Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

Warning: This one will take me a minute to get to the point, so please stick with me…
My daughter has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Where she particularly falls on the spectrum is what they used to refer to as Asperger’s. One of the defining features of this disorder is that she is extremely literal. This is actually one of the things that led to her diagnosis.
In fourth grade, when a teacher (with poor classroom management skills) wanted the class to quiet down, she yelled at them to write their names on the board if they were talking. All of the kids that were talking got the hint and stopped talking (which is what the teacher was probably trying to accomplish).
But my daughter actually wrote her name on the board; …and got in trouble.
My daughter couldn’t understand why she got in trouble for doing what she was told to do, while the other kids who were also obviously talking didn’t get in trouble for failing to write their names on the board.
But I understand where my daughter is coming from. Her literalness largely comes from me (and from my dad). Autism is not caused by vaccinations. If your child has autism and you want to know where it came from, look at yourself in the mirror and then at the child’s other parent. Autism is largely hereditary, and most of the traits that contribute to my daughter’s autism can be observed on either my side of the family or my wife’s side. They are simply combined and accentuated in my daughter.
I don’t know that I would have been diagnosed as on the being on the spectrum when I was in school because I have the ability to read non-verbal and social cues that my daughter struggles with. But I can somewhat imagine how difficult it would be to be that literal and not be able to read the cues that one needs to be able to read in order to understand when someone else is being non-literal.
I wrote all of that to make this point: People with autism who struggle to communicate in our culture because of their literalness demonstrate something important about our culture; …that it is quite often non-literal.
Again, because of my own literalness, this is something that I even struggled with as a kid, but I learned to deal with it and adapt to it. Operating successfully in our culture depends largely on being able to figure out what people really mean by their body-language, tone of voice, context, and other non-verbal cues.
Very rarely in our culture do people straightforward say exactly what they mean.
There are varying reasons as to why we are so non-literal. Sometimes it is out of politeness. Sometimes it is part of the social dance that we do to find out if people can be trusted. Sometimes it is to mask our true intentions, to relieve us of guilt, or to allow us an escape route from a difficult conversation.
But one big factor that contributes to our non-literalness is that our world-wide culture is currently under the influence and control of the deception of Satan (Luke 4:5-7, John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2).
As Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. […] When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Therefore, we speak in non-literal ways out of our fallenness because we are deceived, are being deceived, and are deceiving others (2 Timothy 3:13).
If you pay attention, much or our society speaks in half-truths and logical fallacies. In fact, our society and culture often reward those who master the ability to speak convincingly in half-truths and logical fallacies. If you need proof, just look at the current state of our politics and the media.
The politicians who are often most likely to be elected (on both sides) are those who can sell the best half-truths and logical fallacies (I do have an opinion on which side uses them the most often, but that is neither here nor there).
So, what does this have to do with being disciples of Jesus?
John wrote that, “We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:3-4).
One of those commands that Jesus gave that we must keep was:
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37).
Some have taken this to be a specific command to not take oaths such as swearing to tell the truth in a court of law. But if you consider the original culture and context into which Jesus was speaking, He was addressing their habit of prefacing their conversations with oaths that would either communicate, “ I don’t really mean what I’m about to say” or “Usually I don’t really mean what I say, but this time I really do mean it.”
Instead, Jesus commanded us to stop speaking in half-truths and logical fallacies and simply say what we mean (and mean what we say).
As disciples who imitate and obey Jesus, we are to speak honestly and forthrightly, but also with grace and mercy. At His Words His Ways Fellowship, we are currently teaching a mini-series in the Life of Jesus called Christ-like Conversations (that’s where this article came from). And believe me, it’s not easy to imitate and obey Jesus in our words and conversations.
Because unfortunately, not only does our culture speak and communicate in deception, half-truths, logical fallacies, and mixed messages; we have become masters of doing the same within the church.
And not just in the progressive churches. In the theologically conservative Evangelical churches, we claim to believe that all of Scripture is true, that all of Scripture should be taught and that all of Scripture should be obeyed; at least that’s what we say.
But then we employ deception, half-truths, and logical fallacies in order to get out of actually doing so by cherry-picking Scripture, taking it out of context, and downright questioning it’s veracity.
When I first began to realize these things, I would be surprised when I would speak with a church leader or pastor about what it really means to imitate Jesus as His disciple and they would respond to me with logical fallacies.
Now, I’ve come to expect it.
In fact, just like rarely does a politician succeed without becoming fluent in half-truths and logical fallacies, rarely does one become a church leader or pastor without being able to speak in half-truths and logical fallacies.
And I’ll stand by that claim.
Sit me down across from almost any pastor or church leader and let me speak to them about what the Bible clearly teaches about what it means to imitate Jesus as His disciple; and I will guarantee that the majority will begin to resort to using logical fallacies to defend themselves within less than 5 minutes. And if I point out that they are using logical fallacies, well…
This is the big point, don’t miss it. Because we have become so accustom in our fallenness and living in a world system based on deception where people don’t really mean what they say and don’t say what they really mean, WE TREAT THE BIBLE THE SAME WAY.
When we read what John wrote:
“We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).
We quickly begin to come up with excuses about how we don’t actually have to attempt to know and keep all of Jesus’ commands. That can’t be what that really means. Nobody says what they really mean, not even the Bible.
God doesn’t actually expect us to “live as Jesus did.” That’s impossible. He must have meant something else. Nobody says what they really mean, not even God.
When Jesus said:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. […] In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:26-27, 33).
He couldn’t really mean that. Nobody says what they really mean, not even Jesus.
When Jesus said:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, […] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
He didn’t mean that we literally had to teach people to be disciples by teaching them to know and obey EVERYTHING He commanded. Nobody means what they say literally, not even Jesus.
When Jesus said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).
He didn’t literally mean that He would judge us by His words and turn away from us because we didn’t abandon all in order to know and obey them as His disciple. Nobody means it literally when they say things like that, not even Jesus.
When Jesus said:
“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:47-50).
Jesus doesn’t literally mean that we have to know and keep His words as His disciple, does He?
When the Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to write:
“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9).
He didn’t literally mean that everyone who is saved actually has to obey and imitate Jesus as a disciple. Nobody really means what they say, not even the Holy Spirit when He inspired men to write the Bible.
Do you believe all Scripture is inspired?
Do you believe all Scripture is true?
Do you believe all Scripture should be taught?
Do you believe everything taught in Scripture should be obeyed?
“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
If you would like more information on why it is so imperative that we imitate and obey Jesus as His disciples, start here and follow the links at the end of each post: