There are some things we would all agree with as being the epitome of evil. Serial killing, sex trafficking, murdering the innocent and helpless, and vicious brutality would all be in the category of “evil.”
But what if some work of the devil is much more subtle? What if we tolerate or even participate without even realizing that what we are thinking, doing, or accepting is actually evil?
In the book of Acts in the Bible, in the fourteenth chapter, we can see some of these subtleties of evil in Luke’s account of the apostles’ journeys and activities. It tells of how Paul and Barnabus were teaching in the Jewish synagogue—a place we would consider peaceful and full of kindness—and many people were encouraged and believed what they taught.
But then there were those who acted badly, and eventually, even viciously.
Here’s how we know they were being used of Satan to subtly perpetrate evil.
- They refused to believe. Everyone can choose to believe or not. God doesn’t force anyone to receive his love. But the word “refused” reveals a heart of rebellion, not simply disinterest.
- They stirred up the crowd. Specifically, they targeted the Gentiles who were different than them. Can anyone say “racism?” They were causing distrust and doubt among people groups.
- They poisoned people’s minds against their brothers. We’re not talking siblings here, but other members of the same group of people being turned against each other. Sowing dissension, division, and hatred.
- They plotted to mistreat the men who were teaching. It’s interesting that the people plotting were from both groups—a portion of the Jews and Gentiles came together to cause harm together.
- They attracted people from other towns to create a mob. Then this mob stoned Paul and left him for dead.
Sound like anything we’ve seen or heard of lately?
Here’s the thing about what Paul and Barnabus were doing. It was all good. No one was forced to agree with them or believe what they taught. They simply shared what they knew—what they had experienced for themselves.
No threats. No violence.
The Bible says they:
- Spoke effectively.
- Spent considerable time with the people.
- Confirmed their message with miracles.
- Ran away from trouble.
- Healed a crippled man.
- Were humble and never claimed to be any better than any other person.
- Spoke of God’s kindness, provision, and joy.
- Strengthened and encouraged people.
- Prayed for people.
It seems pretty clear when it’s examined like that, doesn’t it?
Maybe there are four groups of people.
Some may, for whatever reason, choose to perpetrate evil acts. Others may subtly, in their hearts, refuse any message of good and therefore create hatred. Perhaps there are those, who without realizing it, are sowing seeds of dissension and division, setting brother against each other—or by their participation are allowing it.
The last group are those who choose love and kindness. They show grace for others and speak truth in love with acceptance. Sometimes that may mean not to speak at all or to speak about something encouraging and hopeful. Changing the subject can be a loving strategy.
Tolerance and acceptance doesn’t mean ignoring and allowing evil.
We can accept that everyone has a choice to believe what they want, and we can honor them by not demanding they agree with our choices. But if someone chooses to act in a way that will harm another, we can also step in and take action to protect. Not to defend our position, but certainly to defend someone’s life.
Paul chose to return to the people even after they stoned him. He claimed that we would endure hardship for the kingdom of God and was willing to put his life on the line.
So, where are we? In which group do we find ourselves?
Is it possible that we are ignorantly participating in evil without realizing it or considering the cost?
Or are we loving people and showing them kindness? The Bible says it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), and that the anger of man will not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20). How are we doing with that?
The disciples were able to live showing kindness to others while they shared their testimony of what they’d seen and heard because they were filled with the Holy Spirit and joy.
I want to be like them. Like Jesus.
How about you?