Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Many people think that by being agreeable, they are doing a good thing. In fact, some cultures actually require that younger people agree when older people talk- even if the older person is wrong or the younger person disagrees with the older person’s opinion. One can understand how being polite to people is a good thing, but when someone is out of line is it the right thing to do to just say “yes” to their face while saying “no” in your heart? This is an issue that plagues not only some cultures but also many Christians. As brethren, we feel obligated to be nice to other Christians, and to be agreeable to each other. At the same time, Christians are called to evangelize the world; certainly this can’t be done without smiling through distain sometimes, right? Generally speaking, socialites and businesspeople are also fond of showing a fake, agreeable, face to others while hating people in their hearts or making promises they have no intention of keeping. What does the Lord say about all of this?
In the Bible, Jesus told a parable about two sons. We read,
What do you think? There was a man who had to sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”
“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go (Matthew 21:28-30).
Here Jesus has set up the topic of showing a fake face. When approached by his father about working in the field, the first son quickly responds “No way!” However, later he does what his father asked him. The other son though showed great respect to his father, even calling his dad “sir” as he agreed to go work in the field- which he didn’t do. Now, one can already assume that the second son is in the wrong, but this parable opens up even more when one considers the culture of the time. I once heard a lecture from the president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem on this particular parable. According to him, during Jesus’ time, the oldest son, upon reaching adulthood would dress and act exactly like his father and be considered a stand-in for his dad on most occasions. When you see the son, you see the father, so to speak. That means that when we read in John 14:9, “Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the father. How can you say, “Show us the father”?’” Jesus was not just making a comment about his divinity, but also drawing a cultural connection that everyone in his crew would understand. And even though we in the west see nothing wrong with going to work in the fields, during Jesus’ time, that was not the job for the owner of a field, but for his servants and workers. Therefore, by telling his son to go work in the field, the father was actually ruining his own reputation (since the son was the image of the father). Because of this, the first son very quickly told his father that he would not do it (since the son cared about the reputation of the family). So in the context of the situation, the father was actually in the wrong telling his son to work in the field and was rightly rebuked for it. However, as we already read, eventually the son decides to listen to his father anyway. The second son, on the other hand, quickly agreed with his father’s idea, while having no intention of actually following through on the order.
And so the sides are established, the son that rebuked his father, but later followed his dad’s wishes even at the cost of his family’s reputation against the son who was agreeable, but didn’t actually do what his father wanted. While everyone is chewing on this situation, Jesus posed his question,
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).
Unanimously, everyone says that even though it might hurt his family, the first son, who outright rebuked his father was in the right, as even though he didn’t agree with his father, he eventually listened to him. What are we to learn from this? Being agreeable for the sake of acceptance is not ok. By asking his son to go work in the fields, the father was damaging his family’s reputation. Seeing his father in the wrong, the son immediately spoke up and said, “No, I will not do that.” The son was correct in his rebuke. However, we’re also taught in this parable that we should consider other’s opinions and be respectful to those above us. Although the father was seemingly making a mistake by asking his son (who would have been confused for his dad by others) to work in the fields; the son after rebuking his father still respected his wishes. Paul tells us,
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
When approached by his father, the first son quickly said no, as he cared about the reputation of both is family and his dad. So in telling his father “no,” he was in the right. However, later he considered that perhaps his dad had a good reason for sending him out into the field, and so he went out and worked, in this he was also acting rightly. We are called to be honest; when someone is wrong, they are wrong. There is no verse in the Bible that tells us to be agreeable and just say “yes” while saying “no” in our hearts. However, while we should rebuke (kindly) when it is needed, we also need to consider those we rebuke to be better than us. Paul continues in Philippians 2:5-8,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made himself nothing,
Taking the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death- even death on a cross!
The Bible tells us that though we should be moral leaders and should rebuke those who are wrong; at the same time we are to take a humble position. So the older son, by submitting to his father’s request (no matter how bad of an idea it was), acted rightly. Even Jesus, before going onto the cross voiced his opinion to the Lord. We read in Luke 22:41-42, “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’” If Jesus noted how he felt about the situation, surely you can do it to. But, remember, Jesus did go to the cross, because though he was God in the flesh, he still submitted to his father in heaven. Likewise, while it is right for us to voice our concerns, we are still called to submit to others. For it is written in Mark 9:35, “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”
There’s also a spiritual side to all of this. As we already read in the ending of the parable, Jesus commented that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven before the “righteous” Pharisees. What are we to make of this? When a sinner knows they are doing wrong, they reach out to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in order to change their hearts and actions, even if their life is slower to change and they have a bad background (as most recent converts still live in the same sin they were in before they were saved for a little while). Whereas all across the world, there are hundreds of thousands of “Christians” who think they are right with God just because they go to church once a week, but have no desire to change their hearts. In the same way, the second son, who said, “Yes sir” had no real intention to follow his father. He only did so with his lips, showing him a fake face. People who are only Christian on the outside will not escape the eyes of the Lord, for we read in Luke 16:15, “He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’” Whereas those of you who know you are in the wrong, and are caught in sin that won’t let you escape (or so it seems) are better off than the so-called righteous, for though on the outside you look the same as the world, your heart cries out to God for healing.
During his travels, Jesus called out the Pharisees a lot, almost always because of their hypocrisy, which was the same as our fake face is today. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, noted, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). If God doesn’t like that, why in the world should we treat other people in such a way? It doesn’t matter what society says, as Christians we rise above traditions. Don’t be agreeable for the sake of being friendly. However, at the same time, we must respect the opinions of others and consider that they might know what they’re talking about- but this should be done with our hearts, not with our mouths. So what does Jesus have to say on the topic of showing a fake face? “Not cool, man, not cool.”