Don’t Celebrate Unkindness. Celebrating historical figures gets complicated in a hurry. As soon as you find something inspiring about someone, you often find something troubling. None of us are perfectly consistent. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is only one totally uncomplicated hero worth celebrating without an asterisk or qualification.
That doesn’t mean that the only person we can celebrate is Jesus. To encourage his readers in their faith, the author of Hebrews points to the faithful example of saints who have come before. The thing is, so many of them are scoundrels. The list includes drunks, thieves, liars, adulterers, and murderers. But Hebrews 11 is not celebrating those sins. It’s celebrating the faith of those sinners despite their sins. That difference is instructive for us.
Consider someone like Martin Luther. Luther was a clear voice for the sufficiency of God’s work in salvation, so much so that his work and words kicked off a revolution. He was a gifted mind and a clear thinker. He was also a jerk. At times, Luther’s theological disagreement turned into ad hominem attacks. He was antisemitic, authoring a book, On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he advocated violence against Jewish people and their property.
Does this flaw mean we should not celebrate Luther? I can see that argument, especially in certain contexts. It means at the very least we should celebrate the right things about Luther rather than celebrating his worst qualities.
Here’s why this matters now. In many churches, it seems, it’s OK to be a jerk if you’re a jerk to the right people. Personal unkindness toward political or theological opponents can be seen as bravery or championing orthodoxy. Some who have adopted such postures and methods point to men like Luther to justify being unkind. But celebrating Luther for his bombasity and cruelty toward his opponents is like celebrating King David for his philandering. While it is true that he was used by God in spite of this flaw, the flaw should never be minimized, or worse, celebrated.
Scripture is remarkably clear about people and their complicated nature. Scripture presents its heroes as flawed and complicated, in need of a perfect savior. The remarkable thing about our God who is both just and justifier is that He knows how complicated and flawed we are, yet he has not moved his standards down to us. His commandments are good. By his Spirit, he calls us to be kind, gentle, loving, and patient (Galatians 5:22–23). We don’t get to discard those commands when we’re talking to people who disagree with us. In fact, that’s when we need them most.
When Christians forego the fruit of the Spirit and are unkind, harsh, unloving, and impatient, we become less like Jesus, even if we become more like someone we revere. That’s a bad trade. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Insofar as we imitate imperfect humans in their godliness, our North Star does not change.
Let us take care to walk in the Spirit. May our kindness, even in disagreement, commend our witness and point to the character of God who works such qualities in us.
- Pray that God would reveal to us our hidden faults and ways we might be unkind in disagreement (Psalm 19:12).
- Pray through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, asking God to work those qualities in you.
- Think of someone you disagree with. Pray that God would make you kind in disagreement, compromising neither truth nor character.