All the knowledge in the world with no tact is worthless. A little knowledge with a lot of tact can change the world.
“Handling” people. That is one of the hardest things to learn about in life. How to “handle” our spouse. How to “handle” our moody boss. How to “handle” a person at church who has a “less than stellar” personality. I don’t often “handle” people well. It takes a lot of time, patience, and empathy. It takes all of those things that don’t come naturally to me. I like to act rashly, without having to organize a “plan of attack.” I am going through this right now with my teenage daughter. If ever two people clashed, it is me and her. I think it is because we are so much alike. Either way, most of the time I get frustrated, irritable, and say things that can do nothing other than make our relationship more difficult.
I am under the impression that we Christians do not “handle” people well. We often substitute knowledge for prudence, tact, and wisdom. We think that if we have the right answers, this covers a multitude of sins. We think knowledge and correct information somehow run on autopilot and have the power to persuade in and of themselves.
If you are in the world of theological discussion, multiply this imprudence by ten. And if you are on the internet, you can multiply that by ten.
Here are some things that qualify as the opposite of tact:
- Having to be right about everything
- Being unnecessarily offensive
- Failing to show respect to people as God’s image bearers
- Lack of graciousness in speech
- Misrepresenting your opponent
- Never giving the benefit of the doubt
- Correcting people you have never encouraged
- Always saying what’s on your mind
- “Hit-and-run” comments on the internet
Tact requires sensitivity. Tact requires thoughtfulness. Tact requires patience.
What does tactless Christianity look like? I think of the Calvinist who called the Arminian a liar (oh yeah, that is going to change his mind!). I think of the Arminian who called the Calvinist God “the God of Calvinism” (could he be any more unnecessarily offensive?). I think of the anti-homosexual who holds up a sign that says, “God hates fags” (does he really think that is going to change anyone?). I think of the husband who tells his wife to submit because the Bible says so (yeah, and who said it was his job to make her?). I think of the blogger who writes all day about a person he believes is wrong, yet has no relationship with the person otherwise (what makes that blogger think he has an audience with this person?). I think of the husband who tells the truth when his wife asks, “Do these pants make me look fat?” Tactless. Imprudent. Rash. Stupid. These are all in the same domain about which I am speaking.
Humor me as we take a cue from Satan. It was said that the Prince of Darkness was more shrewd than any other animal.
Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?”
This word “shrewd” is my focus. The NAB uses “cunning.” The NJB uses “subtle.” The NLT and NET use “shrewd.” However, most other translations use the word “crafty.” Crafty . . . have you ever been called crafty? Have you ever been called cunning? Probably not in a good way. But my proposal to you is that were we more like Satan here, we might be more effective and productive in our relationships – and even glorify God to a greater degree. I know, I know, there is nothing in this passage which tells us to act like Satan. However, I think the way he approaches Eve, sly though he may have been, was thoughtful and, in a very real sense, wise. He was not rash. He thought about the best approach. He was tactful. He always is. That is why he presents himself in a very attractive manner to us (2 Cor. 11:14). Of all the bad things we can say about the dragon of old, he certainly knows what he is doing.
But more importantly for my argument, the word used for Satan’s shrewdness is the same word used in Proverbs 13:16:
“Every shrewd person acts with knowledge, but a fool displays his folly.”
We are to be shrewd, cunning, and crafty. We are to have tact. If we don’t, we are fools. This positive look at craftiness can be found in many other passages, especially in the Proverbs (Prov. 12:23; Prov. 14:18; Prov. 27:12). And we cannot forget that really odd parable where the guy gets fired, and quickly goes and settles his master’s debts at a fraction of the price in order to make sure he has friends on the outside (Luke 16:1-9). Jesus praises the man for being crafty, tactful, and shrewd.
And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.
The idea is that we don’t think deeply. We are not calculated. We don’t know how to “handle” people.
I love the example of Paul before King Agrippa in Acts 26. He knew how to “handle” him. Agrippa was an unbeliever. He was not someone who Paul looked up to for spiritual things. But Paul assessed the situation, respected his position before Agrippa, and went out of his way to show Agrippa respect. He even buttered Agrippa up a bit by calling him an “expert” (Acts 26:2). At one point he used some rhetorical tact to put thoughts in Agrippa’s mind (Acts 26:27). Paul was thoughtful and cunning. His knowledge did not outrun his tact.
It is so hard to watch tactless Christianity. It is so hard to be a tactless Christian. When prudence is lacking, we might as well put Wite-Out across our day, for all our aspirations are ruined without it. Tactlessness is foolish, easy, counterproductive, sinful, unloving, arrogant, and natural. It takes a lot of work to stop and think. It takes wisdom to learn how to “handle” people. But efficacy demands it.
Though craftiness is often used for evil purposes by those who don’t love God, we are encouraged to use it for good. Let us try to be more like Satan here.