Mean What You Say

I always dreaded student council election time in high school. Everyone made such a big fuss over a relatively pointless institution. I know, I am being very negative and cynical. But, really, did your high school student council ever completely overhaul school policies and culture in such a way that they made a lasting, positive impact? I remember one presidential candidate who won on the platform of the promise of a new pop machine in the lunch room. It didn’t hurt that he was also a popular athlete.

We never saw the pop machine.

Of course the same thing happens at higher levels of government. Many politicians have made names for themselves by making promises they can’t or never intend to keep. Or maybe I am judging too quickly. Maybe they always intended to keep them until they discovered the difficulty or danger to their careers, and so they changed their minds. Whatever the case, politics has become a bitter subject for many people. However, kingdom politics are meant to be different.

We are all politicians. We do our best to influence one another, to push our agendas (whether selfish or otherwise), to sway the public’s opinion of us. When we encounter people we generally want them to like us, so we smile, and exchange pleasantries, and do our best to keep up our images. This is especially obvious when we encounter people we view as difficult, inconvenient, or just plain annoying. We will do everything we can to limit contact with such people while making sure they don’t know we are trying to limit contact with them. And when we really want to say, “No,” but we don’t want to hurt feelings or collect glares and frowns, we give answers that sound like, “Yes,” or, “Very likely,” but really are intended to leave ourselves a way out.

But, Jesus invites us to try a different style of politics:

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:37)

By this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been addressing some of God’s laws that the people had twisted and abused. In this case they took a law that said that any oath made to God must be kept, and they found a way around it by coming up with all sorts of oaths that sounded solid, vows to heaven, or Jerusalem, or the earth, but were intended to leave the oath-maker a way out. And Jesus tells them plainly that this is evil.

Thinking about Jesus’ teachings here is not pleasant. When I think about answers I’ve given, answers intended to keep the questioner from thinking poorly of me, but designed to be a “no” in a “yes” disguise, I feel pretty guilty. When I think of broken promises and flat out lies, I feel very guilty. It’s easy to justify my answers, and claim that I am just looking out for the other person by not hurting their feelings. But, then, Jesus leaves little room for doubt when He tells me to say “Yes” or “No” and mean it.

As much as I get aggravated with sneaky politics, broken promises, and misleading statements, you’d think I’d have learned by now to avoid them in my own life. But I haven’t. Lord, help me to be more honest.

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11 thoughts on “Mean What You Say

  1. Clint,

    This reminds me of a scene in the movie “Amistad”. The slaves who took over the ship are given a lawyer who must speak to them through an interpreter. The slaves ask the lawyer if he can help them. The lawyer answers that he will try. The interpreter tells him that he can’t relay the message because there is no word for such in the slave’s native tongue – they only answer “yes” or “no”.

    Certainly there are times when we simply cannot give a definitive answer, but when we’re avoiding giving one out of fear/laziness/etc., we’re not following the instructions of our Master as you’ve clearly pointed out.

  2. Corey,
    It has been a long time since I have seen that movie, but I vaguely remember what you’re talking about. It’s just a shame when we have to read into everything people say. Hopefully we as Christians can do better about just being clear and honest with one another. Thanks for the scene reminder. I may have to watch that movie again soon.

    • Jeremiah17,

      I assume your reference is to John 10, Jesus’ wonderful description of the true Shepherd. In that explanation is a reference to hirelings or hired hands who seem to take up some responsibility in watching out for the sheep, but when the job gets difficult or dangerous they quit or run away because they don’t really care about the sheep.

      So, to answer your question, it would seem from Jesus’ used of the term that a hireling is a leader of God’s people who is motivated by selfishness, or at least by something other than love for the sheep. Contextually, He is probably referring primarily to the leaders of Israel who came before Him (John 10:8) who did not properly lead the people. Malachi chapters 1 and 2 is a good section to look at regarding these leaders who should have been teaching the people, but failed to do so (Malachi 2:7). Jesus is most likely also thinking of the leaders of His day who He had so many encounters with, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. They showed again and again that they wanted to lead, but didn’t care for the people.

      As for present-day application…I think it absolutely applies today. Although Jesus’ primary purpose is to show how He contrasts as a true leader against the so-called “shepherds” before Him, the principles He denounces should be avoided today. Any leader of God’s people must love the people to be a true leader. That means he must be willing to face the difficulty and danger involved…even willing to lay down his life for the people if necessary. There is no room for power-hungry, selfish, or greedy leaders in the church.

  3. As used in Scripture, a “hireling” or “hired hand” (Gk. misthotos) is a person who receives wages for the work they do. In Luke 10.7, Jesus says his disciples are wage earners since they receive “wages” for their labor. Also, 1 Timothy 5.17, the elders who “rule well” are worthy of the “double honor,” an expression which I believe means pay them their wages for their work, especially in light of v.18 where Paul quotes Jesus from Luke 10.7. So here is the positive idea of a hired servant.
    Jesus also points to the hireling who runs off while tending sheep. Here, then, is the converse. He uses this to illustrate that He, being the Good Shepherd, will never leave his flock, He knows his sheep intimately, and He will lay down his life for his sheep.

  4. The difference between a “hireling” and a wage-earner would be motivation, no?

    A wage-earner is compensated for work that they gladly do for the kingdom’s sake. A hireling does the work solely for the pay. The wage-earner loves the one he serves. The hireling loves the money he earns.

  5. Corey,

    I think that would be about right…..although the terms are not really that strict I don’t think. The negative term Jesus uses in John 10 is only used there and in Mark 1 to refer to hired hands helping on Zebedee’s fishing boat. So, it’s obvious the term just means a hired laborer.

    But, the difference between one person preaching the gospel for money and another preaching the gospel and receiving money is the motivation. Of course money is not the only improper motivation that would make a preacher simply a John 10 hireling…it could be the power or reputation or whatever. I think Jesus’ point is that we will find out the hirelings and true shepherds when the thief or wolf arrives. That’s when love, or lack of love, will show itself.

  6. Jeremiah17,

    I am not quite clear about your point. I am not sure if we are in agreement–that a hireling is a leader who does not truly care for the church…..or if you are suggesting that any leader who is paid is a hireling, and, therefore, worthless.

    If we agree, then great. If your contention is the second explanation (or close to it), then I am not sure how you come to that conclusion. What is your reasoning behind that interpretation? What scriptural support does it have? Are you sure Jesus, in John 10, was even talking about paid preachers? Isn’t it possible that Jesus is using the term “hireling” in a metaphorical sense…as an illustration?

    Keep in mind:
    1 Corinthians 9:14 (ESV)
    “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
    See the whole section beginning with verse 1 down through verse 14. See also Matthew 10:10, which seems to be Paul’s basis for saying that paid preachers is the Lord’s command.

  7. I think this may apply to every Christian. There’s work to be done. It should be approached with the attitude of service, instead of the attitude of what I can get out of this. A person will stick to a “cause” more closely for love and caring than for other gain.

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