Tame the Flame
Walk wisely in a world on fire.
by ASHLEY MARIVITTORI GORMAN
O YOU FEEL like the world around you has been lit aflame, fiery arguments breaking out left and right? Whether it’s political, theological, or otherwise, it seems like people just can’t stop fighting. No matter the issue, have you noticed that spewing hatred has become socially accepted? Have you observed that sarcastic remarks and heaping blame on the other party in crude ways — especially on social media — is considered commonplace or even funny?
The world expects these things. And while it may be easy to blame our modern problems or social media itself for these behaviors — after all, it’s always easier to hurl insults on someone when you’re hiding behind a screen — the truth is that the impulse to act this way isn’t actually due to our modern age or our tech-heavy communication styles. The knee-jerk reaction to self-protect, blame-shift, and devour one another is an ancient problem that no man, or time period in history, can escape.
OUR INNER PROBLEM
In a sea of thinkers trying to figure out the underlying problem of our divisive age, the Bible has a unique take on the situation. It tells us the problem isn’t actually “out there,” though there are certainly concerning things happening in our surrounding culture. Rather, the deepest problem is “in here.” In other words, we are the reason the world is on fire. The inner self is compromised. The human heart is infected by sin and bent toward itself instead of others. The human “eye,” so to speak, can only see the other party as the culprit of whatever problem arises. As Jesus’ teaching reminds us, we all — every single one of us — maximize the part everyone else plays in any given problem, while minimizing our own. (See Matt. 7:3-5.) Our sinful, inner logic goes like this: “Sure, I’m not perfect. But them, whew! They’re the real problem here.”
And a world where everyone sees things this way? Where we see the other party as the enemy and ourselves as the heroes? Well, it’s no wonder we can’t resolve our conflicts!
What does the Christian’s posture look like in a world …
- Where everyone’s spirit is proud, assuming to always be in the right? Where people take more pride in where they are from or what group they belong to than they do in Jesus Himself?
- Where people want to look the other way when a hard truth about their people group or their own sin is right in front of them?
- Where coming out on top of the argument is the end goal?
- Where winning matters more than doing right?
- Where harsh judgment on one another is the way of things?
- Where hearts are convoluted and compromised?
- Where people make war with each other all day long, even in the family of God?
- Where the goal is to remain insulated and comfortable within a certain tribe, facing inward and never facing outward or upward?
- Where decay and darkness are the norm?
HIS OTHER-WORLDLY WISDOM
Jesus has an answer for us. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, He speaks with wisdom and clarity on the matter, and His teaching — particularly in the Beatitudes — is surprising. In the face of all the earthly ways we are used to carrying ourselves (and even rewarded for on social media!), His wisdom is other-worldly. It is heavenly. It is upside down. Unexpected. Refreshing, even.
And yet, at the same time, it is very hard. In the Beatitudes seen in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us exactly how we should conduct ourselves in a world on fire:
- Instead of having a proud spirit, have a lowly one. Take more pride in Jesus and His heavenly kingdom than in any other worldly identity or earthly country you belong to.
- Instead of looking the other way from your own sin, the sin of the people group you belong to, or the sin of the greater community around you, stare the sin in the face — whatever shape it takes — and have the courage to mourn it.
- Instead of being obsessed with coming out on top of the argument, be humble — be meek and lowly.
- Instead of craving the winner’s position, care about doing right. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. Crave doing the right thing over being clever.
- Instead of heaping harsh judgment on your neighbor — or even on your enemy — be merciful, as the Father is merciful.
- Where hearts are convoluted and compromised all around you, have a pure heart, one that is wiped clean of idols.
- Where people make war, be a different sort of presence. Be one who makes peace.
- Instead of remaining insulated and comfortable within a certain tribe, be prepared for discomfort and even persecution.
- Where decay and darkness are the norm, be salt and light.
People who operate this way in the world prove themselves to be genuine Christians, citizens of a heavenly kingdom that operates with different norms than the ways of earth. And more than that, believers who walk in this upside-down wisdom — though it is difficult to do so in a world that is bent to walk in totally opposite ways — enjoy certain rewards. They will flourish in their relationship with Christ in this life, even if it is on fire. And in the end, they will flourish in the next life, inheriting both heaven and earth. On top of that, they will not only have eyes that can finally see correctly now but also eyes that can see God Himself on the other side of resurrection glory, the Father who will forever comfort, fill, and love them. What motivation to walk according to Christ’s wisdom!
In these difficult times, as Christians we have the choice to either pour gas on the fiery conversations breaking out all around us or tame themin the unexpected power and posture of Jesus.
Be genuine Christians, citizens of a heavenly kingdom that operates with different norms than the ways of earth.
ASHLEY MARIVITTORI GORMAN serves as an associate publisher at B&H Publishing Group, an imprint of Lifeway Christian Resources. Ashley and her husband, Cole, live in Nashville, Tennessee, with their daughter, Charlie. You can find Ashley writing in various Lifeway Women Bible studies, books like World on Fire, and on digital venues like The Gospel Coalition, Lifeway Voices, ERLC, Lifeway Women, and Christ and Culture.