Can I Impose My Beliefs on Others?
Martin Luther once said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the word of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the Devil are at that point attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is tested. To be steady in all the battlefields besides is mere flight and disgrace, if the soldier flinches at that one point.”
Luther strongly implies that the duty of Christians is to declare the truth of God regardless of how unpopular it might be. The whole idea that Christians can categorically say what is right and what is wrong is quite unpopular. Whether the debate is abortion, gay marriage, divorce, or whatever moral issue, people will often say, “Don’t you impose your beliefs on me.” I remember a friend in high school telling me that he didn’t need a blankety-blank-blank preacher telling him what to do when he found out where I was going to college. That idea, sadly, even exists among Christians–according to Thom Rainer, a denominational researcher in church growth, many Christians are reluctant to evangelize because they don’t want to impose their beliefs on others.
But, should we “impose our beliefs on others”? I don’t mean that we make people do right–People, as designed by God, are free to do their own thing; we dare not force anyone to do anything. But, can we speak authoritatively? Can we say, “Here is what is right and what is wrong”? Tonight, I want us to think about that question.
Jesus Spoke Authoritatively
Jesus often told others what was right. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke with authority. E.g., “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt 5:21-22). At the conclusion of that Sermon, the people understood the authority with which Jesus spoke: Matt 7:28-29. When Jesus spoke to the scribes and Pharisees, He spoke rather authoritatively: e.g., “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt 23:13). In the Great Commission, Jesus spoke with authority: Matt 28:18-20.
Obviously, we cannot speak with the same authority Jesus spoke. He, after all, is the Son of God, and He had the authority to command what is right and wrong; obviously, you and I have no such authority. However, if we speak the words of Jesus, should we not do so authoritatively? Those words, because they come from the Son of God, have great authority, and should we not teach them with authority?
In addition to speaking authoritatively, Jesus viewed truth quite narrowly. It is quite unpopular today to view truth as narrow. The politically correct thing to do is to be quite inclusive and not exclude anyone. When John Paul II died, I was watching some of the coverage, and a Catholic priest made a quite interesting comment: “When we get to heaven, there’s not going to be a Catholic heaven, a Jewish heaven, or a Muslim heaven. It’s just going to be heaven.” He was being quite inclusive.
Jesus Christ, however, was not nearly that inclusive. Matthew 7:13-14. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn 14:6). William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” How true!
Jesus also claimed to be the judge of men. “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (Jn 12:48). Obviously, we cannot judge in any way like Jesus can. But, if the words of Jesus will judge at the last day, should we not speak those words authoritatively so that individuals might stand before God prepared?
Peter Spoke Authoritatively
At Pentecost, Peter spoke quite authoritatively.
- The apostle accused the Jews gathered there of having crucified the Messiah. “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23). “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
- Peter authoritatively told that crowd what to do to have sins forgiven: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Before the Sanhedrin, Peter spoke with great boldness. When the Sanhedrin called Peter in to account for the healing of the crippled man, Peter said, Acts 4:10. When Peter and John were told not to preach any more in the name of Christ, they responded to the Sanhedrin, Acts 4:19-20.
Peter spoke with great boldness when Ananias and Sapphira lied to him. To Ananias, Peter said, “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). To Sapphira, Peter said, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out” (Acts 5:9).
Paul Spoke Authoritatively
When Paul was at the Areopagus, he spoke with authority. Acts 17:24-25. Remember, the context in which Paul said this: Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus, looking at a whole host of idols and idolatrous temples, and he said, “The real God isn’t like these.”
Paul dealt with sin with great authority. Notice what the apostle said concerning the man living with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:3-5). Recall also what Paul did with Peter: “When Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal 2:11).
What Implications Can We Draw?
We must speak the truth. Jesus, Peter, and Paul did not just speak authoritatively; they spoke truth authoritatively. We need to make sure that we speak the truth. “As for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). “Putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). I know Paul is speaking of telling the truth as opposed to telling a lie, but the principle works well: Get rid of what is false and speak what is true.
Diogenes made himself most unwelcome in Athens by trudging about barefoot without wearing a proper outer robe. He was best-known for carrying a lantern during daylight hours, thrusting the lantern in the face of people, and saying, “I am looking for an honest man.” It is said that he never found that honest man. Let us be those honest men! Not just men who tell no falsehood, but let us actively tell the truth of Jesus!
We must not be timid about speaking the truth. Far too often, people are afraid to share their faith with others because they don’t know how the other person will react. Jesus, Peter, and Paul all met death because they were willing to speak the truth; if they endured death, surely we can endure a few hostile words.
The early church prayed that they might proclaim God’s Word with boldness. “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (Acts 4:29). Notice the response they received: “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Isn’t it time that we pray for boldness to proclaim the truth of God?
We must always speak the truth in love.
We cannot impose our opinions on others. Jesus, Peter, and Paul spoke what was true. Notice what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt 5:22). Jesus didn’t stand there and say, “Here’s what I think,” rather He said, “Here’s what the Son of God says.”
We’re going to have a multitude of opinions. There is nothing wrong with having opinions–From what I know about Peter and Paul, I would imagine that they were quite opinionated. The problem is when I begin to say, “Here’s the way you have to do it, because this is what I think.” You husbands go home and try that with your wives–tell them they have to do everything you think. The non-institutional brethren have erred here when they wanted to bind their form of caring for orphans and widows on the rest of us. They believe it’s best for individual Christians to care for widows and orphans rather than for the church to do so corporately. That’s perfectly fine. But, I have a big problem when they come and start binding where God has not bound.
Scripture instructs us not to bind our opinions on others (Rom 14:1-3). Let us speak the truth, but not our opinions!