This is the word of the Lord,

Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

I have a bone to pick with modern evangelicalism, an issue that needs addressing if I am to be able to effectively take us through Matthew 23. And the issue is this – the misbelief that niceness is the highest virtue, even greater than love. The Bible teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that

1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

But according to the vast majority of Christians today, there is faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is not popping your neighbour’s emotional balloons. In fact, you’re not even supposed to publicly recognise that you see said balloons.

We have let the unbelieving world teach us that since Jesus was kind and gentle, his followers have to likewise share in that fruit. Sure, but Jesus’ kindness was the kind that got him killed for it. Not the kind that gained him the whole world and lost his soul in the process.

Why am I saying all this? Because I’m trying to make a biblical case for sarcasm, ridicule and mockery.

“To what end?”, you may ask. To the end that you will not be in denial when you see Christ’s use of sarcasm, ridicule and mockery in chapter 23.

A seasoned theologian is like a seasoned builder who recognises the difference between structures that need reinforcement and those that need to come down. A poor builder will either tear everything down needlessly or will unnecessarily reinforce structures that will nevertheless come down on its own eventually.

And the sheer wanton fragility of the sentiment of modern evangelicals needs to collapse like the house of cards that it is.

We’ve taken the righteous Christian virtue of ‘kindness’ and ‘gentleness’ and spoilt them like unruly children and they’ve taken over the house, demanding that we do everything their way.

And I think it’s time we put our house back in order.


Therefore, after much thought and prayer, I’ve decided to take two Sundays to lay the groundwork that I believe will help us find our way through chapter 23.

In time, I pray that all of you will come to appreciate the foundation I hope to establish in these two weeks.

But let me begin with this disclaimer.

There is no good preacher of the word who is not often challenged by both the intellectual rigour and personal holiness that the text he preaches demands.

Some of these things that I have been preaching to you have been extremely challenging in my own life, partly because some of these things have come to my own understanding in recent times.

And as I’ve studied the subject that this sermon intends to engage with, I am convinced that it is far more an exercise in unlearning rather than in learning.

So, part of what I’m trying to do is dismantle certain popular notions of some Christian virtues in the hope that it would equip us to see the fullness of Christ in the next chapter.

Winsome or Wisdom?

We are taught by this world that the highest virtue is empathy. It is the gentle consideration we have of the other person in all circumstances. And this doctrine of empathy has redefined the meaning of love for so many Christians. Love is no longer the unrelenting power that desires the good of the other person, it has been redefined as the unrelenting power that desires not to cause offence.

But what Christians forget is that God has given them the right to interpret Scripture, not the right to redefine it. And we know that Jesus who is the embodiment of love (for God is love) was an offence to the Jews. What drove the world to kill the Son of God?

Couldn’t Jesus have been more winsome? Couldn’t he have neutralised much of the tension that was rising against him by choosing to pause the controversy for a bit and welcome the Pharisees over for dinner and talk about things that they agree on? Showed them his love and care, and laboured to establish a good relationship with them before trying to reprove and correct them?

As I say these things, I hope you can tell how this sounds like just the advice that many of us would give Christ had he been ministering in the flesh in our time. Because this is just the kind of advice we have to give each other in all circumstances.

Love is not a delicate flower that hangs by a thread in a thunderstorm. It is the thunderstorm of passion and dedication that does the will of God in all circumstances. For it is the same love that causes a mother to cuddle her new-born in her warmth, that cases a man to drive a spear through an enemy in the battlefield in defence of his homeland.

A popular Christian song renders that ‘Love is not a fight but it is something worth fighting for’. This is a true statement. Love is not all about fighting, but our fighting could be all about love.

Love in the Bible is not a delicate flower. Love in the Bible is the immutable standard that is seated on the throne of thrones and the earth is his footstool. The banner around his chest reads ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’. His voice is like thunder and the rush of many waters.

God is love!

Does kindness and gentleness have any place in the Christian life? Beyond a doubt for they are the fruit of the Spirit. But they are courageous virtues not timid ones. In our commitment to these virtues we have desired above all to be winsome at the cost of wisdom.

Proverbs 9:10 ESV

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

See how wisdom and knowledge come not from love, but fear. They are not wrought in God’s winsome nature but his divine glory that is great and fearsome.

Love is a bloodied cross upon which hung the Son of God. It is not a delicate matter, but a bold and bloody matter. Christianity is not matter of softness, but of righteousness and condemnation.

John 15:18–27 ESV

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also.
24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.
25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.
27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

And those who bear witness of this Christ will be hated and reviled by the world. For indeed the world that hated Christ must hate his messengers.

Put aside this false notion that you are called to be winsome in perpetual softness. You are called to be wise, and the wise know the appropriate response given the situation and circumstance it finds itself in.

Know that certain times call for not hindering the children from coming to you and other times call for making a whip of cords and driving the people out of the temple. Certain times call for encouragement and you shall name him Peter, and other times call for severe correction and you shall call him Satan.

But that was Jesus who did it. He knew what he was doing. How can we imitate him? How? Because the Bible says so. 1 Corinthians 11:1

1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV

1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Or are we to only imitate Christ in his kindness, and not in his firmness? Are we to pick and choose Christ like a serving roasted chicken where you pull out the part that you like and leave the rest for someone else?

Romans 8:29 ESV

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Are we conformed to part of his image and not the whole? Is it all of Christ, or some of Christ?

Satire in Scripture

In these two sermons I want to give a biblical defence of satire as a biblical polemic. I’ve used two uncommon words here.

Satire is the exposure of human vice or folly through rebuke or ridicule

And, a polemic is a speech or piece of writing expressing a strongly critical attack on or controversial opinion about someone or something.

And the case I make for such satire is that the Bible heavily relies on it as a literary device. And when it comes to the use of satire and sarcasm, the one character who mostly and masterfully employs it is none other than Jesus himself.

Here’s a quote from Doug Wilson whose book ‘The Serrated Edge’ (the title after which this sermon was titled) I heavily lean on.

If a Christian employs satire today, he is almost immediately called to account for his “unbiblical” behaviour. But we should begin by noting the true oddness of our position. Suppose a man were to refer to certain respected theologians dismissively as having graduated from Bag of Snakes Seminary. He would instantly be upbraided for his un-Christlike behaviour. Unfortunately for the one delivering the rebuke, it was discovered shortly thereafter that the speaker was Christ.

Matthew 23:33 ESV

33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Two types of satire. Named after two famous Roman satirists.

• Horatian – Horatian satire (named after Horace) is light, urbane and subtle. Doug Wilson points out that one biblical master of this was Luke. If a reader is not paying attention, the satiric element can be entirely missed. For example, Luke delivers a jab at the philosophy department at the University of Athens. All the learned johnnies there “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).

• Juvenalian – Juvenalian satire (named after Juvenal) is biting, bitter and angry, as epitomized by the book of Amos and Jesus’ oratory against the Pharisees sees in Matthew 23.

And Jesus was far more often a Juvenalian than a Horatian satirist.

Although I’m eager to jump in to show you how satire is pervasive in many parts of the Bible, I will hold myself back and leave that pleasure for next week. Today, I want to work on something more basic.

Arrogance & the Sin of Satire

• It is not arrogance to speak the truth in order to bring glory to Christ. It is arrogance that refuses to do it, or that does it with no regard for God’s glory. And such arrogance is sin and it is not the Christian way.

I am not advocating for a hateful form of Christianity, I’m advocating for a wholesome form of Christianity. That we not pick the kindness of Christ at the cost of his polemic, but neither should we then embrace his satire at the cost of his willingness to die for the sake of another.

The arrogance of modern evangelicals in their demand for perpetual winsome behaviour in all circumstances is their foolish confidence that they know what best serves the souls of others. They are confident that gentleness at all costs will ultimately serve better than being biblical. Their arrogance is that they think they know better than Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:6 ESV

6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

Psalm 127:1 ESV

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

The arrogance of modern evangelicals is that their evangel is that God will not bless unless you are gentle. Yet, they do not speak for the God of the Bible. For you, O Christian, are not the master but the slave of Christ. You are not to plant, water or build as though your hands can guide anyone to salvation. Your job is to be faithful to Scripture and trust in God’s providence.

So know Christ, understand him and then be like him, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I cannot tell you how often not the gentleness but the sting of rebuke has saved my soul. Even some of you here have been recipients of my stern or even sarcastic word, and some of you had and might still deem those statements as being folly. But I need you to understanding that by and large I stand by most of what I have said and will employ such language again because I don’t want to pander to your emotions but rather to faithfully and fearfully do what Jesus would have me do.

• The use of sarcasm is by and large not motivated by love or the desire for good. Yet, the issue here is not with sarcasm but with the one who uses it. As I have often said, the abuse of something is not evidence of its lack of usefulness. The response to such abuse is not cessation but proper use.

Biblical sarcasm is concerned with the glory of God and the good of the saints. It is indended to make a mockery of sin and those who heartily sin.

How does this serve for our good? Because it enacts the true and righteous disposition of the righteous against evil.

Atheism, ultimately, is not a reasonable matter, it is a laughable matter. The distortion of human sexuality, ultimately, is not a worthy debate, it is worth the contempt and mockery of the righteous.

Therefore, there is a place for reason, discussion, debate, but ultimately, there is a reason to laugh at it and mock it.

But how can you say that? The Scripture teaches us in Psalm 1 that blessed are those who do not sit in the seat of mockers.

Yes, that is true. But the same scripture employs mockery to mock the mockers.

1 Kings 18:25–29 ESV

25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”
26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.
27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.
29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

Maybe your god is stuck in the bathroom

• But what about kindness and gentleness? Beloved, it is not an either-or question. They are not mutually exclusive.


Ephesians 4:11 ESV

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,

• The apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are like any of Paul’s lists not intended to be exhaustive. By such language we have to immediately recognise that Paul is talking about those that are in the leadership of God’s kingdom as it is presently manifest upon the earth. Leaders of the church.

• Such leaders are not born for themselves or by the people but have been given by God. The grand orchestrator of this scheme is not man but God. So, Paul draws our attention then to what God is doing here, by giving ministers to the church.

Ephesians 4:12 ESV

12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

• He gave them to the church for a purpose. To equip the saints for the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

How interesting is that? Here I thought that such leaders were those that did the work of the ministry. At least that’s how we often talk about the ‘ministry’. Yet, God’s intention according to Paul is that the ‘work of the ministry’ is the work of the saints – all of them. It is not the activity exclusively reserved for the leadership, but the responsibility that is given to all Christians.

The Leaders are meant to work their part by training the members to do the work of the ministry.

• The Body of Christ is built by the saints not by the leaders themselves. The leaders are to lead them in the construction but their duties primarily serve in equipping.

Ephesians 4:13 ESV

13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

• And this task of equipping they must perform ‘until’ – so God in giving these leaders to equip the saints has an end goal in mind.

• All attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ

Three things are said here and as is common in Greek literature they are not three separate realities, but the same basic truth reiterated in greater detail or summarised.

• There is a ‘unity’ of faith in and knowledge of Christ. This is the end for which leaders are to equip the saints, that all would likewise be of the same faith. Strong across the room. But all would likewise know and understand Christ, the Word of God.

This is why they are called apostles, prophets, teachers, shepherds and evangelists. Those terms depict a certain function that they serve in uniting God’s people in both knowledge and faith.

• When such unity develops there is spiritual maturity. The reason for the masculine language here is because if you look at these three things mentioned they indicate a conformity to the man, Christ.

• To the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Now we are given a measure, a standard that must be reached. And notice how that standard is not a part of Christ, but the fullness of Christ. This isn’t some of Christ but all of Christ.

• Therefore, the leaders of the church are not to equip the saints for the work of the ministry by teaching them what they deem necessary but by teaching them what serves the end of rising to the measure of the fullness of Christ.

To teach men and women to be like Christ is to first know the fullness of who Christ is. Not to take what seems reasonable and respectable in our day and age and to reject the remaining time that Christ behaved most unlike himself. Doing so would be arrogant.

Ephesians 4:14 ESV

14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

• He gave us leaders to equip us for the ministry until we rise to the measure of the fullness of Christ. Verse 14 now justifies why. Why did he give us leaders to achieve this?

• Because their equipping of the saints was meant to stabilise the faith of the church. tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Children – For one, it is a dangerous thing to send a child out into the storm. The duty of the children is in the safety of the home not in the raging battlefield.

Yet the battle is very real and children can’t be children for long.

Every wind of doctrine – Here they are tossed to and fro like a delicate sail caught in a raging storm. A wind this way drives the boat to the east and wind another drives it away north. It’s a boat that cannot be steered.

The image here is visceral – a child caught in a storm.

Human cunning – And the storm isn’t every wind of doctrine, but also the wind of human cunning. A child is not prudent or shrewd to understand the cunning of the world.

Matthew 10:16 ESV

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

See here the glorious unity of serpents and doves in the Christian character, of shrewdness and innocence.

By craftiness in deceitful schemes – Again a way of repeating the human cunning.

Ephesians 4:15 ESV

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

• Rather – He gave us leaders to equip us for the ministry until we rise to the measure of the fullness of Christ so that we would be shrewd, mature and wise.

Such maturity is displayed when we are not like children, but rather – what?

• Speaking the truth – Here are those who not only hear and know the truth, but they speak it. They are not ashamed of it, but believe it.

In Love – Given all the context I have laid just from the way this passage is structure, how many of you will interpret love here to mean softness.

In love here is a reference to that most highest virtue and passion that drives the Christian. Love for his God and for his people.

For he speaks the truth passionately and without restraint for love takes no prisoners. Love cares more for your good than your feelings.

That is the speech of love.

• Grow in every way into him – And by doing this we are to grow in every way into Christ. In every way!


  • We have idolised the human feeling above truth and love. We have let the world redefine for us the meaning of words.
  • People fear the imitation of Christ’s anger because they are afraid they’ll mess it up. But it is a false assumption that thinks that you can imitate Christ’s love without messing that up.