When I was young, I loved to talk about fight stories. I was really scared of fighting, but I knew I needed a few under my belt in order to have some cred among my friends. I have always worked out quite a bit, could normally lift more than anyone I knew, and had a boxing bag in my garage that I often pummeled to submission in front of my gawking friends. The first fight I got into was in sixth grade. It was an accident, but it did the trick. One fellow, who had a history of bullying, decided to bully me. He instigated a confrontation and the tension grew. As we were at a standoff, he flinched like he was about to hit me. My reflexes kicked in and I accidentally slugged him in the jaw. I felt for him as tears welled up in his eyes before he ran off.
In high school I got into a rather serious fight. I was driving to a party with four of my buddies. We were all drunk and out of our minds. Driving down the road, someone had the gall to pass us and honk their horn (yeah, I know…can you believe the nerve?). Well, we would have none of that. We chased them down to a stop light. While waiting at the light, I jumped out of the car to chase them down (note: when drunk, for some reason you think you can chase someone better on foot than in a car). By the time I got to their window, they took off. My friends, still in the car, chased after them, leaving me behind at the corner, so I decided to walk to the convenience store fifty feet away. As I walked through the parking lot, a group of six gangster-looking guys surrounded me. I stopped. They said, “Give us your money.” I don’t remember much, but I do remember my idiotic response: “No. You give me your money.” The next thing I felt was a hard slug in my jaw. Now, being a “boxer” (if having a punching bag in my garage qualifies me as such!), I decided to start dancing around and trading punches with six guys. And you know what? I held my own. After a few minutes, my friends came back to pick me up. All of them tell the story of pulling up to me dancing in a parking lot with six hooded guys surrounding me. They jumped out of the car to come to my aid and eventually all the guys ran. I later came to find out that this group of guys were members of one of the most feared gangs around. When word about what happened got out, I was revered and honored among men. There were not too many people who would mess with me after that. Over the next few years, there were many more bar fights. I took a guy down just for talking to my girlfriend. Another time I fought for my sister’s honor. One time I had to step in as some random girl was getting hurt by her boyfriend. I was not necessarily a fighter, but I was always ready for a fight. I am just lucky no one ever had a gun or knife.
I often look back on those days and laugh. Who did I think I was? Though it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell, I still work out and I still have my bag in my garage. But it would be a rare circumstance today in which I would ever fight anyone. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a pacifist. If I am truly threatened (like I was about two years ago – another really weird story), I will protect myself and my family. But I am never looking for confrontation like I did twenty years ago. Who did I think I was?
(One more story.) One of the fights I remember most vividly happened when I was downtown leaving a bar with my buds. Some guys bumped into my friend. You just don’t do that. We all turned around. We stood there and stared at each other for about ten seconds. Then, without warning, I looked at one of the guys and clocked him as hard as I could in the face. It was the hardest and cleanest hit I ever had. The guy fell to the ground and did not move. Who in the world did I think I was? Who am I to hit someone?
I look back today in shame. Threatened or not, I enjoyed those encounters. I enjoyed being the big man on the block. I enjoyed telling these stories over and over. I enjoyed hitting people who were created in the image of God. Who did I think I was?
Now we are mature. I am in ministry, for goodness’ sake. And we are all grown up. We don’t meet after school at 3:10 in the parking lot. We don’t defend the honor of our loved ones with our physical might. We don’t turn eyes blue with a closed hand. We are mature. Right?
I am not so sure. We may not fight people with our fists, but we do fight each other with words. All we need is a crafty pen or a pulpit. Blogs are our fists and the audience we command is our brawn. Yes, we do fight. Yes, we do leave people motionless on the sidewalk. Yes, we do talk about it with friends. Yes, we do build a reputation for taking others out. And yes, for some reason, we do love it.
Why? Well, I suppose we think that we are protecting something much more important than sisters or girlfriends. We are protecting the Gospel. When we throw a punch, it is instigated by someone who says something wrong. There are people who are hiding out, watching and waiting for others to walk the alley called “Bad Theology.” There are bullies who are fueled by their audience and are intent on breaking the noses of any and all who preach a bad sermon. Their sense of smell has been trained to seek and identify foul odors. They are heat-seeking missiles who have no other purpose but to fight.
Of course, there is a time to fight for doctrine. There is a time to correct and reprove. But that time is not a given. It is earned through years of maturity and pastoral resolve and gentleness. There is a time to bloody the nose of another, but it is not to be enjoyed and it certainly does not need an audience.
When I am tempted to pick up a pen and bloody the nose of another, I remember back to the time when I left that guy motionless on the ground. Who do I think I am? This is someone who is made in the image of God . . . the image of God. It is not a casual thing to bring charges against someone, even when they deserve it.
Think of King David. If anyone had the right to fight, it was him. He was the prophetically anointed king of Israel. But his rival Saul, a godless, prideful, lying, jealous man, full of violence and destruction, would not give up the throne. David could have started a campaign against him. He could have written a hundred blogs about all of his shortcomings, failures, and murderous plots. But he did not. Why? It is hard for me to figure out. He just kept saying that he would not lay a hand on the “Lord’s anointed.” God’s anointed? He is not God’s anointed. He has bad theology, terrible morals, and is utterly self-consumed. Why call him the “Lord’s anointed”? No one could figure it out. “God has delivered him into your hands,” they would say. “Now is the time,” they would encourage him. But David, with every reason and opportunity to stop the bleeding King Saul was causing, would not intervene. He feared God so much that he would not lay a hand on him or speak ill of him. He never even named Saul in his Psalms that were clearly about Saul.
Was David a pansy when God wanted him to flex?
Let me ask you a serious question: Do you fear people? Careful how you answer. Yes, in one sense, we are not scared of men and what they can do to us. But in another sense, we are to fear people because they are made in God’s image. James puts it this way:
“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
Who do we think we are, cursing people who are created in the image of God?
For some, the criticism, the public reprimands, the polemics, and the right hooks come way too easy. For David, it was not so. He feared Saul because he feared God.
Every time I fought someone when I was young, it would attract a great audience. People would rush to see the display of inflicted pain. Fighting always gains an audience, cheers, and pats on the back, but this has no bearing on its morality. Bringing a charge against God’s anointed should bring about incredible fear. Maybe we are too mature to get into physical fights now, but from what I read in the Scripture, God has a lot more to say about the damage we can do with our words than what we can do with our fists. But often we ignore this, because it is so easy to attack others from a distance and the carnage left behind is not so visible.
I have only told about ten people this in my life, but here goes…I am going to tell thousands. I wet my pants when I fought those guys in the parking lot that night. I told everyone I had spilled beer on myself, but that was a lie. I told everyone the foul smell was from the girl who threw up in the back seat of the car that night. But the truth was simple: I was very afraid.
Let me be a bit crass here and ask this question: Do you wet your pants before you speak against someone? If not, you need to learn how. They are God’s image. The fight may have to come, but be so prepared for it that your pants get wet.