What’s the Difference Between Godly Sorrow & Worldly Sorrow

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of but the sorrow of the world worketh death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

The Difference Makes the Difference

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul begins chapter seven by launching into a lengthy discussion about how to “perfect holiness” by “cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1)”. Inevitably, this dovetailed into a unique perspective on sorrow and repentance. Paul describes (and we’ll look closer at it in a moment) the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. It’s a vitally important distinction because one leads to spiritual death and the other to salvation. The difference makes the difference. We’ve all got to get this one right.

Called to Stop Sinning

The Bible teaches us that the Church is a called-out assembly. God has called us out of sin, and God has called us into holiness. We are supposed to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). That standard is very high because God is supremely holy. You might be thinking that it is impossible to be sinless. And in a way, you’re right. However, the New Testament reminds us repeatedly that we are to be without sin (holiness). In fact, 1 John 2:1 pauses and says, “Stop sinning. Just stop it!”

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not… (1 John 2:1).

If you take the Bible and boil it down to its essence, the central theme is God’s grand plan to get humanity from sinfulness to sinlessness.

Our Response to Sin is the Key

It’s easy to start sinning, but it’s hard to stop. That’s basically been humanity’s problem from the beginning. For most people, defining what is and isn’t sin is problematic. Sin is so pervasive and normal that we don’t feel horrified by it. And if we don’t feel horrified by sin, we don’t think of it as all that bad. My struggles with sin have taught me that sin’s grip is hard to break. If you’re human, you have your own stories and struggles with sin too. I also know how enticing sin can be from the countless hours I’ve spent trying to help others find deliverance from every sin you can imagine. I’ve noticed through the years that the real issue isn’t that we have sinned (because we have) or if we will sin (because we will).

The question that matters is, what will we do with our sin? How we respond to sin usually helps us stop or causes us to keep on sinning. Godly sorrow over sin produces genuine repentance, which allows the Holy Spirit to step in and empower us. Worldly sorrow leads to lackadaisical repentance, which only perpetuates sin in our lives. Worldly sorrow produces a self-sustaining cycle of sinfulness. Before highlighting the vital differences between godly and worldly sorrow, we must clear up an apparent contradiction in the Bible.

Does God Cleanse Us, or Do We Cleanse Ourselves?

Sin is a stain on our lives. God desires to present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27). God is deadly serious about His church being holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). That’s why we’re all in such desperate need of the blood of Jesus. Only His blood cleanses all the stains of sin. But do we cleanse ourselves, or does Jesus cleanse us? The passages below might be a little confusing at first glance.

…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

To answer this question, we need to identify the context of these two verses. In the previous chapter, Paul clarifies his target audience, “for ye are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16).” Clearly, Paul is talking about repentance to people who have already obeyed the Gospel and are in the Church. He’s referring to the ongoing process of sanctification (holiness), which requires continued repentance. We must skip forward to pinpoint John’s intended audience:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13).

So, it’s clear that John is writing about the initial salvation experience, when we first take ownership of our sinfulness, leading to repentance and obeying the Gospel. At that moment, God covers us with His blood.

God’s Role & Our Responsibility

At salvation, something compelling happens; when we repent, our sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9); at baptism, our sins are remitted (Acts 2:38); at the infilling of the Holy Ghost, we are empowered (Acts 1:8). God did the cleansing work at Calvary, and we stepped into that cleansing flow via obedience. However, regarding our continued walk with God, 2 Corinthians 7:1 clarifies that we must “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In other words, God does the initial work. Then He expects us to put some effort into the process from that moment forward. To be sure, His Spirit comes inside to help lead, guide, comfort, correct, convict, strengthen, and encourage us along the way. But the infilling of the Spirit doesn’t remove our free will. After salvation, God expects us to exercise an often-overlooked fruit of the Spirit – self-control (Galatians 5:23).

Sometimes I hear church folks say, “if only God would give me the power over this ____ sin.” But God has already given us His Spirit. He’s already cleansed us. So now we must cleanse ourselves daily. If we’re not careful, we’ll use God as an excuse for our continued sin. God cleanses us first, and then we are responsible for walking in that cleansing. That’s the process of sanctification or holiness. In answer to the original question: Does God cleanse us, or do we cleanse ourselves? The answer is that God does the major cleanse first, and then we step in and do minor cleansing as we continue our walk with the Lord.

A Simple Illustration

A simple, albeit imperfect illustration, may help clarify this concept. Roughly once a month, I take our family SUV to a full-service carwash. They detail our vehicle inside and out. I do that because they have the equipment, chemicals, and expertise that allow them to do a thorough cleaning that I’m not capable of doing. It’s almost like having a new vehicle when they get done. I didn’t do the cleansing. They did. But if I eat a bagel in the car and crumbs fall everywhere, I must clean that mess myself. Otherwise, I’ve wasted my time and money on that professional cleaning job. They cleaned it first in ways I can’t do alone. But I still have a responsibility to keep it clean. In much the same way, that’s how walking in holiness works.

Problems in the Corinthian Church

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he is very forthright with them. The church was super messed up with big-time problems and significant sin issues. For example, a young man was having an affair with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). Even more revolting, rather than the church being grieved. They laughed about the situation like it was a joke (1 Corinthians 5:2). Paul was so angry that he demanded that if the guy refused to repent, they should turn him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). That leaven of malice and wickedness would destroy the whole church if they didn’t deal with it correctly (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). All this background is essential because we can now understand 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 and answer the question: What’s the difference between godly and worldly sorrow?

I’m Not Sorry That I Made You Repent

8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance… (2 Corinthians 7:8-9).

In the above verses, Paul was trying to let the church know that his first letter (1 Corinthians), with its strong rebuke, was not intended to make them feel sorry but was a call to repentance.

…for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of… (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

In other words, when you have godly sorrow. It leads to godly repentance, and you don’t have to confess the same sin repeatedly.

…but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things, ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

The Contrast

In his unique way, Paul carefully contrasts these two types of sorrow. They both lead to outward repentance, but only one is genuine. The result of godly sorrow is a change in behavior and attitude. But worldly sorrow brings death. It certainly brings spiritual death, but in the immediate, it might mean the death of a marriage, a friendship, victory, blessings, spiritual power, or family relationships. Tragically, in extreme cases, it could culminate in an untimely physical death because of sin.

For All That Is in the World

Anything derived from the world is compromised, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world (1 John 2:16).” Worldly sorrow is derived from either the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. So, for example, a person might feel sorrow for their sin because of the pain it produces. They feel that pain in their flesh, and that pain can be intense. It’s real! Emotional and physical pain caused by sin can become unbearable at times. And many people assume the remorse they feel because of their agony is genuine repentance. But if that remorse is a temporary emotion birthed from pain, it’s not godly sorrow.

A second kind of worldly sorrow results from the lust of the eyes. People can be sorry because they see how sin has impacted their life; lost loved ones, broken relationships, wasted moments, embarrassments, and failures. Their kingdom might be crumbling before their eyes like a slow-motion nightmare. Consequences that used to seem so unlikely and distant come crashing into focus. They might think, “I’m going to lose my wife, kids, or job.” But ultimately, their focus is on their kingdom. Many people feel this kind of worldly sorrow and confuse it for genuine repentance. But true repentance is not self-centered. It’s God-centered.

Thirdly, the pride of life produces another type of worldly sorrow. People may feel sorry because they are embarrassed that people can see their sins. They see their reputation going down the drain, their influence waning, or they feel disliked. Perhaps they want to be viewed in a more positive light. But the critical issue is their name. Again, the sorrow is selfishly motivated. Therefore, the resulting repentance is only skin deep.

Me, Myself & I

Worldly sorrow always brings the focus on me. It’s all about my feelings. My pain. My reputation. My happiness. But godly sorrow focuses on the fact that my sin has grieved God and others. Ephesians 4:30 warns us not to “grieve” the Holy Spirit. Godly sorrow is acutely aware that my sin has grieved the Holy Spirit. Godly sorrow isn’t just sorry because of sin’s consequences on my kingdom. It’s more concerned with God’s Kingdom. Godly sorrow isn’t worried about the reproach that I brought on my name but with the reproach that I brought on God’s name. As the prophet Nathan said to David after his horrific sin with Bathsheba, “You have brought great occasion to the enemies of the lord to blaspheme his name (2 Samuel 12:14).” Nathan was more concerned with how David’s sin would impact the world’s understanding of God than he was with king David’s reputation.

Seven Characteristics of Godly Sorrow

Paul doesn’t leave us with a nebulous definition of godly sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:11 describes what godly repentance looks like in action. He lists seven things that accompany godly sorrow. Numbers are significant in the Bible, and the number seven represents completion and perfection. Therefore, it could be said that these seven things signify complete and perfect repentance.

1. Carefulness

Carelessness leads to sinfulness. A careful person is full of care, caution, and intentionality. Godly sorrow produces carefulness where casualness once reigned supreme. Decisions are weighed out and made thoughtfully. Every action is measured according to the Word of God. Godly sorrow refuses to blame sin on ignorance, incompetence, recklessness, or inattention to detail.

2. Clearing of Yourself

Godly sorrow doesn’t make excuses. It doesn’t blame other people or circumstances for sin. There’s no hiding, covering, manipulating, shifting, or maneuvering of responsibility. Worldly sorrow keeps things hidden and harbors secret sins and motives behind closed doors. Godly sorrow seeks to clear the air and clean the conscience. It thrives on transparency and always advocates for the truth to be displayed.

3. Indignation

Godly sorrow recoils at the thought of past sins. Old lifestyles aren’t viewed as the “good old days.” It doesn’t laugh at sin or find it entertaining. Carnal things that used to seem euphoric become repulsive. The thought of sin and evil produces anger, indignation, and disgust. Godly sorrow views sin as a vile thing to be detested. It doesn’t despise sinners, but it does hate sin. In much the same way as you would hate cancer while loving a cancer patient.

4. Fear

I’m always nervous when someone repents of a particular sin and says, “I know I’ll never do that again.” I’d much rather someone say, “I’m going to take every precaution possible to make sure I never fall into that sin again because I’m afraid of going back to that terrible thing.” You will take godly precautions when you have a healthy fear of a possibility. Furthermore, a little fear of the Lord is a good thing.

5. Vehement Desire

Godly sorrow is fueled by a fervent desire to serve God and avoid sin. Vehement means to show strong feelings. It’s forceful, passionate, urgent, and intense. It isn’t mellow, mild, or casual. Godly sorrow recognizes the seriousness of sin and its desperate dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

6. Zeal

The Greek word for zeal is spoudē, found twelve times in the New Testament. The primary meaning of zeal is “haste” or “diligence.” Meaning diligence in the sense of “earnest zeal.” It’s always used in the context of living out godly lives.[i] The idea is that godliness takes ongoing work and tenacious effort.  

7. Revenge

When godly sorrow is in play, everything in your being wishes you could return and fix the things sin has taken from you. So, in a certain sense, you are looking for revenge against the enemy of your soul. That’s why brand-new saints often get so on fire for God. They are avenging what the enemy stole from them when they were under the bondage of sin. Godly sorrow never looks longingly back toward Egyptian taskmasters.

Final Thoughts

It’s not hard to receive the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. But if you’ve been around an Apostolic church for a while, you’ve probably noticed that some people seek the Holy Ghost for weeks or even months without being filled. The apostle Peter didn’t say, “repent and be baptized, and you might receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” He said, “you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” My experience has taught me that many people struggling to receive the Spirit are actually struggling with repentance. They might be sorrowful and going through the motions of repentance, but their sorrow is worldly and does not lead to life. Gently and lovingly, helping them to decipher the difference between godly and worldly sorrow can lead them to the breakthrough they need.


[i] Renn, Stephen D., ed. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005.

What Will Become of Us All? – A Poem

White picket lines of peaceful persuasion
Cannot undo the cost of invasion
Endless fine lines of baser perversions
Weakened strains of moral conversions
Flawlessly wielding falsified searches
What will become of us all?

Cold, calculating meaningless data
Hiding underneath the smiling strata
Clinging to less fortunate ideas
Laughing, dragging, while dreaming of sions
Intricate veins coursing with curses
What will become of us all?

Meanwhile, one white robed throng preaches the Writ
Tenaciously keeping holy flames lit
Falling valiant, bleeding from vicious slits
Ten thousand swords critically slashing hits
Battered, beleaguered saints climb past ashen fritz
What will become of us all?

One bright light pierces the eastern sky
A triumphant shout falls from mountain highest
One brilliant white horse gracefully flies
The armies of Heaven closely aligned
Every blood-stained voice shouts toward the sight
What will become of us all?

The Inversion – A Poem

God is nothing, they say
 Just imaginary games 
  Yet morality, they claim
    Forgetting their context
Ignoring histories flame
 Hanging by thin threads
  To ever-waning grace 
Blind to the inversion
 Holding conversions
  Creating diversions
   They know not their place 

Goodness without God
 Like moths to acrid flame
  Digging for diamond truths
   Yet never making gains
Ignoring perversions  
 Reality gone
  Almost without a trace
Lost in oblivion
 No equilibrium 
  Willful delirium
   From grace to disgrace

Philosophy flipped aside
 Lost on the rising tide
  Grasping for hope inside 
   But hope is not within
It rides like winter wind 
 From Heaven above
  Sometimes fire, sometimes rain
Holy convocations
 Sacred invocations
  Life reawakened 
   From death to God’s face

Divine Inspiration (What the Bible Has to Say for Itself)

The Good Book

The Bible is still the best-selling book of all time. It’s estimated that roughly a billion copies have been sold. That’s probably not entirely accurate. And it doesn’t consider the millions of free electronic editions available to the masses. Ironically, the Bible is more accessible thanks to the internet than ever. Yet, biblical illiteracy increases with each passing decade. Regardless, millions of people have a Bible on a shelf or hidden away in some forgotten drawer. Others treasure their Bible like gold and read it with sacred reverence. Grab ten people off the street, and you’ll get ten opinions about the Bible. However, if it’s not the whole Word of God, then it cannot be a good book.

All or Nothing

C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus Christ was either “Lord, liar or lunatic.” Similarly, the Bible makes claims about itself incompatible with the idea of being just a good book of wisdom. The Bible is either the Divinely inspired Word of God or the silly ramblings of misguided delusional men. It’s either entirely true or the longest-running, best-coordinated con job in recorded history. Essentially, the Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition. If it’s genuinely from God, half-hearted attention will never suffice. And if it’s not, it’s the worst form of manipulative evil. No viewpoints in-between those two options are logical or possible.

Divine Blessings

Jesus said in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” Regardless of race, denomination, or background, if you ask any Christian if they would like to have Divine blessings, they will answer, “yes.” And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find large portions of them hearing and obeying the entirety of God’s Word. Most Christians have their candy stick verses or their preconceived dogmas. Sadly, most Christians ignore, overlook, or gloss over large portions of Scripture that seem extreme or inconveniently counter-cultural. Sometimes, they miss so many vital doctrines that their salvation is jeopardized. Others might slip into Heaven, but they miss tremendous blessings that otherwise would have been poured into their lives. Complete obedience to God’s Word is the key to accessing Divine blessings. There is no shortcut or substitute.

What Does the Bible Have to Say for Itself?

As I mentioned earlier, the Bible is either entirely true or a complete lie. But it’s impossible to remain intellectually honest without acknowledging the miraculous continuity of the Bible. Don’t forget that the Bible was written over a period of nearly 2,000 years by forty authors writing from three continents, and it maintains perfect uniformity of message. All sixty-six books comprising the Bible are united in perfect harmony and point exclusively to Jesus Christ, the true Author. Unlike the famed futurist Nostradamus, the Bible’s fulfilled prophecies are precise and uncanny. Scripture’s flawless internal consistency defies natural explanation. But rather than talking about the Bible, let’s take a close look at what the Bible has to say for itself.

The Bible Lays Claim to Divine Origins

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Biblical authors were consistent in claiming that their words were not theirs. Holy men of old viewed themselves as vessels filled by God. They emptied themselves of the words poured into them by the Holy Ghost. If the Bible is not God’s divinely inspired Word, it is a fraudulent document filled with dribble. Of course, I believe the evidence proves (including my life interactions with it) that the Bible is true. However, the claims Scripture makes about itself are so radical that they demand complete acceptance or total rejection. Anything in between complete acceptance or total rejection is an intellectual cop-out. Partial approval or shallow half-hearted nods of respect aren’t compatible with the very nature of the Bible. In our culture plagued with near psychosomatic commitment issues, the biblical insistence upon total adherence is difficult to digest. However, it is the essence and the reality of what the Holy Writ requires.

The Bible Lays Claim to Perfection

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7).

It could help to rephrase this claim in more understandable terms. The Bible lays claim to moral perfection. If Scripture is the divine Word of God, and if it is true that God is supremely just, then anything prescribed in His book is perfectly righteous. God’s Word sets the standard of right and wrong, good or bad, and so on. Therefore, even if our human sensibility is offended or confused, it does not make God’s Word imperfect. Humanity is corrupted by sin and does not easily comprehend genuine justice. We don’t perceive evil as precisely as we should. Meaning we are reliant upon the Bible to reveal moral Truths to us. Without the authoritative Word of God, humanity is left to its own misguided inward moral compass. Our understanding of good and evil has been tampered with by sin and by the sins of our fathers. We hide God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11) to replace our broken compass with God’s flawless GPS.

The Bible Lays Claim to Sanctifying Truth

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:17).

Without falling off a theological cliff, sanctification can be described as the process of being made holy. So how can one become holy? By living according to God’s Truth. And that Truth is contained in the Bible. Obedience to God’s Word is the only path to holiness. Anything less falls short of sanctification. All other versions of morality, although containing measures of truth, are not the Truth. Therefore, they fail to make one morally pure in the eyes of the Lord. It’s prudent to remember that God’s holiness is His most biblically acclaimed attribute. Our call to be sanctified through the Word is no insignificant thing. It isn’t just theological jargon or intellectual banter. It is a God-given imperative to be taken seriously.

The Bible Lays Claim to Flawlessness

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him (Proverbs 30:5).

The word “pure” in the above Scripture comes from the Hebrew word yastsib, which means “true.”[i] However, in the more profound sense of the word here, it means “certain” or “reliable.”[ii] The distinction is important because God’s words aren’t just true at the moment they’re given. They are eternally reliable. This alludes to the prophetic surety of God’s Word. And to Its literal reliability in the past, present, and future. The Bible is eternally true. Its Truth doesn’t morph, degrade, or rescind. So, when the Bible speaks of the past, we can trust that it is true regardless of what current science might say. When the Bible tells of the future, we can believe it shall be so without reservation. When so-called modern “facts” contradict Scripture, rest assured that Scripture will stand vindicated.

The Bible Lays Claim to Vitality

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Admittedly, despite the King James Version being the best English translation, it sometimes creates embarrassing moments for the modern reader. I can’t tell you how many years I took the word “quick” to mean that the Word of God is a fast-moving sword. And while it is true that the Word can and does often move quickly in a person’s life, “quick” is an Old English word for “alive.” The Holy Bible is living. As we interact with the Word, the Spirit of God moves in us and upon us. The Word doesn’t change but progressively reveals things to us as we interact. That’s why you can read the same verse a thousand times, and one day, you comprehend something that previously seemed mundane. As we humbly submit ourselves to the Word, it changes us from the inside out.

The Bible Lays Claim to Salvific Exclusivity

13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:13-17).

The Bible is crystal clear in the claim that it holds the exclusive plan of salvation for humankind. No other book, creed, faith, or culture has access to eternal salvation with God in Heaven. Universalism is the deceiver currently working to deceive the very elect. It might be tempting to buy the lie that many paths lead to God. For some, that sounds tolerant and exceedingly loving. However, it is not possible to believe the Bible and hold to universalism at the same time.

Furthermore, for those who like to deny the relevance of the Old Testament in the New Testament era: When Paul declares that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” the New Testament was not yet completed or in circulation among the Church. The apostle was referring to the Old Testament. Indeed, the theological relevance of the Old Testament was affirmed by the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. All of whom referred back to the Old Testament in their preaching, teaching, and correspondence.

The Bible Lays Claim to Unbridled Power

Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:9).

Undoubtedly the apostle Paul was a mighty man of God. He walked in power and authority. Yet, he was still just a man. He suffered unending trials and tribulations. Paul was aware that his multiple incarcerations might cause some to doubt the power of God’s Word. He quickly reminded fearful believers that while we might be bound, the Word of God is never bound. God’s Word bristles with unbridled power even in the darkest of times. It’s working even when we can’t see it. It’s moving even when we can’t feel it. There is no thwarting or diminishing the Word of the Lord. A particular comfort comes when we understand that our weaknesses and sufferings cannot bind the work of the Word.


[i] “יציב,” Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance paragraph 3620.

[ii] “י,” The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament 1613.

The Ghosts of Tomorrow – A Poem

They twist and turn in the lamplights glow
  Whether friend or foe we do not know
    Tomorrow's ghosts above and below
      They are tellers of yesterday's truths

The woven tales are not of their making
  The chains they clutch hellishly shaking
    With fingers pointed and backs aching
      They are tellers of yesterday's truths

Consequences near or far removed
  Only delayed by time unreproved
    Their only intent is life improved
      They are tellers of yesterday's truths

Can I deter my own convictions
  Interfere with mystic magicians
    Paving way for faulty suspicians
      For the tellers of yesterday's truths

Holding onto hope like slippery pearls
  My tenderized heartache twists and twirls
    Fading memories chasing unkept trails
      From the tellers of yesterday's truths

This transformation isn't complete
  Little changes building faith so sweet
    Ground thumping with irregular beats
      For the tellers of yesterday's truths

May tomorrow's ghosts see helpless grace
  Arrogance gone like a broken vase
    Reckless demons falling out of place
      For the tellers of yesterday's truths

The Grace of Falling Leaves – A Poem

Those that run with swifter feet.
Know not the grace of falling leaves.   
Nor the magic of treasures deep.   
For they move too fast and do not see.   

Those they love and things they need.   
They make their lists and miss the trees.   
The mystics mourn for living peace.   
Yet moments pass, and no one sees.   

Deeper wells of hidden gems.   
Forgetting depths of secret hymns.   
Humming unheard invocations.   
They won’t recall, and no one listens.   

Those that run with swifter feet.
Might well find grace in slowing pace.
For slow and steady wins the race. 
Avoiding dungeons, maintaining grace. 

The Gates of Hell – A Poem

I’ll take you to the gates of Hell 
I’ll show you what’s there
It’s a horrific, sadistic, gaudy affair
With twisted metals and steep swirling stairs

I’ll take you to the throne of Death
I’ll show you the way
It sits atop the fork of two great lakes
One called disunion, the other disgrace

I’ll take you to the bowels of Hades
I’ll show you who’s there
The liars, the lied-to, ordinary faces
With haunted red eyes and bent bloody feet

I’ll take you to the edge of Sorrow
I’ll show you the pain
The broken, intrepid, intricate traces
Longing to find relief yet complacent 

I’ll take you to the verge of Salvation
I’ll show you the plan
The death, the water, the rush of language 
Choice determines the end destination

Relearning Love – A Poem

I’ve had to learn,
Not every love comes with an expiration date,
Not every heart comes filled with unrecognized rage,
Not every kind word hides secrets full of hate,
And fate does not control what God creates.

If He is love
then love is good regardless of the pain. 
Perhaps the good is better 
once the hurt has filled our veins. 
Maybe love is worth more than we can explain. 
God gave us hearts that break. 
And grace to put them back together again.

I’m relearning love, and it’s better than it was 
Because love is more than fairy tales 
and pretty songs, beating hearts
simple thoughts.
It’s bigger than castles and kingdoms
demons and dreamers
roses and poems and old dusty speeches.

It’s stronger than iron
colder than frozen glass
and burns like the summer sun.
It’s laughter and tears, turmoil and fear. 
It’s incredibly happy and unbelievably sad. 
It’s anger and madness. 
It’s faithful and kind when things are bad. 
It’s tough in the struggle, a light in the dark. 
A whisper in the wind, a hand 
holding tight 
when the worst possible news steals your breath 
and holds it like a vice.
Love forgets to remember 
and remembers to forgive when it does. 
That’s the paradox of love.
It confronts and contends 
without controlling or pretending. 
It speaks up but never down.

But most of all, it casts out fear. It just throws it out.
It wrestles and fights and grabs it tight 
sometimes from morning to night
until finally, perfect light.
Suddenly, with flashes of godly light
love shines so bright
all traces of darkness vanish beneath its might. 
Finally, fear is forced back 
to Hell from whence it came.

The Lynching of Leo Frank

An innocent Jew hung unjustly from a tree to the great delight of an onlooking crowd. Only a handful of quietly spoken words crossed his lips before he died. His accusers craved his death long before it occurred. He wasn’t given a fair trial. An actual murderer went free. And history will forever grieve the tragedy. Although the details are similar in many ways, I’m not referring to Jesus Christ. Instead, I’m referencing the undeserved lynching of Leo Frank.

The Tragic Death of Mary Phagan

For the sake of time, I can only give the highlights of a story that sparked national attention in the Atlanta area in 1913. “Little Mary Phagan,” as she became known, left home on the morning of April 26 to pick up her wages at the pencil factory in Marietta and view Atlanta’s Confederate Day parade. She never returned home.

The next day, the factory night watchman found her bloody, sawdust-covered body in the factory basement. When the police asked Leo Frank to view her body, Frank became agitated. He confirmed personally paying Mary her wages but could not say where she went next. Frank, the last to admit seeing Mary alive, became the prime suspect. Sadly for Frank, he was a Northern-born, college-educated, wealthy Jewish man, making him the easy target of intense bias and hatred.

A Sham Trial

Cobb county prosecutor Hugh Dorsey painted Leo Frank as a pervert who was both a homosexual and also preyed on young girls. What he did not tell the grand jury was that a janitor at the factory, Jim Conley, had been arrested two days after Frank when he was seen washing blood off his shirt. Conley then admitted writing two notes found by Mary Phagan’s body. The police correctly assumed at the time that, as the author of those notes, Conley was the murderer, but Conley claimed, after coaching from Dorsey, that Leo Frank had confessed to murdering Mary in the tool room and then paid Conley to write the notes and help him move Mary’s body to the basement.

Even after Frank’s housekeeper placed him at home, having lunch at the time of the murder, and despite gross inconsistencies in Conley’s story, both the grand and trial jury chose to believe Conley. In August 1913, the jury found Frank guilty in less than four hours. Crowds outside the courthouse shouted, “Hang the Jew.”

Historian Leonard Dinnerstein reports that one juror had been overheard saying before his selection for the jury, “I am glad they indicted the… Jew. They ought to take him out and lynch him. And if I get on that jury, I’ll hang that Jew for sure.”

Facing intimidation and mob rule, the trial judge sentenced Frank to death. He barred Frank from the courtroom because, had he been acquitted, Frank might have been lynched by the crowd outside.

A Brave Man Tries

Georgia’s higher courts rejected Frank’s appeals despite these breaches of due process, and shockingly the U. S. Supreme Court voted, 7-2, against reopening the case. Frank’s survival depended on then Georgia Governor Frank Slaton. After a 12-day review of the evidence, Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment. He hoped to allow Leo Frank time to clear his name and for further evidence to come forward as tempers abated. Governor Slaton told his wife on the day he decided to commute Leo Frank’s sentence, “My conscience is forcing me to commute Leo Frank’s sentence, but that means I can’t possibly run for a second term as governor, my life will be in constant danger, and our reputations will be ruined in this state.” Without hesitation, she responded, “I’d rather be married to a dead hero than a living coward.”

That night, state police kept a protesting crowd of 5,000 from the governor’s mansion. Wary Jewish families fled Atlanta. Slaton held firm. “Two thousand years ago,” he wrote a few days later, “another Governor washed his hands and turned over a Jew to a mob. For two thousand years, that governor’s name has been accursed. If today another Jew were lying in his grave because I had failed to do my duty, I would all through life find his blood on my hands and would consider myself an assassin through cowardice.”

A Midnight Lynching

On August 17, 1915, 28 men — described by peers as “sober, intelligent, of established good name and character”— stormed the Milledgeville, GA prison hospital where Leo Frank was recovering from having his throat slashed by a fellow inmate. They kidnapped Frank, drove him more than 100 miles to Mary Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and hanged him from a tree at the stroke of midnight. The Cobb county’s mayor and sheriff and former Georgia governor Joseph Brown were among the 28 vigilantes.

Frank conducted himself with dignity, calmly proclaiming his innocence.

Townsfolk were proudly photographed beneath Frank’s swinging corpse, pictures you can find with a quick online Google search today. When his term expired a year later, Slaton did not run for reelection, and the dishonest prosecutor, Dorsey, easily won the election to the governor’s office. None of the vigilantes were ever arrested or convicted of any crime. This story has gone down in the pages of history as Georgia’s Great Shame.

The Deadly Silence of a Good Man

In 1982, a death bed confession by a former office boy at National Pencil, along with hosts of other pieces of evidence, confirmed what many suspected. Alonzo Mann, 83 at the time he came forward, said he witnessed Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan’s body to the factory’s basement on the day of her death. He kept silent, he said, because Conley threatened to kill him and his family.

Self-Righteous Vigilantes

Fascinatingly, from all the accounts I’ve read, the men who hanged Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan did not go about it with a spirit of lawlessness or vindictiveness. They felt a duty to their state and commonwealth and a responsibility to the memory of Mary Phagan. In other words, they really thought they were correcting a breach of justice and doing the right thing. Now. Did their biased prejudice blind them to their own inconsistencies? Absolutely. Did they have their own sins and hypocrisies to deal with? Yes. Those men, who were otherwise upstanding citizens, committed a horrific act of unspeakable evil. They committed an atrocity while wearing self-aggrandizing badges of righteousness. They even called themselves the Nights of Mary Phagan. They died believing they’d done the right thing, and because they paid no earthly consequences, it seemed like a confirmation of righteousness.

Crucify Him

The people who screamed for the crucifixion of Jesus were the Old Testament equivalents of good church folks. They went to Temple services, paid their tithes, offered their sacrifices, and dressed right. The religious elites stirred them up, but the average saint got caught in the current of opinion and outrage. They believed in half-truths, complete falsehoods, and total misnomers. Folks otherwise considered “good” people released a murderer and killed their savior. This odd ability to consider ourselves good while being thoroughly evil is a product of The Fall. And therein lies the lesson within the lesson from the events leading to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Within each of us, “good” people reside carefully masked malevolence, unrealized potential for evil, and thinly veiled hypocrisy.

The Lie of Innate Goodness

The Western preoccupation with people’s (especially our own) relative goodness is astonishing and spiritually toxic. It’s harmful because when we think of ourselves as relatively “good” or “descent,” we compare ourselves to other sinful human beings. Thus, creating a hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable sins based on our feelings, current culture, upbringing, socioeconomics, and personality. Historically, Christianity has endeavored to walk the fine line between radically affirming the value of all human life because it is created in the image of God while concurrently rejecting the humanistic philosophy which presupposes people are innately good. Muddying the waters, even more, is the fact that even if we accept that people are not inherently good, we easily exempt ourselves (and our loved ones) from that incriminatory viewpoint and reckon that we are good deep down. We hear of horrible things individuals did in the distant past and, with the delightful advantage of hindsight, assume we would never have participated in such a terrible thing. But truthfully, we don’t really know that to be a fact.

Why Do You Call Me Good?

In Mark 10:17-23, a wealthy young ruler came running to Jesus and offered a greeting he never intended to be controversial. He asked, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” As usual, Jesus responded to a question with another question, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, and that is God?” The man called Jesus “good.” The Greek word the young man used is agathos, meaning “intrinsically good.” This word was not used lightly nor for every good thing. Had the man made the leap that Jesus was indeed God, who was intrinsically good? Was he prepared to accept the full weight of his pronouncements?

It became clear as the conversation continued that the young man considered himself quite good based on his actions. Maybe even intrinsically good. But Jesus zeroed in on the man’s secret sins: pride, love of money, and lack of generosity. And because he loved his money more than Jesus, he missed the opportunity to become a disciple. Or perhaps, we might assume the young man missed the broader point Jesus was inferring, which was that He was God manifest in the flesh and that alone made Him intrinsically good.

Capable of Good & Evil

To summarize a weighty biblical theme from this little interaction: Human beings are capable of both good and evil at any given time. Because we are capable of evil and often do bad things, we are not primarily good deep down. In fact, the deeper we go, the more malevolence we find within the human heart. To view ourselves and others as mostly good is to deny the reality and the seriousness of sin. Only God is good all the time. Only God is utterly incapable of evil. To think anything less of God is heresy. If humanity is essentially good, the cross was unnecessary, and the Bible is a colossal waste of time. Most Christians know this to be true but live as if it is not. We accept the grace and mercy of God and slowly begin to lean on our own goodness. And that’s the trap because once humans believe they’ve become thoroughly good, they do awful things without a hint of conviction or remorse. That is the very definition of self-righteousness.

How Can It Be So Wrong When I’m So Good?

Furthermore, most unsaved people believe their perceived goodness will buy them a ticket to Heaven. “After all,” they think to themselves, “only terrible people need saving, but I’m a decent person.” Meanwhile, they point fingers at other people’s splinters while ignoring the log poking out of their eyes. Self-justification says, “If I’m doing it, it can’t be so dreadfully wrong because I’m so good.” It’s sort of like the parent who criticizes everyone else’s kids but winks when their kids do the same things. How can that be? Well, their kids are innately better than your kids in their eyes.

A Flawed Pentecostal Preacher

I think it’s so interesting that God chose Peter to preach the first Gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Of all the disciples, Peter was far from the most exemplary. By my hasty count, Peter failed twelve times before preaching that sermon. Of course, some of those failures were more severe than others. But some of them were pretty significant. Even outright sinful. To name a few, Peter, filled with selfish ambition, argued with the other disciples about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. He rebuked Jesus for talking about His soon-to-be crucifixion and had to be severely corrected. He failed to stay alert in prayer during Jesus’ greatest hour of need. He denied Jesus with “oaths” and “curses” in the public arena. And after being completely overwhelmed by his sins and the self-discovery of his weaknesses, he abandoned the Apostolic Team and returned to his former life as a fisherman.

Yet, Peter was still allowed to preach the first apostolic declaration of the Gospel. I don’t think that was coincidental. In God’s grand design, a man thoroughly acquainted with his internal badness faithfully preached the convicting of sins to a self-righteous crowd. Peter didn’t waver when he declared (and I’m paraphrasing), “You have taken Jesus with wicked hands and have crucified Him and slain Him (Acts 2:23).” He didn’t stop there, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made the same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).” Only a man fully convinced of his own capacity for badness could preach with such convicting fervor. Because Peter had faced his personal heart trouble, he could see the disease in others who couldn’t see it for themselves.

Convicts Always Recognize Convicts

An individual who’d spent a great deal of time in prison once told me he could always spot someone who had served jail time in any setting. And they could spot him too. I witnessed that very thing several times while with him. It was intriguing to watch. You might assume it was because of tattoos, stern expressions, or something obvious. But it wasn’t. Two perfectly normal-looking people could walk past each other and instantly know they’d served time somewhere. Besides, tattoos are so common now that you’d hardly assume they’re prison-related.  

When Peter called otherwise normal-looking people sinful cold-blooded murderers, it was a convict recognizing convicts. Because he acknowledged his sin, he could see there’s too. Peter’s conviction gave him the anointing to preach conviction. Notice the crowd’s response in Acts 2:37, “…When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart and said… ‘what shall we do?’” Peter didn’t convict them; they were already convicted and pronounced guilty by God. They just didn’t realize it until Peter made it clear. Thankfully, the burden of guilt doesn’t have to end with the punishment we deserve if we’ll obey the way of escape Peter preached. He said with God-given authority:

…Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).

Reaching the Religious

Nearly everyone Peter preached to that day was religious. They didn’t consider themselves bad or lost. Every preacher knows the most challenging crowd to reach is a group of smugly religious people. People who can lynch an innocent man in cold blood in the name of God. People who’ve tasted the loaves and fishes yet still shouted: “crucify him.” Or people who once were blind but now see after one touch from Jesus who now use those healed eyes to find fault in the one who gave them sight. Or folks who had no voice until Jesus touched them, and now their voices are lifted in gossip and slander. Somehow, Peter had to reach these people and show them their spiritual blindness. That’s still the mission of the Church today. However, we won’t fulfill that mandate until we attend to our sin and then call others to do the same.

You Can’t Skip the Grave

We love to tell the story of the resurrection. And that’s a good thing, but we can’t skip over the grave to get to it. There’s no resurrection without a painful death and a dark grave. We modern Christians are far more comfortable with the celebration than with the necessary conviction that must precede that celebration. We don’t like to think about it, but we’re no better than the crowds that shouted for Jesus’ death. Our sin put him on the cross just as their sin did. We’re full of corruption too. Evil is always crouched at the door, waiting to pounce on us. We might even be the modern equivalent of a Sadducee or Pharisee. We might have been photographed standing under Leo Frank’s swinging body with smug grins in a different time and place.

Most folks want to skip right past the painful death-to-self repentance brings. But the apostle Paul, another flawed sinner turned preacher, called that death-to-self a daily process. Calvary brings graphic clarity to a twofold revelation: First, humanity is desperately sinful and deserves punishment. Second, God loves us so much that He took that punishment on our behalf and now offers pardon for our depravity. We aren’t good. Not even close. But He’s good—more good than we know. His blood can cleanse us from all unrighteousness, but first, we must face the ugly truth about ourselves. Letting the old you die hurts. It hurts a lot. But the resurrection that follows is worth it.

My Opinionated Opinion About Opinions

Your Opinion Matters

We’ve all received an email after visiting a retail or eating establishment titled something along the lines of Your Opinion Matters inviting us to give our feedback. Similar emails and text messages request our all-important answers for special surveys where our opinions are espoused to be desperately needed. I’ve even noticed this phenomenon at the beginning of a simple phone call. They ask right from the beginning if you’d be willing to stick around after the call for a brief survey—again, giving the illusion of an actual dependency on our opinions. In the latter case, I’ve been told by involved sources that those phone surveys don’t particularly care about our specific feedback as they claim. But companies know that if we’ve had a frustrating phone experience, we’re wired to feel better after complaining in a short survey, which means that we’re less likely to express our anger in some public way that might put the company in a bad light. In other words, we’re so prone to giving our opinion that we’ve become predictably naive and manipulatable. That’s one side of the equation.

Opinionated Opinions

On the other hand, I’ve noticed an ongoing social media trope declaring: People need your love more than your opinion. That statement may or may not be correct, depending on the circumstances. There are situations where I’d prefer my doctor to have valid opinions far more than lovingly offered incorrect opinions. Still, there are times I need a correct loving opinion. But who expects nuance in social media wisdom these days? However, let’s not let the irony pass us by that the statement, “People need your love more than your opinion,” is an opinionated opinion about having opinions. Perhaps it would be more correct to say make sure when giving your opinion you do so with love. But that doesn’t fit as easily in Instagram’s square box.

The Opinion that Cried Wolf

There’s a tug of war in our nature that does need reconciling. We do love to give our opinion. Even introverts can’t resist hinting at their firmly held opinions, even if they do so passive-aggressively or in coded language. Sometimes we are so loose with our opinions that we lose influence because people learn to tune us out. Sort of like the little boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf and when a wolf really did show up, no one believed the little boy’s warning. Similarly, many people waste their influence by spouting their opinion over myopic subjects that matter very little in the grand scheme of life. When their opinion really could make a difference, no one is listening.

The Facts Don’t Care About Your Opinion

To complicate things even more, we naturally enjoy giving our opinion much more than hearing the opinions of others. And that includes hearing the opinions of people who know more than we know about the topic at hand. No one likes a know-it-all, and no one wants to appear ignorant. It’s a conundrum that creates all kinds of problems. We like to feel as though we secretly or overtly know more than others. Of course, this is exacerbated by social media and the internet because we all have access to information that may or may not be correct. Let alone helpful. If you need an example, mess around on a medical self-diagnosing website for a few minutes. You’ll be convinced you have some rare condition you previously did not know existed.

Wisdom & Opinion

Because of my ministerial calling, the subject of opinions intrigues me deeply. The word alone is complicated to unpack because the question of how to separate opinion from fact (or truth) becomes paramount to this whole discussion. It’s easier to dismiss something as an “opinion” than to face it as an inconvenient fact we just don’t want to hear. Even the word opinion comes weighted with the “your truth” versus “my truth” connotation. Frequently we dump unwanted truth in the it’s-just-their-opinion basket. While other times, opinion givers package their unnecessary bias as a fact when it would be better to frame that thought as a personal opinion. Or better yet, leave the thought unstated altogether. That’s where wisdom comes into play. Oh, and humility too.

It would be misleading for me to infer I’ve perfected the art of knowing when and how to give my opinion. I’m certainly a work in progress. But I am slowly learning and struggling to grow in wisdom and humility. A case could be made that ministry and all forms of leadership revolve around the perfecting of opinions. Hopefully, those opinions are grounded in timeless biblical truths, Spirit-led wisdom, and intentional humility. Nonetheless, leadership in all its various forms is steeped in the wellspring of opinion. Indeed, preaching is divinely designed to shape, change, and rearrange fleshly views. Much of ministry encompasses the dispensing of opinion or offering wisdom to others.

The Difference Between Sacred & Secular Opinion

Ministry is dramatically unique from almost every secular leadership environment. Every opinion turned policy must be followed in the corporate leadership world, or you lose your job. That’s even more true in military leadership structures. All federal and local government jobs are that way too. There are typically immediate consequences for ignoring leaders’ opinions in secular leadership structures. But although ministers have God-given authority (and we could argue another time about how absolute that authority should be according to Scripture), that authority cannot and should not be imposed forcefully. The Bible is clear; shepherds must not lord over the flock (1 Peter 5:3). In this instance, I prefer the English Standard Version’s translation, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).”

Influence: The Currency of the Ministry

The harsh reality of ministry is that you spend more time counseling and comforting people after they discarded your opinion (wise counsel) than just about anything else. And after a couple of hundred hours of those sad sessions where you bite your tongue half off to keep from saying I-told-you-so, authoritarianism seems awfully appealing. Or, you might be tempted never to offer a wise opinion and just live and let live. Countless burned-out ministers have expressed that very feeling to me in private. I understand and relate to their emotions. The currency of ministry is influence, and that’s challenging to maintain ethically, especially when staying true to complex yet fundamental principles. Everything in this world is striving to gain influence over the people under a shepherd’s care. Most of those opinionated influences seek to undermine spiritual guidance, and a shepherd can’t use his staff to beat sheep into submission. That sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s less obvious when a shepherd sees one of his sheep following a wolf into the wilderness. So, let me offer my opinionated opinions about dispensing opinions, most of which are things I’ve learned through trial and error.

More Listening and Less Speaking

James 1:19 instructs us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7 reminds us there is a time for silence and a time to speak. And Proverbs 17:27 in the English Standard Version says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Again, in the English Standard Version, Proverbs 18:13 declares, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” These, along with many other relevant Scriptures, underscore an important implied lesson about how every Christian should approach offering their opinions. Mainly, we should do less speaking and more listening.

There’s more wisdom in this little principle than we might recognize immediately. First, less speaking gives us more time to gather our thoughts and offer a well-worded opinion. Second, it allows us to hear all the relevant information before jumping to the wrong conclusion or getting ahead of the facts. Third, it enables us to maintain a calm demeanor that projects wisdom and understanding rather than impatience and impetuousness. There is a time to speak our opinion but learning to listen long enough is a discipline many leaders lack. I’ve found that many people will tell things they didn’t intend to reveal if I let them speak long enough, allowing me to understand what I’m really dealing with under the surface. If I’d spoken sooner, my advice would not have been helpful because I lacked awareness.

More Building Up and Less Tearing Down

Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Similarly, Ephesians 4:29 in the English Standard Version says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

It’s easy to focus on other people’s failures, negatives, and downright stupidity when offering opinions—that mindset results in an offensive, critical, condescending, and prideful demeanor. That doesn’t mean constructive criticism or outright correction is never warranted. Warnings and disapproval must be seasoned with grace and should fit the occasion. Don’t do a disapproval dump of the, and-while-I’m-at-it-let-me-say-this, variety. Most people can only handle so much constructive criticism at one time. If they feel like you’ve been waiting to pounce, it can be crushing to the heartiest of spirits. A good rule of thumb is to temper each negative statement with at least one or two positive comments. Never tear down without building up at the same time. Never lance an infection without applying ointment and bandaging it with care.

More Praying Before Answering

Numbers 9:1-14 recounts a fascinating leadership lesson from the early days of Moses’ ministry. The Israelites had been in the wilderness for one year after leaving Egypt, and God gave specific instructions on what day to celebrate the Passover. Moses dutifully passed the instructions along to the people, and preparations seemed to be going smoothly until a few men approached Moses with a problem. They had come into contact with a dead body rendering them ceremonially unclean which meant they were technically disqualified from celebrating the Passover at the God-ordained time. This might sound silly to our New Testament way of thinking, but this was a big deal with no obvious solution. And the way Moses responded to these men is an example for us all. He said, “Wait here until I have received instructions for you from the Lord (Numbers 9:8).” If we all prayed more before giving opinions, everyone would be in better shape. We’d likely throw our opinions out less often but with better results. Why? Because prayer forces us to make sure our opinion is actually God’s opinion, which makes all the difference.

More Replying and Less Coercing

One day King Zedekiah called for the prophet Jeremiah to come and speak with him. “I want to ask you something,” he said firmly. “And don’t try to hide the truth,” he demanded. Jeremiah’s response contains a lesson for us about when and how to handle knowledge. The prophet’s response is found in Jeremiah 38:15, and I’m using the English Standard Version, “If I tell you the truth, you will kill me. And if I give you advice, you won’t listen to me anyway.” Most people can’t wait to give their opinion, and they would be beside themselves if a king wanted their advice. Yet, Jeremiah knew opinions are a dime a dozen, and wasting advice on people who won’t receive it can produce more damage than good. After some back and forth, Jeremiah eventually did offer his opinion, but only after ensuring the king was sincerely ready to receive it.

Proverbs 1:5 in the English Standard Version declares, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Again, in the English Standard Version, Proverbs 15:12 asserts, “A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.” Here’s the harsh point, if you have to chase people down to give them your opinion (or advice), you’re wasting your time. The moment you find yourself trying to coerce people into enduring your opinion, the struggle for influence has already been lost. That doesn’t mean you can’t regain it, but the timing is off. People ready to receive counsel will come to you. And those who never seek wise opinions would do well to consider Ecclesiastes 4:13 (English Standard Version), “Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.”

More Love and Less of Everything Else

I know it gets taken out of context quite a bit, but it would be foolish to have this discussion without referencing the admonition of Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth with love. The old saying is true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Beyond that, some people will never care how much you care or how much you know. Love them anyway, but save your breath for those willing to listen. But remember, even people willing to listen will reject your opinion if you give it without love. Let’s commit ourselves to the hard work of loving more than spouting off opinions. Cold-hearted leaders harm the truth with their actions despite their correct words—cloak hard facts in the softness of love. If they reject your wisdom and leadership, you can stand before the Lord with a blameless heart.

More Wisdom and Less Foolishness

Let’s switch gears from the subject of giving opinions to the importance of receiving correct views from others. Regardless of status, we all need wise counsel, or we will descend into foolishness. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the legendary author of Crime & Punishment, once said, “The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.” President John F. Kennedy is noted as saying, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Those two quotes are self-deprecating ways of articulating that even the wisest among us still need the wisdom of those more discerning. Intelligent people know their weaknesses and acknowledge their blind spots. Foolish people insist on trusting their insufficiencies to their detriment.

The psalmist promised, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1:1).” And Proverbs 13:20 warned, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed (Proverbs 13:20).” The apostle Paul cautioned the church in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” It’s not enough to know you need the opinions of others. Having the prudence to find good godly counsel is the key that unlocks the door to sagacity. Astute people seek advice from wise people, and silly people glean from the opinions of foolish people.

More Peace and Less Drama

James 3:17-18 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture (I’m quoting from the English Standard Version):

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

If you’re wondering how to decipher the difference between righteous opinions and fleshly opinions, the above passage should be circled and boldly highlighted in your Bible. Pious opinions are always seeking peace. That doesn’t mean they’re weak or watered down. It simply means they’re working hard to be peaceful, merciful, sincere, and impartial. Each one of those four things takes courage, effort, and intentionality. Things like contentiousness, cantankerousness, condescension, and downright divisiveness don’t require much exertion because they’re baked into our sinful nature. Look for leaders who strive to keep peace and attempt to be that kind of leader yourself. And if you do, you will reap a harvest of righteousness.