Although the Bible is filled with helpful wisdom from cover to cover (2 Timothy 3:16), some passages are timelier than others. In today’s world of racial and political tension, I can’t think of a more important and timely story than the day Jesus and His disciples passed through Samaria:
As they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:51-56 NKJV).
Parts of verses 55 and 56 are often omitted from modern translations. That’s because some Greek manuscripts don’t include the explanation of why Jesus rebuked James and John for their proposal to incinerate the unbelieving Samaritans.
Yet I think the full explanation is very beneficial. Jesus not only was rejecting the idea proposed by these overzealous followers, but He also was pointing out that their spirit was wrong in even making the suggestion. Even worse, James and John had demonstrated a tragic failure to understand that Jesus’ mission was to save people, not destroy them.
Peter would later display this same kind of angry spirit on the night Jesus was arrested. Attempting to come to the Lord’s aid, Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant who was part of the posse. Instead of being commended for his courage, Peter was rebuked for his wrong spirit (John 18:10-11).
What a stunning lesson! Apparently Jesus doesn’t want us to defend Him if it means cutting off people’s ears.
I’m sure if you had interviewed James, John, or Peter about their intentions in these two stories, they would have defended their actions as holy boldness or righteous indignation. They saw their rage as courage against evil and injustice.
But they didn’t realize what spirit they were of.
Yes, there are times when anger is justified – such as when George Floyd was murdered by an out-of-control cop. And can you blame those enraged by anarchists who burn and loot innocent businesses, attack police officers, and destroy statues of America’s founders?
However, while anger is often warranted, at such times we’re told to exercise self-control and refrain from sinning (Ephesians 4:26). Why? Because “human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:20 CSB).
At this point, perhaps you’re wondering about the famous story of Jesus angrily overturning the tables of the moneychangers who were defrauding people in the Temple. He was furious that instead of the Temple being a “house of prayer,” the greedy religious leaders had turned it into a “den of thieves.” Jesus was understandably upset that His Father and the Father’s house were being misrepresented.
Sometimes zealous Christians today use Biblical accounts like this to justify their own anger, but recently I saw another side of this story as presented in Luke’s Gospel (19:41-46). Immediately before Jesus angrily cleansed the Temple, He wept over the sins of the city:
“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…because you did not know the time of your visitation” (vs. 42-44).
You see, Jesus wept over people before He attempted to point out their sin and bring about their cleansing. This is a vital lesson for us today. It’s clearly a time when much repentance is needed, and cleansing must begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17-18). But where are our tears? Before going on religious or political tirades against others, we need to weep for their souls.
Is Your Spirit Under Control?
Lots of damage can be done when we speak or act in the wrong spirit. King Solomon warned, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28 NKJV). It’s hazardous to be around people who have no self-control, and a city without law and order is a dangerous place to be.
Over the years, I’ve seen many people learn this lesson the hard way. Because their temper was out of control, they got fired from a job, lost their marriage, or damaged the lives of their children.
Moses was one of the Bible’s greatest heroes. Yet, after a lifetime of faithfulness, he forfeited entrance into the Promised Land because of a fit of rage (Numbers 20:10-12). What a sobering lesson for us if we want to enter into God’s full purpose for our lives.
We live in a day when it’s never been more important to maintain the right spirit in our words and actions. But honestly, this isn’t easy! We live in a culture where it seems everyone is eager to push our buttons and provoke a response. However, it’s usually a weak excuse to claim the other guy threw the first punch.
I spend far too much time looking at what my friends post on Facebook, and I’m often horrified by their vitriol. Perhaps you think I’m referring just to hate-filled comments from those I disagree with, yet that’s not the case. Democrats and Republicans, women and men, Blacks and whites, Christians and unbelievers – I have all sorts of Facebook friends who sometimes let their spirits get out of control.
I often find myself even more upset by the tone of those who share my perspectives. While I applaud their opinions on the issues, I’m appalled by their mean spirit. And many of these folks, like me, profess to follow Jesus.
Sometimes I fall into this same trap myself, and I hate it when that happens. In a desire to prove my points and defeat my perceived cultural or theological “enemies,” I allow my spirit to become agitated. “How could they be so stupid…so ungodly…so un-American?!” I angrily groan to myself.
Meanwhile, Jesus is calling us to display the correct spirit, not just the correct opinion. In order to represent Him well, our words should bring healing and be motivated by compassion. Like the Good Samaritan, we’re called to bandage the wounds of those who are different than us and show them mercy (Luke 10:30-37).
You see, believers are called to be heaven’s ambassadors on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20, Matthews 6:10). Yet, too often, we haven’t modeled the love, joy, and peace awaiting us in the heavenly realm. Instead, we’ve followed the example of James and John, looking for an opportunity to imitate Elijah and call down judgment from heaven.
Although I try hard to have the right theology, that’s not how Jesus said the world would recognize us as His followers (John 13:34-35, 17:20-23). Rather than the world seeing us as being like our Master and imparting life and love, we’re often seen as operating in the spirit of the evil one, who comes “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10).
No Ordinary Spirit
Nothing is easier than to simply reflect the spirit of our culture and the people around us. Yet, at a time when most people seem angry and frustrated, that’s a dangerous thing!
God is calling us to be different. While I wish we would all be discerning enough to have the right political positions, the thing that will set us apart is our ability to love as Jesus loved – not just loving those we agree with, but our political and cultural enemies as well (Matthew 5:43-47).
Now’s a good time to study the story of Daniel, a young Jewish man who was exiled to Babylon. It would have been easy to grumble and complain, perhaps even to start a political uprising to remedy his unjust circumstances.
But rather than just reacting to or reflecting the corrupt pagan culture surrounding him, we’re told that this virtuous man “distinguished himself”:
Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm (Daniel 6:3 CSB).
Of course, there are lots of ways people today can try to distinguish themselves from others. Some rise to the top by displaying exceptional business skills, amazing oratory, or dazzling athletic ability.
However, there’s a much more urgent need today. The world needs more Daniels – people who stand out from the crowd because of their “extraordinary spirit.” You see, it does little good to have an “ordinary” spirit, merely reflecting political correctness or the fluctuating moods of those around us.
Instead, God is calling us higher. He is holding us accountable, not just for our words, but for the spirit behind those words.
Our nation faces difficult and divisive times, and there is great deception across the land. God’s people can’t shy away from speaking His kingdom truth as best as we can. But we must realize that our prophetic words will have much more impact if we’re like Daniel, communicating truth with an “extraordinary spirit.”
Tone-Deaf or Transformation?
When I was a worship leader many decades ago, I used an electronic tuner to help me find the right pitch for my guitar strings. I knew I didn’t have perfect pitch, so I couldn’t trust my ears to tune my instrument properly.
In the same way, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to help us maintain a right spirit. From time to time, we must ask the Lord to search our heart to see if there’s anything off-pitch, offensive to the serenade of heaven (Psalm 139:23-24).
Fortunately, God stands ready to give us a new heart and quell our fleshly anger. We see this in the lives of James and John, who already had earned a reputation for being hotheads and “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). No doubt, they thought their plan to call down fire on the Samaritans was brilliant.
As we’ve seen, Jesus pointed out that these flawed followers weren’t recognizing which spirit was motivating them – but this wasn’t the end of the story. By the end of the New Testament, John had become known as an Apostle of Love rather than a prophetic firebrand (1 John 4:7). After years of hanging out with Jesus, he eventually was transformed into the nature of Jesus.
Praise God, that means there’s still hope for us as well. Rising above the contentious discourse of our day, we can learn to speak words that lead to repentance rather than rebellion (Romans 2:4). Without backing down from the truth, we can speak with a bold, supernatural love that transforms the world (Ephesians 4:15).
What about you? Will you join me in a renewed mission to bring more of heaven to earth and more people with us from earth to heaven?