“The man who is stupid does not know;
The ignorant one does not understand this.”
The language of one who is stupid and ignorant is used in a very specific way in the Bible. Today, we often refer to people who are uneducated as ignorant and use the term “stupid” as more of an insult. We might cruelly comment, “What are you stupid or something,” if someone just does not understand a basic idea.
But the Bible prefers to reserve these terms for a very specific class of people: those who pursue idols. It is the stupid man who bows down to idols of silver or of wood or who crafts such abominations for sale amongst the people. Those who are ignorant are ignorant in practical aspects of living — they cannot make the kind of decisions that will be wise for them or for their families. And since the fear of the Lord is the most basic decision we can make that leads to knowledge and wisdom, those who reject such fear reject that which will allow them to make wise decisions and live life well.
And thus, those who pursue idols or the illusion of atheism do not understand this. But what is the “this” in question? It is the strength of God and his mighty works. They don’t understand the basis for worship. For them, coming to church is either habit or foolishness, they don’t see it as an engaging with the God of the universe who rules over all things.
The condemnation, then, is there, for there are many in our communities and even in our churches that are stupid and ignorant because of their attitude toward God and life. And one need not be conscientiously an idol worshipper or atheist to fall into this category; many do so by their actions. So, beloved, the question is first, will we look at our own lives and honestly ask ourselves whether we are guilty of such things? And then, will we address those areas in a way that honors our God? In addition, will we then share what we do know about the power of God with those who are ignorant and stupid in our midst, pointing them to the God who claims our allegiance, our worship, and our obedience in every area of our lives…not just in what we do in church.
I don’t want any nice Christians in our church! In fact, I don’t want to see nice Christians anywhere in the world! Okay, now that I have your attention, let me explain what I mean. The English word, “nice,” comes from the Latin word “nescire.” Nescire has as its root word, “scio,” which is the verb, “to know.” The “ne” prefix negates the term. Thus, the term “nescire” means “to not know” or “to be ignorant.” When the term originally came into Middle English, it meant the equivalent of “stupid.” Over time, the usage of the term changed from being stupid to being unthreatening (someone who knows nothing is not a threat!) to being pleasant to be around. Slowly, the term continued to change in its usage to the way we use the term today (pleasant or agreeable).
Thus, at least in the original sense of the word, I don’t want to see nice Christians in my congregation or even in the world. I want Christians to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe. I want them to be strong enough in what they do know to stand against those who would challenge their beliefs. In fact, I would argue that part of the reason the American church is in the mess that it is in is because of nice Christians—at least in the original sense of the term.
God speaks of this very thing through the prophet Hosea. In the fourth chapter of Hosea, God begins by lamenting that there is no knowledge of God in the land (Hosea 4:1) and as a result, the people’s lives are filled by swearing, lying, adultery, and bloodshed (Hosea 4:2). And when we get to verse six of the same chapter, God makes a devastating statement: “My people are ruined because they are without knowledge.” In other words, the knowledge of God (understanding that true knowledge comes through a relationship with God—Proverbs 1:7) is what keeps us healthy and whole as God’s people—it prevents us from utter ruin.
But look at what else Hosea records in this verse: “Because you have rejected knowledge, so I reject you from being a priest to me; and because you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.” This is covenantal language, as when God makes his promises to his people, he consistently makes them with their posterity (Genesis 12:7; 17:19; Deuteronomy 12:28; Acts 2:39), thus the threat of discipline is not only pronounced against God’s people, but also against the generations that will follow them. In addition, Jesus uses similar language in Matthew 10:32-33, where he says that those who confess him, he will confess before his Father and those who deny him, he too will deny—all connected to the lack of knowledge of Him.
Now, it is fair to say that as Christians, we ought to be pleasant people to be around, but pleasant should not be our goal—loving should. So nice really should not be something that we strive for as an attribute even in the modern usage of the term. More importantly, though, we should strive to be knowledgeable in the things of God. To cite the old King James language, “study to show yourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) because the Scriptures are profitable to prepare you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Strive never to be nice—be loving, but also be knowledgeable in the Truth so that you will always be prepared to make a reasoned defense of the hope you have within you (1 Peter 3:15).