Sometimes, It’s Best to Ignore Jesus

May 4, 2012


Thank you so much for such an inspired, candid conversation about bullying the last couple of days.  Lots of great stories were shared, and I don’t thank you often enough.  Thank you for making this blog what it is with your insights and candor.

Strangely, the whole topic of bullying led me to an unexpected thought for today’s post.

There are a whole lot of Jesus’ words that we have preserved.  We have them printed in red ink, highlighted, underlined, and quoted in endless devotionals.

Jesus, in one of his classic public speaking flubs, mixes up his words and claims that it is better to give than to receive.

But we still ignore them.

For whatever reason, Jesus said a lot of things that we just don’t take seriously.  Maybe we think Jesus was speaking figuratively, or with hyperbole.  Or he just wasn’t talking to us.  Or he’s just full of it.  Whatever the reason, there’s a whole lot of red words that might as well be changed back to black.

Here are my favorite words and teachings of Jesus to flat out ignore.

“Turn the Other Cheek”

This was the first verse I thought of while bullying was on my mind.  When I had a bully who wouldn’t leave me alone, my parents didn’t tell me to try to get along.  They told me to curse him out, punch him, and fight like I wanted to kill him, and we’d clean up the mess later if I got in trouble at school.  It took a lot of goading on their part to get me to not turn the other cheek.  And with kids committing suicide, and terrorists running loose, this is definitely not a popular teaching.

“Sell Your Possessions”

This one has given me the most trouble over the years.  Sure, we justify ourselves by saying that Jesus was talking to that rich guy, not all of us.  After all, we’re not that rich.  And we know that our money isn’t getting in the way of our spiritual lives…


“Gouge Out Your Eye”

Obviously, this is hyperbole.  Jesus even made fun of his disciples for taking him too literally at times.  If we did this, we’d be blind, mute torsos with bloody stumps for limbs.

Still, Jesus never said he was being figurative.  Not even a “JK!” or “Psych!” in the margins or footnotes.  It makes me wonder just what percent of Jesus’ words are figurative, hyperbole, or sarcasm, and what percent is literal.

“Do Not Let Your Left Hand Know What Your Right Is Doing”

If Jesus were around today, he might say “Don’t let your Facebook status know what you are doing.”  Why would we ever jump on a cause, try to make a difference, or do a good deed, if we can’t advertise it to the world with special Twitter avatars and Facebook updates?  What’s next?  Praying in a closet where no one can hear us?

“Do Not Worry About Tomorrow”

Actually, I take this teaching very seriously.  I’m not worried about tomorrow.  Because I have insurance…and a bank account…and a retirement plan.  Yep, I’m doing okay there.  Check “don’t worry about tomorrow” off my list.

“Do Not Judge”

Obviously, when Jesus said that, he didn’t mean never judge people.  Sometimes, you have to call people out on their junk.  And by “sometimes,” I mean “all the time.”  And by “call out,” I mean “berate mercilessly.”  And by “junk,” I mean “every conceivable point of disagreement.”

So what Jesus meant to say was, “Judge people all the time by berating them mercilessly on every conceivable point of disagreement…”

“…And lo, your brother who has a speck in his eye, ye shall beat him senseless with a plank from thine own eye.”  Or something like that.

What’s your favorite of Jesus’ teachings to ignore or not take literally?  What else should be on the list?

23 responses to Sometimes, It’s Best to Ignore Jesus

  1. I’m a little confused at how much of this is sarcastic?! This isn’t a dig in any way, I’m just unsure of your point and if you’re saying it as it is, or how it should be or shouldn’t be…

    • It’s actually quite sincere, which may be a bit unusual for me. It’s not that this is how it should be. Just bringing light to the fact that we call ourselves followers of Jesus, yet there are numerous examples of his teachings that we don’t understand, or just don’t take seriously.

      • Matt,

        like any book, any time, anywhere, the Bible requires that we read it with a measure of common sense. We have to look at the context (the situation or problem being addressed by Jesus) and audience to whom He was speaking. We have to check to see whether He was employing literary devices, such as your previously-stated hyperbole (it’s usually easy to tell, based on the afore-mentioned context). If you would look up ANY of the above statements that you say we should ignore in some reputable commentaries (such as Matthew Henry, Baker NTC, John Gill, Albert Barnes, John MacArthur, etc.) then you would see the general scholarly consensus at to what the difficult statement actually means, to whom it was addressed, and how it should be applied. A good example is “If your eye causes you to sin”…clearly, if our body members actually CAUSED us to sin, then we could do ourselves a world of good by ridding ourselves of them, but THEY don’t cause us to sin. We sin because of what is in our “heart”–not the cardiac muscle, but the seat of our emotions and spiritual “drivers”. If Jesus had meant it literally, he wouldn’t have specified “right eye”–I mean, heck, you can view porn with your left eye just as easily, even if you gouge out your right eye. Besides, HE is the one who said that sin comes from our hearts (see Matthew 15:18-20). His point is that we should remove whatever temptation is impeding our whole-hearted love for God, upon pain of not knowing (or being known by) Him and the eternal consequences of that. He is pointing out that our temporary discomfort is nothing compared to eternal discomfort. Thankfully, we are not required to physically mutilate ourselves, as He took that upon HIMself (see Isaiah 53:5) in order that we might have peace with God and forgiveness of our sins through faith in Him, and in His death as the atoning sacrifice that saves us from God’s wrath against those sins..

        If I were you (assuming, of course, that you believe yourself to be a Christian), I would exercise great caution in asserting that it is right for us to ignore ANY of Jesus’ teachings…whether they are tough to understand (or accept), or not. Struggle with, sure…pore over, absolutely! Yet, I would approach the subject with great humility and consternation, because Jesus did not give anyone the opportunity to ignore Him. Accept or reject, yes, but NEVER ignore. Feel free to email me if you’d like to continue the conversation. Thanks, -m

  2. “Obviously, when Jesus said that, he didn’t mean never judge people. Sometimes, you have to call people out on their junk. And by “sometimes,” I mean “all the time.” And by “call out,” I mean “berate mercilessly.” And by “junk,” I mean “every conceivable point of disagreement.”’

    You seriously made my morning! Thanks for that.

    I wouldn’t say that I generally ignore Jesus’ words that you mentioned above–I remember them very well when I feel the need to harp on somebody else :)

  3. Probably “give and it will be given unto you.” Just doesn’t make sense. Should be “keep what you have and you’ll have more than others.” Also that whole thing about serving your way to leadership…c’mon…they should all be serving me!!! Jesus says some crazy stuff!

  4. Hi Matt,

    I must be a great Christian!

    I live in 100% agreement with one of the statements you quote above.

    My right hand never even knows what my right hand is doing. Just ask my wife.


  5. How about “Go and sin no more?” That actually tripped up my walk as a 12 year old because I took it literally. I tried it and I didn’t even last a day, even with stretching some of the ten commandments.

    Now I tell my kids that Jesus gave that command, knowing that he had a way to make us be perfect and “sin no more.” He would die and take on our sins so that we could take on his righteousness.

  6. I’m all about this. In fact, this is kind of the basis for a writing project I’m doing (to be fair, it was already begun before this post, but it echoes the same sentiment).

    Great post, Matt!

  7. Jesus taught in Luke 14:26 that anyone who does not hate his mother, father, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and own life is not fit to be His disciple.

    I take this teaching to mean that we should love Him so much that our love for everyone else looks like hate in comparison. Much in the same way when He taught that we cannot serve two masters, for we will love one and hate the other. He was using sharp contrast to show how much we should love God.

  8. Do you think he was kidding when he said in Luke’s beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor – but woe to the rich?”

    I guess I should take heart with that one, ’cause I don’t think anyone could ever call me rich – unless it was the starving people of the Sudan, or the child prostitutes in South America, or the little kid who goes to school hungry in South Dallas…


  9. Lots of thoughts – but I work in the legal profession and we have something called a preemptive clause. It simply means that one verse of the law would take precedence over another. Jesus said “I do what I see the Father doing.” That is the preemptive clause to all others. If we know what the Father is doing and hear his voice, we’ll interpret the Scriptures correctly and do it.

    We also know that some of the things that Jesus said were in context of the culture and sometimes the audience. IE: Matthew was written to the Hebrews, hence the usage of the term “Son of Man”. etc.

    Jesus of course lived under the old covenant, and was fulfilling the law which new covenant believers are NOT under according to Paul.

    The terms “finished work”, “completed work” or “new man” are misunderstood. Churches fill themselves with programs to fix the old man instead of letting him die. If we fully embraced the finished work, which is the release of the perfect Spirit of God, and became hearers of the shepherds voice we would stop relying on only the red letters.

  10. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

    Apparently, Jesus never had to drive in heavy traffic…

  11. When Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” he was obviously referring to cross necklaces, crosses on cars, etc. He surely didn’t mean that we must die in order to follow him.

  12. Lots of great comments!

    “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

    Jesus uses the law, full blast. Not to spur us on to improvement…but to expose our inability, our unwillingness to do what the perfect law of God demands.

    To expose our sinfulness and our great need of a Savior. None of this ‘biblical principles for living’ for Jesus. he was trying to kill us off to any pretentions of goodness.

  13. sermon on the mount: my most favorite of all passages. lively post!

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