Can’t you just see those men, ducking the blows from Jesus’ whip as they grab for money and merchandise, while the crowd looks on, shocked, but probably amused?
Jesus had come to the very heart of Jewish life and culture – the temple. There He expected to take up the purposes of God, to seek Him in prayer and to make Him known through teaching. Instead, He encountered this unlawful trafficking in goods and services, within the temple precincts, and it made Him furious.
In this episode Jesus provides an important lesson for us, His followers, in thinking about how we should engage the culture around us each day. Culture consists of artifacts, institutions, and conventions, and includes everything from language, to fashion and entertainment, tools and technologies, public policies and the laws of the land. Culture is what human beings make in order to define, sustain, and enrich their lives. Culture can be very good; God Himself has given us the gifts and resources for making culture. But He expects us to use culture in ways that will honor Him and benefit our fellow human beings.
The money-changers in the temple were neither honoring God nor benefiting their neighbors. They were taking advantage of people, disregarding God’s purpose for His temple in order to make a profit on those who had come from far away to make an offering to the Lord. Jesus observed that this practice, this bit of local culture, if you will, was contrary to God’s purpose, and, in dramatic fashion, He made known His displeasure in a most public way.
When culture is bad
From this we learn that sometimes proper Christian engagement with culture involves repudiating culture that honors neither God nor men.
Jesus didn’t just avoid the money-changers’ booths. He overturned them, taking the risk that He might incur the wrath of the powers-that-be. But everyone seems to have understood that this practice was rather sordid, and no one moved to make Jesus pay for His action. Sometimes culture is so bad, so dishonoring to God and hurtful to our neighbors, that believers need to repudiate the use of it, and that over and over again, if necessary (we recall that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, cf. Jn. 2).
Christians should repudiate all forms of culture which deliberately violate the Law of God or which take advantage of neighbors or encourage them to break God’s Law.
Here a wide range of cultural artifacts and practices come to mind. Christians should absolutely repudiate such obvious evils as abortion, pornography, drug dealing and abuse, political corruption, practices or laws that allow the exploitation of workers, women, immigrants, or the poor, and more.
But other, less obviously wicked practices should also be rejected and condemned by Christians, such as incivility, gossiping, slip-shoddy work practices, taking advantage of others, reckless driving, bullying, and many more. It’s not enough that believers merely avoid such practices; we must be prepared to speak out against and repudiate them publicly.
A public effort
Repudiating corrupt or unlawful forms of culture involves more than simply not making use of them. We must be prepared to argue publicly against such practices, to pursue lawful actions to curtail or forbid them – and to rebuke or punish those who pursue them – and to make very sure that no such cultural forms or practices are tolerated in our own lives or communities.
Culture in all its forms can have powerful effects on how we think and live. In our day, many forms of culture can only be described as ungodly, including our uncivil use of language and the loss of mutual respect in the public square.
As we see from the example of our Lord Jesus, it is part of the Christian’s culture-making calling to expose and expunge as many such practices and forms as are within our reach.
Talk with some Christian friends. What would be some examples of ungodly cultural forms orpractices in your community that believers should unite to repudiate? How might they begin to do that?
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Want to go a little deeper with culture? Order T. M.’s book, Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars from our online store.
Men, download our free brief paper, “Men of the Church: A Solemn Warning,” by clicking here.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.