In a world teeming with challenges and opportunities, choosing inaction can be as defining as taking action. Passivity, the act of recognizing a situation but deliberately refraining from engagement, finds a stark spotlight in the Bible. While Scripture often contrasts the virtues of action against the pitfalls of inaction, a concerning trend emerges today: many, particularly men, seem inclined towards passivity, even when their faith suggests otherwise. This exploration delves into the biblical standpoint on passivity, highlighting its discord with core Christian values, and urging men to embrace their God-given roles with zeal and commitment.
Passive Men in the Bible
The narrative of Adam in Genesis 3 stands as a compelling testament to the dangers of passivity. As the serpent beguiled Eve with promises of divine knowledge, Adam remained disengaged, permitting sin’s first entry into the world. His inaction is all the more grievous considering sin made its debut through Eve, the very individual under Adam’s headship.
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.Genesis 3:4-6 ESV
At its core, Genesis 3 narrates the tragic onset of sin in the world through human actions. Yet, it also subtly emphasizes the imperative to counteract passivity. Had Adam intervened, disrupting the serpent’s temptation, he might have temporarily forestalled sin’s entry. This isn’t to imply that sin’s emergence could’ve been eternally prevented, but it accentuates the principle that Adam’s inaction was a pivotal element. Reinforcing this notion, Paul asserts in Romans 5:12-14 that sin’s advent rests on “one man” (Adam), rather than “one couple” (Adam and Eve). This underscores that the world’s ensnarement in sin can be traced back to Adam’s passive response.
The Bible also draws attention to the peril of passivity in Proverbs 6, painting the picture of the ‘sluggard’—an archetype rather than a specific individual. This scripture warns of the dire consequences of inertia and indecision.
6 Go to the ant, O sluggard;Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV
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.
The sluggard is encouraged to observe the ant—a creature of diligence and foresight. Unlike the procrastinating sluggard, the ant doesn’t require external prompting. It instinctively “prepares her bread” and “gathers her food”, understanding the essence of timely action. The analogy suggests that should the ant default on its innate duties, scarcity would be its downfall. Analogously, a man who avoids his responsibilities through passivity risks utter loss. The underlying thread here, echoing the account of Adam, is the Biblical admonition: Men ought to be agents of action, not of passivity.
Passivity Does Not Reflect the Life of Jesus
Frequently, both believers and non-believers alike depict Jesus as a mere pacifist. This portrayal, I posit, is at odds with the representation in the New Testament. At the outset, we must comprehend that Jesus, while being God in the flesh, remains Yahweh—the God chronicled throughout the scriptures—and He is decisively active. God’s role as the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psa 68:5) inherently demands proactive involvement. From the cosmic act of creation to the dramatic confrontation at Mount Carmel and culminating in the very act of incarnation, God demonstrates a pattern of intervention and action, not one of detached observation.
Zooming in on Jesus, a common misconception surrounds His reference to “an eye for an eye.” Many interpret this as Jesus endorsing pacifism. Yet, in my view, He isn’t advocating for unchecked aggression against us; the underlying message is profoundly more intricate than a call for passive acceptance.
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.Matthew 5:38-41 ESV
In Matthew 5:38-41, Jesus revisits the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye” from Exodus 21:24. A common interpretation is to see this as Jesus teaching passivity, especially when one is wronged. However, delving deeper into His words offers a distinct perspective. When Jesus mentions being sued for a tunic or being compelled to walk a mile, it suggests scenarios where an individual is in debt or owes a duty. Thus, by advocating that they give even more—be it a cloak or an extra mile—Jesus may be emphasizing the importance of recognizing and making amends for one’s wrongs.
Given this interpretation, the instruction to turn the other cheek may also cater to those who, in recognizing their own faults, are willing to accept more than what’s deemed ‘just’ as a form of penance. This is not to promote victimhood but to underscore personal responsibility and the spiritual growth that comes from it.
This perspective challenges the idea of Jesus as merely a pacifist. He advocates not for passivity but for active recognition of one’s sins, urging a step beyond mere reparation. Even in the dire moments leading up to His crucifixion, as depicted in Matthew 26, Jesus’s decision to not call on “more than twelve legions of angels” was an active choice. It was essential to the redemptive plan, affirming that His mission wasn’t about avoiding conflict but about fulfilling a divine purpose. Jesus epitomized purposeful action, not mere passivity.
How Passivity Hinders the Gospel
Recognizing God’s active guidance throughout the scriptures offers clarity on how He instructs His people to emulate Him, both in words and actions. This understanding brings into focus why passivity is considered a significant transgression in biblical teachings.
Paul, in his letter to Timothy—a younger leader he mentored—addresses the dangers of failing to act, particularly concerning familial responsibilities:
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
Paul’s words carry weighty implications. He juxtaposes passive individuals, particularly men within the church’s context, with unbelievers. Given that scripture tells us unbelievers won’t inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, Paul’s assertion that those who are passive are “worse” than such unbelievers is profoundly alarming.
The core of the Gospel pronounces the Kingdom of Heaven’s nearness, brought forth by Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection. Central to this message is the call to embody righteousness, actively extend goodness, and diligently address the needs of the vulnerable. Passivity, thus, doesn’t just denote inaction; it signifies a deep-seated neglect of the Gospel’s essence. By choosing not to act despite having knowledge of the Kingdom’s truths, one essentially disregards its significance, indirectly causing suffering and neglect to those who could have benefited from their active intervention. Such deliberate ignorance, Paul suggests, places one in a position even more precarious than those unaware of the Kingdom’s promises.
In today’s world, the challenge of passivity isn’t just a biblical concern—it manifests in our daily lives. Whether it’s shying away from responsibilities at home, in our workplaces, or in our communities, passivity prevents us from fully embracing and forwarding the Gospel’s message. The call isn’t just for Christian men, but for every believer, irrespective of gender, to actively engage in their faith and duties.
Men, in particular, have a unique role in echoing the active love and responsibility exemplified by Jesus. It’s time to rise up to this call, to engage with our faith actively, and to shoulder our responsibilities with diligence. In a world that often encourages indifference or a hands-off approach, let’s recommit to the Gospel’s central message of active love, sacrifice, and responsibility. For in action, we not only serve God but also serve those entrusted to our care.