Fear can be an instrument for good. The fear of falling to your death may prevent you from standing dangerously close to an edge. This is a healthy fear. But fear can also be used as a weapon to hinder good. The fear of social disapproval may prevent you from doing or saying the right thing. This is misplaced fear. It’s the sort of fear that shouldn’t control our lives, and yet today, many are consumed by it.
The fear of being called a bad name, slapped with a dangerous label, or accused of thinking a wrong thing largely dictates what people can and cannot say, despite how harmless, good, or true it may be.
But if we wish to gain any ground in the public square, we must overcome our misplaced fear of being called bad names. We will be called bad names. That’s a certainty. Jesus was called bad names, but that did not prevent him from doing what was right. He spoke the truth, regardless of opposition because his God-given mission was not defined, dictated, or directed by those attempting to silence him.
It’s no different today. Political and religious discourse is dominated by name-calling in an effort to shut down an opponent without having to grapple with his ideas. We don’t need a debate on “racism” or “hate” because everybody knows these things are wrong. Simply, mark your opponent as a hate-filled racist, and you don’t need to entertain his arguments. We’ve already agreed that both racism and hate are wrong.
But false accusations of “racism” or “hate” are oftentimes only used to silence those who are neither racist nor hateful. It’s only those who reject such labels that the false charge is designed to silence. An out-and-proud racist doesn’t care if you identify his racism. He may even help you do it. As such, it is only those who are not hate-filled racists who are likely to retreat when the accusation is raised.
And when it is raised, it’s not because our opponents care about such things, nor because they genuinely believe we are those things. It’s raised precisely because we are not those things, and they know that we care about not being those things.
In this sense, they’re wielding our own principles against us. They’re beating us with our own moral measuring stick. And falsely so! But what might happen if we stopped caring about their false allegations? What if we stopped caring how that dishonest and morally bankrupt segment of society viewed us? Suddenly, their false accusations would be stripped of all their silencing power.
In the book of Nehemiah, we’re told that the enemies of God wanted to prevent Nehemiah and his men from rebuilding Jerusalem’s defences. Their tactic was to weaken the hands of the workers by manufacturing misplaced fear through a false accusation.
They attempted to do this by accusing Nehemiah and his men of “intending to rebel,” and this, they argued, was why they were rebuilding the wall (Neh. 6:6). The false charge was brought against Nehemiah and his men in the hope that it would “frighten” them from their task. The enemies of God were hoping, through a false label, the workers’ hands would “drop from the work, and it would not be done.”
There is nothing new under the sun. Rather than fairly portraying their political opponents, they resorted to misrepresentations – such as accusing them of extremism, or domestic terrorism, to weaken their hands, thereby, stalling their God-given task.
The same tactic is still employed today. “I don’t want to be considered a bigot,” people think, “so, I best abandon any public defence of what’s now considered a controversial opinion.”
Had Nehemiah and his men caved to the fear of a false label their God-given work would have ended. But unlike many today, Nehemiah and his men did not listen to the false charge, nor did they allow any fear of the consequences hinder their task. Instead, Nehemiah prayed: “O God, strengthen my hands.”
In doing so, Nehemiah demonstrated for us the right response to false allegations: Do not fear, but pray to God for strength to complete the task He’s given us.
Unfortunately, this is where the church today continually fails. Many of our leaders are consumed by the fear of the world’s disapproving eye. As such, they’ve spent decades preaching sermons, writing books, and holding seminars dedicated to manufacturing cultural “relevance.” They’re terrified of the possibility that worldlings might notice that, despite assurances to the contrary, the light doesn’t really have anything in common with the darkness after all.
Consequently, we’ve seen church after church, platform after platform, venture down the easy path of compromise under the guise of “cultural relevance.” These sorts are easy to spot. They’re the ones that coddle the pagans while punching those Christians who threaten to undermine their friendship with the world.
These sorts may sooner cast out Satan with Satan. They want to win the world with the world, imagining that they can be loving like Christ without being hated like Christ. They do this by adopting, not only the world’s dishonest definitions of “racism” and “hate,” but by legitimising their disingenuous causes because they’re cloaked in the language of biblical “justice.”
Too many of our leaders imagine that pagans will be interested in Jesus when they learn he’s not all that different from the false gods they’re now serving. But that Satan clothes himself as an angel of light does not mean that Satan is God-like. He just wants the naïve to think that way, because evil never really presents itself naked. It cloaks itself in righteous euphemisms, such as “social justice,” “love,” “tolerance,” “acceptance,” “anti-racism,” “Black Lives Matter,” “climate justice,” “equality,” and so on.
In so doing, our leaders often tend to identify with the wolf wearing sheep’s clothing because they imagine there is some commonality with the sheep. The sheep’s clothing has become the point of mutual “relevance.” It’s something false shepherds can appeal to in their vain attempts to convince the wolf that the two are very much alike. Of course, anyone who dares to raise an alarm will be promptly shut down as a troublemaker who risks compromising the shepherd’s relationship with the wolves.
But they’ve forgotten the fact that the wolf doesn’t wear the sheep’s clothing because he wants to be one of the sheep. The wolf doesn’t want to belong to the flock. He wants to devour it. And social justice causes don’t employ the language of justice because they’re in pursuit of the righteousness which comes from God. Christian euphemisms are merely a cloak for something more sinister. They provide a means by which they can shut down opponents too afraid of being called a bad name.
“You’re opposed to Black Lives Matter? You must be a racist.” “You disagree with love is love? You must be fueled by hate.” “You don’t want social justice? You must want to perpetuate social injustice.”
But the Bible nowhere tells us to curb the truth to maintain a good standing with the world. We’re never told to compromise the Gospel to avoid a false charge of evil. In fact, Jesus said when we speak the truth – even in love, we should expect it. It happened to Nehemiah, along with the prophets who came before us. Jesus assured us as much.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
Speaking the truth in love – love, as defined by the Bible, not as redefined by our Christ-hating culture – is the mark of a true prophet. On the other hand, it’s the false prophets who pandered to the world, compromised their message, and pursued the pagan’s approval over that of God.
“Woe to you,” Jesus said, “when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Lk. 6:26).
There’s an expectation here that Christians will not always be thought well of in the eyes of the world. This is because there’s an expectation that Christians will reflect Jesus. He wasn’t killed for being “nice,” but for “testifying about the world, that its works are evil” (Jn. 7:7). We cannot do that without provoking some sort of resistance, and in a “civilized” culture, that usually means we’re subject to name-calling. The further the culture drifts from the Christian standard, the more opposed they’ll be to Christ, and the stronger their false allegations against us will be.
But we must free ourselves from the fear of being called bad things. We have a responsibility before God not to be those things. But we don’t have license to compromise our message to avoid being falsely labelled those things. Jesus was accused of blasphemy, but he did not blaspheme. He was called a drunkard, but he was not a boozer.
Our Lord warns us that if we were of the world, the world would love us as its own, but it is because we are not of the world that the world hates us (Jn. 15:19). The only way to win the world’s approval is to be the very thing we were called out from. And while that appears to be exactly what many of our so-called leaders are in hot pursuit of, it is compromise, and that is sin.
Little wonder Jesus calls us to remember his warning: “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (Jn. 15:20). They call Jesus bad names, they accused him of doing bad things, and he was sinless. We shouldn’t expect to be treated any better.
We are called to be faithful to the truth. The enemies of God hate the truth. And they would have us think that to speak the truth is a hateful or dangerous thing. They want us to fear their labels. They want us to fear being called bad names. But whenever the temptation arises, let us not fall back or retreat, but let us pray with Nehemiah, “O God, strengthen my hands.”