“Every Way Of A Man Is Right In His Own Eyes”

Neal Pollard

I am sad whenever anyone in a position of power and authority abuses that, worse whenever that abuse turns deadly.  I am sad whenever anyone, of any color, demonstrates prejudice toward any group, race, ethnicity, or similar common denominator.  I am sad whenever anyone tries to commit a crime and get away with it.  I am sad whenever anyone resorts to hatred, profanity, and divisive speech, even if venting anger, hurt, and fear.  I am sad whenever anyone exerts themselves in contentious and divisive rather than understanding and unifying ways.  In essence, I am sad whenever someone does evil and commits sin, but seeks to justify and defend himself or herself in so doing.

Long ago, the Holy Spirit moved Solomon to say, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).  In nearly identical fashion, he writes, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2).  Sin constantly occurs every moment of every day throughout every community of the world.  At times, individuals will freely confess and without making excuse.  However, the more common course seems to be what Solomon says.  Parents raising children, asking who left something on the floor or who made a mess, hear the all-too-familiar, “Not me!” If one is caught in the act of wrongdoing, he or she may still say, “It’s not my fault,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It’s not what it looks like,” or “you don’t understand.”  Perhaps that’s desperate self-preservation.  Perhaps it’s an attempt to deflect responsibility and consequence.  But, Solomon cuts through the flimsy excuses, realizing God sees with a perfect, unbiased manner and cannot be fooled. We can try to lie to others to try and mitigate or deny our guilt, but He sees all and knows all.

Horrific images out of North Charleston have sickened and scared us!  If all is as it very much seems to be, color-blind, occupation-blind justice needs to be done (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).  May it serve as an even greater object lesson that transcends race, law enforcement, and the like.  When people become their own standard of right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6; 21:25), they can tend to justify anything (i.e., abortion, pornography, fornication, etc.) that God deplores.  Let us remember the second part of Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2.  “The Lord weighs the hearts and motives.”  He never gets it wrong!

A Hostile Witness

Neal Pollard

There is an overlooked work that should be avoided, but may be more commonly practiced than is thought.  Yet, as the Holy Spirit through Paul included it in a larger category of works, it must be something with which even many Christians struggle.  It is mentioned in the list of fleshly works found in Galatians 5:19-21 and is simply called “enmities” (20).

The word is found nine times in the New Testament, from the Greek “ἔχθρα”, and its general meaning is, “Enmity, hostility, hatred, both as an inner disposition and objective opposition (Rom. 8:7); plural, of hostile feelings and acts animosities, hostilities, discord, feuds (Gal. 5:20)” (Friberg & Miller, 183).

Hostile feelings, unchecked and not repaired, lead ultimately to ungodly behavior toward others that can even cause division.  Another adds, “[“enmities” is] a general term referring to hostility or unneighborly acts of any kind or form” (Arichea & Nida, 138). How do “enmities” arise and is this something which you and I may fall prey to?

Enmities arise by holding a grudge.  In fact, it can be very difficult to know when you cross the line from the one to the other.  When you harbor feelings of resentment toward someone from an offense, real or imagined, it will eventually grow into hostile feelings and possibly hostile acts.  The old law warns against bearing a grudge and even makes it antonymous (i.e., opposite) with love (Lev. 19:18).  The Lord tells us what to do when we have a problem with a brother or sister (Mat. 18:15ff).  If we do not follow this, to whom are we listening?

Enmities arise through prejudice.  Prejudice occurs on much more than the basis of the color of one’s skin.  Prejudice is nothing more than a preformed opinion, one formed without all the facts but instead through “insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes” (Encarta Dictionary).  How often, based on how we think, feel, or believe another to be, do we work ourselves up against another and allow enmity to rule our hearts?

Enmities arise when the mind is set on the flesh (Rom. 8:7).  Paul is contrasting the Old Law with the gospel of Christ in this context, but he reveals a compelling principle.  When we fail to live spiritual lives, but instead make our decisions driven by our passions and fleshly inclinations, we open ourselves up to works like enmity.  Incidentally, this same bent will lead one further and further down the road of those ensuing works in Galatians 5.  Notice that this hostility is pointed toward God and His law (cf. Jas. 4:4), but it will impact our demeanor and attitude in all relationships.  This hostility plays out “in the flesh” (Rom. 8:8), the very activities and attitudes upon which Paul focuses in Galatians 5:19-21.

Are you and I immune from “enmities”?  We can strengthen ourselves against such especially through the “antidote” of love in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  Love actively seeks and strives for others’ good.  If we sincerely give our hearts to loving others, our brethren or the lost, we will have a harder time harboring hostility and hatred for them.  Maybe if we will take the time to know others better and try to get insight into their circumstances, struggles, and challenges, it will temper our feelings toward them.  It will certain demonstrate that we are led by the Spirit and not by the flesh!

Temper And Tongue

Neal Pollard

Without wading into the waters of political correctness or questioning motives, Donald Sterling can blame his temper as much as his girlfriend’s surreptitious audio recording.  He joins an infinitely long line of those whose unrestrained anger has cost them much more than they anticipated.  While most people will not pay the earthly price Sterling appears destined to pay, so many have permanently damaged relationships and paid with their souls for failing to conquer temper and tongue.

James clearly sets forth God’s view on the matter.  “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (3:6). “It defiles the whole body” (3:6). “It is set on fire by hell” (3:6). “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). It can reveal hypocrisy at a disgusting level (3:9-12).  James’ words are so convicting, yet, having privy to them, we still stumble with our speech.

I have seen the untamed tongue, so often fueled by anger and even rage, tear churches apart.  But, what has it done in the lives of individual members of those congregations?  Certainly, we think of it as characteristic of those outside the body of Christ, but so often it ignites deadly fires in Christians’ lives.

If I am honest with myself, I should be more concerned with the spiritual impact my tongue has on my soul than other deeds of the flesh.  There are so many ways for me to stumble over my tongue—gossip, lying, outbursts of anger, wrath, deception, filthy or suggestive speech, greed, and just about every outlet of sin seems to intersect with the misuse of the tongue!

James speaks to our hearts when he says, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (3:10).  Can I comprehend the impact that has on my soul, not just yours?  Rather than counting up ways you offend me with your tongue, may I have the humility and honesty to examine my use of my tongue and see how it might be hurting you and, even more importantly, hurting Almighty God!  Lord, help us see the power of the tongue.

Should Obese Kids Get Candy?

Neal Pollard

The cynic surely believes this lady is feeding her urge for 15 minutes of fame or seeking an outlet for her social ideology.  The tenderhearted finds it cruel and unfeeling.  The overweight likely are offended.  The objective observer still must be shaking his or her head in disbelief. The Fargo, North Dakota, woman, who identifies herself only as Cheryl set off a firestorm when she called in to a local radio station declaring she was going to give those she deemed overweight children an “obese letter” in addition to candy this upcoming Halloween (Fox News Story).  We’ll see if she has the courage to go through with it, what with a national spotlight and all.  But, there is no doubt how she feels.

Are there some people to whom you would not give food or candy because of their size.  That seems unfair and pretty prejudiced behaviour, doesn’t it?  How cold and unfeeling does one have to be to be so arbitrary and callous?

But, do we ever do that in other ways?  As Christians, are we ever selective?  Do we ever discriminate in our evangelism, benevolence, fellowship, or other outreach?  Do we ever judge based on their skin color or ethnicity, their present morality or lack thereof, their seeming scamming or dishonesty as they hold the sign at the traffic light, or their plain clothes or less hygienic appearance even in our own assemblies?

At first, I thought this lady’s behavior incredulous.  Actually, I still do.  But, I am also filled with a conviction to do some introspection.  Do I do what she’s doing, but in different ways?  I shouldn’t.  After all, Paul writes that we should “not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly” (Rom. 12:16).  That’s what Jesus did, and the Pharisees and scribes judged Him for it (Luke 15:2).  James warns us not to have an attitude of personal favoritism because making distinctions between people makes us judges with evil motives (Jas. 2:1-5).  Isn’t that the heart of the matter, right there?  We are not judges but servants.  Our motivation is supplied to us by the Savior, and that is to save souls (cf. Jude 23). Whose souls? Who’s ever we can!


An Exhortation To White And Black Christians

Neal Pollard

I rarely modify the word “Christian” with adjectives like red, yellow, black, or white.  Occasionally, however, an event happens that threatens to divide God’s people of a racial nature.  The recently ended George Zimmerman trial in the death of Treyvon Martin is one such event.

It seems to me that so many children of God have reacted to the verdict in that trial along either political and, as often, racial lines.  Everyone from adherents of the NRA to those of the NAACP seems to have strong opinions and stronger reactions.  From such a long distance away from the facts of the case, many whose opinions are decidedly sympathetic to one side or another seem certain that either justice or injustice was served by the jury.

While forming an opinion about cases like this one may approach inevitability, there is a caution to be heeded.

We cannot allow the world’s division, whether due to politics, religion, race, or the like, to infect us and divide us.  That means that we should be very careful as we communicate with one another through the various means we use–Facebook and other social media, email, the Bible classroom and pulpit, and even our conversations with people.  Our passion cannot be rooted in these things that do not matter in eternity!  Eternal things ought to be our cause and obsession.

When I was a graduate student at Freed-Hardeman, Earl Edwards taught a course on missions.  He depicted the first-century scenario powerfully, asking, “Can you imagine Paul and the other apostles spending all their time picketing abortion clinics, lobbying Rome, or consuming themselves with the social causes of their day?”  His point was that the early Christians’ focus was on the living hope (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3).  They were not distracted by the causes and factions of their world.

Please be careful of rhetoric in defense of Zimmerman or lament of Martin that raises walls that Christ died to destroy.  While his focus was Jew and Gentile rather than black and white, his words apply to us today that Christ “is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Eph. 2:14).  The wall of separation, in context, was the Old Testament.  But, the law represented that which kept the two groups apart.  Christ reconciles us in one body and makes us “one new man” (Eph. 2:15-16).

There will be no “white heaven” and “black heaven” (or whatever race comes to mind).  That being the case, we had better develop and maintain colorblindness on earth. Let the world be divided, if they will not submit to Christ. Let us be united, submitting to our Lord!

Can A Christian Be Prejudiced And Still Go To Heaven?

Neal Pollard

What an odd question. Obviously, an alien sinner (i.e., non-Christian) will not go to heaven even if he or she is not prejudiced. One must render obedience to the gospel to enjoy eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9). It is unfortunate that a Christian would treat another Christian differently because of the color of one’s skin, the level of income one makes, or one’s physical attributes and appearance.  Yet, some things seem to prove that prejudice is alive and thriving in some places in the Lord’s church. Borrowing a phrase from James, “My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (cf. Js. 3:10).

First, consider the presence of “black congregations” and “white churches.”  With what authority do such segregated bodies exist? In fairness, when it is decided by all races in a multi-racial area to meet separately to more effectively further efforts of evangelism, that would seem fair and acceptable (so long as no one is refused or mistreated who wishes to worship at one of the other congregations).  Sadly, however, in churches which are predominantly one race, visiting minorities have been ostracized and avoided. In the days before the civil rights of black Americans were improved, a “mixed” congregation was a rare exception. While strides have been made, there are still congregations who would be quite uncomfortable having an African-American preacher preach at the congregation they attend or participating in any public way in the assembly.

Also, think about the strategy of “taking the gospel to the community.”  Evangelism can be the greatest weakness of a congregation anyway.  When a church does seek to reach out to the community, minorities seem to be passed over frequently.  Why is the “black community” or the “Hispanic community” at the bottom of the strategy list?  It would be dangerous to make judgment, but, could it be fear for our personal safety?  Could it be fear of having success in that community?  Could it be an unwillingness to reach out to someone “different” from us? These are not legitimate excuses in God’s eyes.

Finally, ponder the need for equality in the Lord’s Kingdom.  A common phrase is, “There are no ‘second class citizens’ in the Kingdom.”  Amen! So wrote James, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  He penned, ” My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor man in vile clothing; and ye have regard to him that weareth the fine clothing, and say, Sit thou here in a good place; and ye say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool; Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (Js. 2:1-4 ASV).  Would we be willing to serve under an elder or with a deacon who is financially poor, who is of different ethnic background, or who has “only a high school education”?  Remember, “God is no respecter of persons…” (Acts 10:34,35; Rom. 2:11).  Despite racial, economic, and geographical differences, all faithful Christians are “the body of Christ, and severally members thereof” (1 Cor. 12:27).  Paul reminds us that “there is one body” (Eph. 4:4).  The Bible reveals only one heaven and one hell, not one for each race and social strata.

Christians who do not get along with all races and labor as equals in the Kingdom with faithful brethren on earth should not expect to bask in the glory of an unprejudiced Father throughout eternity.  It is hard to fathom that our soul could be red, yellow, black, or white or that one’s soul would “appear” differently because of the model car he drives, the size of her bank account, or the kind of house in which one lives.  As we “press on unto perfection” (cf. Heb. 6:1), let us “put away” the besetting sin of prejudice (cf. Heb. 12:1) so that God can fully bless our labors for Him!

–Originally printed in Fulton County Gospel News, October, 1995 (Ted J. Clarke, editor).