Have you ever heard a child tell a parent what to do, especially when they want to have a sibling to stop doing something to them? It sounds like, “Tell Ashley to give my doll back!”, or “Make Joshua quit bugging me!”
Like a child insisting that a parent tell a sibling to stop doing something, not all of us give up this habit as we grow older. We appeal to authority figures (whether in school, work, government, or even the church) to compel others to stop doing things that harm us or others, or to just quit habits that we don’t like.
Even the first-century Pharisees did this, when the crowd was praising God and welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem as a king. (This is sometimes called the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus.)
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
Luke 19:39 NIV
We could speculate (as others have done) about the Pharisees’ motivation. It could have been genuine, whether they feared that word of a new king (other than Caesar) would bring the Roman Empire in for a violent “refresher course” about who was in charge (see John 11:45-53), or because they recognized the prophesied symbolism here and believed that Jesus was making a divine claim (by letting the crowd praise God in this manner). After all, they did not believe that Jesus was divine (see Luke 5:21 and John 10:33, for instance). Or, perhaps they were jealous, and wanted the people to praise them, instead.
More important than the Pharisees’ motivation, though, is Jesus’ response in verse 40:
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:40 NIV
Whether or not the Pharisees admitted it, Jesus was – in fact – the Messiah that had been promised to the Jewish people. He wasn’t the kind of Savior that most were expecting, but He was there to rescue them (and the rest of the world). He was given all authority (see Matthew 28:18 and Hebrews 12:1-2), so when He was executed later that same week, this was Him choosing to give up His life (John 10:17-18).
So, what do we do when we don’t like what another person is doing? Before rushing to an authority figure (or starting a mob – in real life or online) to force this person to stop, let’s do two things:
First, we should make sure that we are appealing to the proper authority. It’s tempting to “ask for a manager” right away, or escalate to the highest earthly power that we can think of, just so that the formal rebuke of the other person’s actions will be final and decisive (as well as publicly humiliating).
However, not every person in charge of one thing has authority over other things. We shouldn’t expect a secular world to arbitrate moral decisions. Personal issues with another individual don’t belong on social media (nor should we enlist others to publicly shame them). Civil government shouldn’t be expected to enforce theological differences (although good beliefs can make for good government). Consider who you are appealing to when the need for escalation arises.
Second, we must make sure that we’re asking for the right things. Not everything that bugs us needs to be changed. Not every sin that we see in others is ours to fix. Not everyone who disagrees with us (especially on something trivial) has to be punished…or “canceled”. Sometimes, the other person’s habits are more righteous than our own (really!), and we need to humbly consider that maybe we don’t like them because they make us feel guilty. Other times, the difference of opinion is not that big of a deal. In yet other cases, our goal is correct, but our methods are unwise, or they do not honor God.
Of course, accountability, fairness, and private correction (especially within the church) are still appropriate in the right environments. However, the Bible outlines healthy approaches to loving reproof among the family of believers. These are generally focused on the well-being of the person who is sinning (or the community), though, rather than the individual who is offended.
Ultimately, though, if we must “go up the chain” or escalate our concerns some other way, our first step should often be to bring our concerns to God. After all, all authority comes from Him (Romans 13:1-7), and He is responsible for many things that are not always ours to decide. This might mean that we leave justice to God, or trust Him when He allows us to go through a situation that will help our faith grow.
So, the next time you want to beseech someone in authority to “make them stop”, pause and consider whether or not that’s the right action at the time. Sometimes, getting help to fix a serious problem is exactly what we need to do, but in many cases, there’s a better option.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.