What a horrible word. Contempt. Even the sound of the word brings to mind something of its “feel”. Have you ever heard someone say, “I have only utter contempt for him”? What does it conjure up? An attitude of scorn, of a haughty superciliousness, a withering, sneering, disrespectful, depreciating sort of mental condition that smacks of superiority in the mind of the one who speaks. None of us like to see this in action. It offends us. We roundly judge the perpetrator of such ill usage and unloving manner.
LITERARY EXAMPLES. Let us hear three examples of contempt in the mouths of famous figures of British literature.
1. Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881), the Scottish essayist and historian, said, “There are twenty-seven and a half million people in this country – mostly fools.”
2. George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) said, “I have never had any feeling for the working classes, except a desire to abolish them, and replace them by sensible people.”
3. John Galsworthy (1867 – 1933) in “The Patrician” causes one of his characters to say, “The mob! How I loathe it! I hate its mean stupidities, I hate the sound of its voice, and the look on its face, it’s so ugly, it’s so little.”
PERSONAL REMINISCENCES When I was a mere ten years of age my mother said to me one day, “Filthy Jews! You can never trust them.” I never questioned her judgment. And then, lo and behold, we had new next-door neighbours, and they turned out to be Jews! I vowed to set the dog on them, and I think mother realised that she had uttered an incautious word. I was told never to do such a thing. But as time went by a growing friendship was built up between the two families, and I think mother learned a new lesson. Years later their son helped me to read Hebrew, a blessing from God indeed. But mother’s contempt was just as strong for coloured people, and I think she found it difficult to bear when my wife and I went abroad to teach in a residential school in Kenya. I do not say these things to accuse the one who bore me, but merely present it as an example of how we all find certain categories of people difficult to contemplate. At seventeen years of age I came to know the Lord Jesus, and all such loathings, home taught, were soon purged from my mind.
FURTHER EXAMPLES FROM MEMORY. As a young Christian I had considerable contact with several very well-known evangelists of the day, and the brother of one of these lived near to my home in north London. I can clearly remember him saying to me one day, “Arthur, d’you know, I think there are some people who are not worth saving.” I was stunned by this remark, and wondered what his evangelist brother would have thought if he’d known about it. No doubt in the years following he must have come to a better mind. And then again, in that era of the early 1950s, I was a member of a male-voice quartet, and we were in the London studio of a Christian Radio and Television Company, making recordings with a well-known American Gospel singer. Afterwards I got talking to the owner of the company, and he mentioned a man known to both of us but one whom he couldn’t stand. He said, “I’m glad there are many mansions in glory. I certainly wouldn’t want to share heaven with HIM!” Once again, the comment stuck in my gut, even to the extent that I can remember it so clearly now.
SO MUCH ABOUT OTHERS. Now it’s my turn. Have I succumbed to this most un-Christian of sins? As I look back over the years, I can detect it at work, though always so as to remain undetected at the time. Isn’t it strange how easily we detect the sins other people, and vainly imagine that we are as pure as the driven snow? What comes to mind is the way in which I felt at the end of four years at London University, having gained an honours degree in Physics and a teaching diploma. I heard it said that “Only one in a thousand can reach degree level”, and inwardly I began to pride myself as one of that elitist set. The strange thing is, I would have roundly denied it if anyone had questioned me about it! Furthermore, this happened six years after I had confessed Christ, and therefore it was the more obnoxious. Inwardly I was impatient with people of low mentality, whose acuity of mind could not travel at my speed. It took me many years of teaching before I could properly handle those who genuinely possessed learning problems. I do not wish to labour the point. This is not the only area in which a smattering of contempt was at work in my life, but this one example will suffice.
BIBLICAL EXAMPLES. In the Gospels we find Jesus referring to a certain Pharisee who prayed in the Temple thus – – – “I thank God I am not as other men are-,” (and turning round he despised the man standing behind him) ” – such as THIS man”. The other man was commended by our Lord whereas he, the Pharisee, was not justified. On another occasion the Lord warned His hearers not to use opprobrious expressions about their friends and neighbours. We are unable to know precisely what the expressions meant in that day, words like RACA, and the one translated FOOL, but it is clear they were used in a contemptuous manner. All such contempt was frowned upon by our Lord. In fact He spoke about the fires ofGehenna being reserved for those who used such expressions from a hard and unbroken heart.
THE DIVINE EXAMPLE. Several times in the Gospels it is recorded of our Lord that “He was moved with compassion towards the people.” See Mark 1:41, 6:34, and 8:2 as typical examples. The Greek word for “moved with compassion” is the strongest word in that language to express depths of feeling. There are three such areas, the HEAD, the HEART, and the PIT OF THE STOMACH. One may have some mental sorrow over that which is presented to the view. Nearer home, one might have tears that emanate first from the heart. But the deepest sorrow comes from the SPLANCHNA, translated “bowels” in the A.V. but is best thought of as the pit of the stomach. Sometimes this feeling runs so deep that it is beyond tears. This is the degree to which the Son of God felt towards the people amongst whom He walked and talked, people who derided Him, mocked Him, and scorned Him. How the Master would have gathered His people, as a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not. But even on the cross He was heard to say, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Is it possible to find anything in this world so utterly UN-CONTEMPTUOUS as that? What is the opposite of contempt? Is it not AGAPE, that strange Greek word that is hardly ever found in classical Greek literature, but which the Lord picked up and used to describe TRUE GODLY LOVE? “Greater love has no man than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friend.” “God so loved us that whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
THE MEANING OF AGAPE. It is all too easy to recognise the presence of contempt in a person, and we are all very good judges of its appearance in others, in fact without realising it, we become contemptuous of those who employ the sin of contempt!! We thank God that we are NOT as other men are. But to understand the true meaning of AGAPE, “godly love” we must test this matter at a deeper level. It is not good enough just to recognise contempt. We must press on as believers into knowing and performing according to AGAPE. What then do we need to know? I believe the first and most important thing is to re-examine the Gospels, and learn what manner of Man the Lord was. How He deported Himself. How He answered both criticism and praise. When He spoke and when He remained silent. How He felt towards people with differing attitudes and problems. The servanthood that never descended into servility. The nobility that was nevertheless willing to wash the disciples’ feet. The self-denial when fatigue would normally demand rest. All these and more are part of AGAPE.
AND WHAT SHALL WE DO? Basing an investigation on some of the examples I used at the outset of this paper, it might be profitable to ask ourselves a few rather straight questions.
Do I consider myself superior to other human beings?
To the Jews?
To the Arabs?
To the negro races?
To the Chinese?
To the lesser intelligent?
To the outcasts of society?
To pimps and prostitutes?
To drug addicts?
To those with AIDS?
To thieves and murderers?
To those who are unemployed?
To those who don’t smell very nice?
To starving pot-bellied children in Somalia or Ethiopia?
The list is endless. It isn’t a matter of agreeing with the ways of pimps and prostitutes, or drug-takers, or any other society evil. That’s not the point. Can I distinguish the man or woman intrinsically apart from his/her evil? Can I hate the sin, and yet still regard the sinner? This is difficult, and well-nigh impossible without the helping hand of God Himself. In the flesh we are more or less impotent to behave as Jesus did towards human beings. But this is the point – are we able to RECOGNISE our weakness, and confess it, and ask God to enlarge our hearts towards all those we find difficult, detestable, dirty and obnoxious? Try to think this through. If I still consider myself superior in some way to other human beings, am I saying that Christ didn’t die for them? Is it possible to say that Christ didn’t die for someone? Can you go up to another living soul and say “Jesus didn’t die on the cross for your sins”? Have you ever considered that possibility before? Have you ever had thoughts like the man I spoke of, who felt that there were some who were not worth saving? Clearly some think this way even if they are fearful of vocalising it. But in analysis, it is the sin of contempt. Have you ever felt that you couldn’t share heaven with certain other Christians? Like that man who was glad there were “many mansions” in glory? Do you despise others of lower intellect? Or, on the other hand do you have that inverted pride or contempt of all save “the working classes”, the lower levels (as you might call them)? It works both ways round. Try praying the opposite of the Pharisee’s prayer. Say,“I thank God that I AM as other men are. We are ALL sinners in need of God’s grace. I have no qualifications which I can parade before God’s throne for acceptance. I am fallen from true righteousness and to miss the mark in just one area is equally disqualifying as missing the mark in a dozen ways. God have mercy on me a sinner.”
I have had to take myself through this process, and ask myself whether I really DO believe what I’m advocating. It’s a strong job, and a needful one. I do not absolve myself from the need to do this, otherwise I would be in no position to encourage others to follow suit. My words in this paper have equally as strong a message to me as to the next man. I point the finger at no one. Rather do I exhort and encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to examine themselves in this manner, in the hope that Satan will find no handle by which to operate in our lives in this respect. I do believe that he, the Devil, imagines himself as very superior to others, whether angelic or human. Hence he is at pains to promote that divisiveness amongst human-kind. Is it not the very stuff that creates all wars and conflicts among us?
LOVING OUR ENEMIES. A further directive came from the lips of the Master in His sermon on the mount. He said that we should learn to “love our enemies.” And this is a very tough job, because our enemies are those whom we find quite impossible to get along with. How then CAN we love them? If we think only in terms of AFFECTION, rather than AGAPE, we are lost. This is not what God is asking of us. He tells us HOW we can love our enemies when He says, “If your enemy hunger, feed him. If he thirst, give him to drink.” And to follow this through, we might say that in OBSERVATION of our enemy’s life, if we should witness any area of lack, which we are able to supply, then a tender heart will respond in LOVE (AGAPE). Perhaps this lesson is one of the most difficult that God gives us as a testing ground. All of us fail miserably. At the best, SOME of us learn a few lessons in the nitty-gritty of life to enable us to think more charitably of others, but let’s faceit, none of us are much good at it, are we? And I think one of the areas where this shows most lamentably, and yet is never really faced squarely, is the subject of the after life, and the fate of the majority of mankind. There’s often an unhealthy obsession amongst Christians with the subject of “Eternal Torment”, and an almost total passing over of passages which show God’s grander purpose. “Full Salvation” is often treated as doctrinally aberrant. But can God really ask us to become more like Himself, in loving OUR enemies, whilst He Himself has a uniquely horrible, and everlasting, future reserved for His OWN enemies? Perish the thought! If one should espouse ETERNAL torment for the lost, then he must perforce maintain an attitude of contempt for those bound for hell. In his mind he must consider all such as “worthless specimens” who deserve all they get. To gloat over the unending tortures of fire and brimstone that the majority of mankind will (as they aver) be subjected to, is nothing short of the worst kind of contempt that can ever be known.