As Doug Wilson points out, many are hesitant to emulate Christ’s anger, fearing they might mishandle it. Yet, it’s a misguided assumption to believe that replicating Christ’s love is exempt from similar risks. This week, we shall explore the satire present in Scripture, setting the stage for our examination of Matthew 23. Brethren, brace yourselves for a journey through the serrated edges of biblical truth, for the Word of God is alive and powerful, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12).
Join us for the Lord’s Day Service this Sunday at Redemption Hill Church, and you can hear the sermon first-hand.