A week ago, Toronto Blue Jays third basemen Brett Lawrie was called out on strikes after two questionable pitches by Tampa Bay Rays reliever Fernando Rodney. He expected that each one would be called ball four and allow him to take first base with one out in the 9th inning of a one-run game. As he jogged down to first, he heard the news. Responding with a George Brett pine tar-esque way, he got up in the umpire’s face for quite a tirade. But what really got in him in trouble was that he threw down his helmet and it bounced up and hit the umpire. Not a good idea.
I showed the video to my son and explained to him this is not how we play baseball.
The reaction from announcers and even his General Manager was not surprising. The sum of the comments amounted to this: this guy plays with passion, and you can’t have his passion on the field without incidents like this.
So if one is passionate, he will inevitably do things like this which jeapordize his availability to even play baseball for periods of time, risk injury to others, and represent his team positively to others.
Passion trumps all.
Sometimes those in the church can excuse bad behavior on such basis as well. Whether it be a pastor, theologian, church member, I have seen and heard similar excuses for such behavior. That person has “passion” and we cant’ take that away from them.
However I want to posit a few reasons why I this is unwise and un-scriptural.
1.) The idea of “passion” or “zeal” is not necessarily always good. What is it that we are passionate about? Is it really the gospel or is it some other substitute? The Judaizers in the letter to the Galatians were very zealous and passionate about cutting foreskins, but Paul said that was a bad idea because it was a way to add to the gospel. We can very easily become passionate about a cause more than Christ himself. Even if it is a cause motivated by Christ, we can miss the Christ behind the cause. From John Brown at Harper’s Ferry to much more subtle passions today, this kind of passion that misses Jesus is clearly not good passion. Instead it has morphed into the kinds of passions that cause fights and quarrels (James 4:1-5). Not all “religious” passion is good.
2.) What does good passion look like? I regularly listen to two different preachers: Martin Man and Jean Larroux. One is soft spoken and the other isn’t. Both men are very passionate about Jesus and inspire passion in me for Christ. Yet they both look, sound, talk quite differently.
We can clearly see the opposite of passion in people in our churches: apathy. However, different people will display passion for Jesus and His Church differently according to different temperments and gift sets. Someone may display his/her passion for Jesus in more diaconal ways (serving the church or community), more devotional ways (spending time in reading God’s Word, good books, prayer), more expressive ways in corporate worship (raising hands, closing eyes, etc..) evangelistically (sharing gospel and befriending neighbors). Now of course all of these things are part of the Christian life but some, will out of their passion for Jesus, display that passion differently and with different emphases. Again, passion for Jesus can look like pounding a hammer as not pounding your fists when you preach. One cannot simply look superficially upon another brother and sister in Christ and say, “You have no passion.” You may be right, but you could just as easily be wrong. We cannot demand that others display their passion the same way we do. That’s what the saying, “These guys have no passion” sometimes really means.
3.) Can someone be passionate about Jesus and not passionate about people? Or put it this way, can someone be passionate for Jesus and not have compassion for people? The final verdict on the Christian is not how “passionate” someone is, but how loving he or she is. In I Corinthians 13:4 Paul addresses “passionate” folks by saying, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Who gives his body up to the flames without being passionate? Isn’t that the definition of passionate? To sacrifice yourself for the good of the cause is about as passionate as you can get. Yet, if you don’t have love-or I guess you could use the word “passion” or compassion for others-you gain nothing. Nothing. Wow. You can’t be passionate for Jesus without having compassion on people.
As someone who tends to be more high on the “D” than the “I” (the former means JUST DO IT and the latter means “Influencing” people to do it) on the D.I.S.C. test, I think this is a good reminder. We cannot be passionate about reaching a goal without loving people. That may look different in different settings, but everything has to be done in love. Sometimes I don’t like that. But we can’t fight sin with more sin.
Fortunately this love mentioned in I Corinthians 13 is a personal love. It’s Jesus. He’s why we can grow in passion for God and compassion for others. He was/is/will be passionate for the Father’s glory and compassionate for us. He is why you and I have hope as His love moves us to passion and compassion.