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The Problem of Passive Men

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Passivity is a characteristic where someone chooses not to participate readily or actively. To be passive, one must acknowledge the existence of a situation and then choose to not act in response to such a situation. The Bible speaks, I believe, very clearly on the idea of passivity and of activity, yet so many people, men specifically, continue to choose to be passive in their endeavors. What I hope to do here is explain why there exists a problem with men being passive in their lives and why that goes against the very idea of Christianity.

Passive Men in the Bible

I believe that the best classic example of a passive man in the Bible is found in Genesis 3 with Adam. While the serpent tempted Eve with the thought of breaking God’s commandment, Adam stood passively and allowed sin to enter into the world; what makes it even worse is that sin entered the world through the single person Adam had been given responsibility to care for and look after.

4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7
(Genesis 3:4-7 ESV)

I believe that the primary objective of Genesis 3 is to give us an account of the fact that sin is in the world and that sin enters through the actions of humanity. However, it is also notable here that sin can be avoided by suppressing passivity. Had Adam stepped up rather than standing idle while the serpent tempted his wife, Adam could have, theoretically, prevented sin from entering into the world at that moment; that is not to say that sin would have always been prevented, but the principle still stands that sin entered because Adam failed to act.

Another example within the Bible can be found in Proverbs 6, though the person is not a specific man. Proverbs 6 speaks of the sluggard who welcomes poverty by refusing to act.

6 Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
8 she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV

The sluggard is told to look to the ant for her ways are wise. The ant, as explained by the author of Proverbs 6, does not wait around for someone to tell her what to do; rather, she “prepares her bread” and “gathers her food” without having to be told to do so. If the ant were to be passive and ignore the responsibilities natural to its life, poverty will come upon it; likewise, if a man neglects his responsibilities and is passive, poverty will steal everything from him. Whether it is Adam standing by idle when his wife is tempted or the sluggard who refuses to work, the biblical principle remains that men are to be active, not passive.

Passivity Does Not Reflect the Life of Jesus

Too often, Christians, and even some non-Christians, paint a picture of the pacifist Jesus, and I believe that is completely out of line with how the New Testament describes him. First, we must recognize that Jesus, though God incarnate, is still Yahweh, the God of the Bible, and that he is very much not a pacifist. God is the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psa 68:5), which necessitates activity rather than passivity. From the creation of the world to the showdown at Mount Carmel to the incarnation itself, God is a God that acts, not a God who sits on his throne idly.

Now let’s observe Jesus specifically. Many people today believe that his “eye for an eye” moment was Jesus establishing and promoting pacifism. In this scenario, it is of my opinion that Jesus is not commanding us to allow others to do as they wish without retaliation; rather, I find it to be something much deeper than that.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42
(Matthew 5:38-42 ESV)

Jesus recalls Exodus 21:24 when speaking about and eye for an eye. However, why do we always assume that Jesus is speaking to those who are innocent who should turn the other cheek? From the context of his next two lines, I would suggest that he is speaking not to the innocent but to the guilty. In his next line, he says that if someone would sue you (meaning you are guilty of a crime) and would take your tunic (which is a due repayment), you should give him more than your tunic, namely your cloak. Next, he says that if anyone forces you to go one mile (which is another form of repayment), you should go with him two miles. Why, then, since Jesus is clearly speaking to the guilty in scenarios 2 and 3 that we assume he is speaking to an innocent man who was slapped in scenario 1? It would make more sense that Jesus is telling the guilty man who is rightfully due a punishment of one strike to the cheek to then take a second strike as further punishment, much like the man who is sued for his tunic should accept further punishment by giving up his cloak and the man who was forced to go one mile should accept further punishment by going two. With that understanding, we have a more consistent principle being established by Jesus here: that we are to acknowledge our sin so much that we accept reprimandation beyond what is required in an effort to learn to sin no more.

With this perspective in mind, one cannot say, then, that Jesus was a pacifist. Instead, he is telling people to act – to take a step further towards their punishments and repayments – so that they can better understand the negative effects of their sins. Even when Jesus was confronted by those who arrested him in Matthew 26, he chose to allow it to happen, not because he was a pacifist, but because a failure to allow his crucifixion would actually be to negate the plan of salvation which sent him into Earth in the first place. By not sending “more than twelve legions of angels” to save him, Jesus is actively choosing to continue the salvation process of his death, burial, and resurrection for our sins. Jesus was not passive.

How Passivity Hinders the Gospel

Now that we acknowledge that God has clearly instructed his people both through his words and actions, we must also then be sure to understand why being passive is dangerous. Paul, when writing to his trained replacement Timothy, had this to say about those who would fail to provide for those in their families and households:

8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
(1 Timothy 5:8 ESV)

To Paul, the passive person – the men of the church, contextually – are worse than unbelievers. Unbelievers do not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, as we know, and to be worse than he who does not inherit the kingdom is an incredible failing. The Gospel is, essentially, that the Kingdom of Heaven ushered through the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus is at hand – that we are to establish goodness, righteousness, and meet the needs of those in need. To be passive is to completely ignore the centrality of the Gospel message and would then cause you to be worse off than an unbeliever because though you have the knowledge of the Kingdom’s reality, you choose to ignore it and allow those around you to suffer and be in need for that which you can give.


How, then, do we apply this today? Every situation is different, but every situation is a chance to step up, take action, and to further the kingdom of Heaven by modeling your deeds after God himself. By sitting back and doing nothing, we allow for unnecessary hardships to be endured by not only the world, but by those within our churches, and that is not the goal of the Gospel. 

Men, rise up. Men, stand firm. Men, meet the needs of those around us. For if God would entrust such a responsibility into our hands, what could ever justify sitting idle?

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