“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Back in the 90’s, I remember a phrase we used all the time on the playground. If you wanted to stop someone from talking, we would stick out our hand to stop them and say, “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.”
Basically, it showed the other person you were not interested in even speaking to them. Talk to the hand, because you were done even looking at them. When I received “the hand”, it felt harsh. It felt like the silent treatment. It felt like an immediate cut off.
Talking to the hand is a very petty action. We would see it as childish (with maybe a hint of nostalgia if you remember those days).
Yet, did you know we do the same thing? As Christians, we have at least three ways we tell others to “talk to the hand.” What may sound Biblical and “Christ-like” are phrases Jesus would never use. We may think we are being loving to another person, but, truthfully, we are just giving them the hand.
First, about labels…
First, I want to address what most people will see as a loop-hole. As Christians, we tend to label the world as “believers” and “non-believers.” We use these labels to justify our actions or degrees of love we show.
In our dealings with other Christians, Jesus tells us that the world will know we are his disciples when (not if) we love one another (John 13:35). If we want to bear the mark that we are Christ’s disciples, then it is not through what we politically do or abstain from or what personal forms of conduct we have. Those maybe a result of our relationship with Jesus, but they are not the mark for the world to see we are his disciples. It is through our love for each other that we prove to the world we are his. In fact, Jesus commands us to love each other (John 15:17).
In our dealings with unbelievers, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-48 we need to be perfect in our love to others (even our enemies). An enemy is anyone who is opposed to you. An unbeliever is someone who could fit that definition. But how does God treat enemies? He sends rain to both the godly and the ungodly. He is gracious and loving. Jesus reminds us that there is no real reward in loving our friends, but found in loving our enemies.
So, we understand that love is extended to both believers and unbelievers. Now, let’s look at the ways we tend to tell people to “talk to the hand, because our face ain’t listening.”
tHE playact prayer
I love the movie The War Room. I love hearing the stories throughout church history about the power of prayer. We take church services and spend the whole time praying for our country, for revival, and for needs in our churches. Prayer is a very powerful tool. James 5:16 tells us the earnest prayer of a righteous man can accomplish great things. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7-11 we need to knock, seek, and ask. In persistent prayer, there is found God’s good gifts. Can I get an amen?
However, there is an attitude that Jesus does not demonstrate. In fact, it is condemned in the New Testament. It is when someone (believer or unbeliever) approaches us with a need and we say something like, “I am sorry you are going through this. I will be praying for you,” or “God will provide. Trust him. I will keep you in my prayers” and we do not do anything.
We never find Jesus turning away someone who came to him in faith to receive. Even when someone said to him, “if you are willing to heal me,” Jesus answered, “I am willing. Be healed. (Matthew 8:1-3).” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, even if we want a person hurt, we need to give our cloak and we need to walk the extra mile (Matthew 5:38-42).
James even addresses this. James 2 is confronting this attitude. We should not have favorites, but love everyone. If we want to show the validity and sincerity of our faith, James tells us to never turn someone away and bless them without being able to at least help them in some way. He says what good is it to bless someone with, “be warmed and filled,” and not actually help them (James 2:14-16)? In fact, to only tell someone you are praying for them without actually acting to help them, James says, your faith is dead and useless (James 2:17).
How many times have we had someone ask for help financially or with finding a job or keeping their home or are in a crisis, and we just tell them to “trust God, because he will provide and we will pray for them”? That is putting on a playact of faith. It is not actually showing our faith. It is a similar attitude the pharisees had. They would show off their grand money and spiritual height, but did they actually help people? Or did they only help to promote themselves (Matthew 6:1-4)?
Telling someone we will pray for them without actually helping them is telling them,” Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It shows we cannot be bothered with their needs. Sure, we may not have the funds to help, but can we help them acquire what they need?
When our faith is without works, it is dead and useless. Prayer without action is a playact of faith. It is no better than the religious leaders who put Jesus on the cross.
The spurious separation
As a teacher, I have a love for the movie Mean Girls. It depicts life in a high school, and the drama that takes place. Through my years of teaching, I have seen many of those lines and scenes play out among the students I interacted with. One of the most common lines I hear is – “You can’t sit with us!” One group finds another group (or person) detestable and will make sure no one makes the mistake of them being associated.
As Christians, we can do the same to others. A need comes to our attention either through a conversation, text message, social media post, etc. What do we do? Sometimes we consider the person or circumstance, and we think, “I do not want to appear as supporting this persons sin or have other Christians think I approve of them in anyway. Remember, God says I need to abstain from every form of evil.” We pat ourselves on the back for this thinking as we back it up with I Thessalonians 5:22.
Again, we must ask, was this the attitude of Jesus? In Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-32, Jesus is called out for eating with sinners. The religious leaders hated that Jesus associated with and allowed “sinners” close to him. Even the disciples were shocked when Jesus associated with a Samaritan woman, because that was taboo (John 4:27). Jesus associated with sinners, because he knew that his kindness could lead to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Did you know Peter was called out by Paul for not wanting to associate with certain Christians, because other Christians might look down on him (Galatians 2:11-21)? In the early church, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were figuring out how to interact with each other. Some of their practices were different from each other, but they all agreed that faith saves. Paul had to remind Peter that it is Jesus who saves; not the works of the law or anything we do. Therefore, there should be unity between Christians.
This attitude does infect our churches today. We see a Christian, who may be in sin, ask for help, and what do we do? We may tell them no, because we do not want to be seen as supporting them. We see an unbeliever in need who asks for our help, and what do we do? We assess how our helping them will affect our image and reputation among other Christians.
This is unbiblical thinking. Even if a Christian is under Matthew 18:15-17, and is removed from a church or is now seen as a “pagan or a corrupt tax collector,” what are we to do? Jesus still loved and met the needs of unbelievers. We never stop loving or disassociating from someone “out of love.” Jesus never did.
To tell someone or treat someone with separation, because you do not want to “support their sin” or have a bad reputation among believers in your church is a spurious separation. It is telling someone, “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It is just like the pharisees using Scripture to justify not honoring their parents or putting their traditions above God’s word (Mark 7:1-13).
Does this kind of “love” really show the world we are Christ’s disciples?
Afflicting holy hurt
It is sad when someone walks away from Jesus. It hurts us inside when someone makes a choice that leads down a bad path. Our heartbreaks for that person. In these situations, we may hear or even say ourselves, “I hope God breaks them in order to bring them back to repentance,” or “I pray God uses this awful situation to break their hard heart,” or “You are going through such a hard time with (insert a difficulty and need), but maybe God is using this to break you.” I have heard this many, many times in various churches and among Christians. I even heard someone pray that if God needed to use a car wreck to break someone, that it should be done.
When has it even been Biblical to wish harm on someone in order for them to come to Jesus? In Luke 9:51-56, the disciples are angry that the Samaritans did not welcome Jesus. So, they asked Jesus to send down fire on those people. For what purpose? Jesus rebuked the disciples, and continued onto the next town.
God doesn’t even think like that! I Peter 3:9 states so! God is patient. He doesn’t want anyone destroyed, but to all come to repentance through his love and kindness (Romans 2:4).
There is only one person who was broken for the sake of our repentance – Jesus Christ. He was broken so we could live and be free. Through his broken body he established the covenant of grace. No longer our relationship with God is based on blessings and curses as seen in the Old Testament. It is based on grace. It is based on God’s love towards us. He uses his love and grace to draw us to him. He isn’t wanting our destruction in order bring about repentance. Wherever that idea came from, it sure didn’t come from Jesus.
To pray for God to hurt someone physically, financially, emotionally, or mentally in order to bring about repentance is telling that person “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It says we do not want to get involved and love. We would rather see someone suffer than love on them like Jesus loves on us. The pharisees and religious leaders treated people with that kind of disdain. They would say, “Let the consequences be the teacher.” Jesus would bring any individual close, feed them, give them a place at his table, and let the Spirit change that person.
Are we loving like Christ loves and allowing the Spirit to move through our love?
Lowering our hand
It is sad how many people leave the church because they have been met with one of these three attitudes. It is sad how the love of Christ has been twisted into an imitation of the “love” of the religious leaders Jesus opposed.
What should be done?
Do any of the attitudes above emulate the real love of Jesus?
We need to have the same hand gesture as Jesus did… Open arms ready to embrace. He is always ready to welcome, bless, be gracious to, listen, understand, cry with, heal, feed, and see a life changed.
The greatest commands that fulfill the Law and the Prophets is to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40). The person who perfectly fulfilled the Law and Prophets for us is Jesus. He is our example. In fact, he says to everyone, “Come to me with your heavy burdens. Let me take them. I will give you rest and a new way of life (Matthew 11:28-30).”
How does our love for others allow them to lay down their heavy burdens and find rest in the Jesus who did the same for us?