Be surgeons, not butchers

How we share truth in the public square matters

October 31, 2022

Every follower of Christ is called to be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). God has placed us in the midst of broken places that desperately need the gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of his Word. How are Christian to flesh this out in a public square that is often filled with toxicity, combativeness, division, and evil? As a pastor, I want to offer you a few thoughts to consider as you seek to glorify God and influence the culture in which he has placed you.

The Word of God Guides Us 

The Word of God in its entirety (not just cherry-picked sections) is what should govern us and guide all that we do as believers. It is the filter by which we process all things in the public square. It is a “lamp unto our feet and light unto our path” (Ps.119:105). What we stand for or do not stand for, how we treat our neighbor, what we feel is valuable, and our understanding of how life should be is directly connected to the Word of God. 

We are kingdom citizens who operate on earth as ambassadors under the guidance, orders, and reflection of King Jesus. We are not only witnesses and representatives of Christ, but also of all that his heavenly kingdom entails. Virtually every aspect of our life and witness in the world should reflect this. When we lose sight of our mission in the public square, our motivations become carnal, self-seeking, short-sighted, and lacking the power of the Holy Spirit (James 3:13-15). It is too easy to be discipled by our favorite news networks and organizations. The result is that we speak their talking points and agendas instead of the Word of God. Be careful of this.

Loving Our Neighbors Means Desiring Their Best 

It is amazing to see the extent to which Paul tolerated the weaknesses of those around him. There is also much to be learned in observing how much he was willing to endure from those who often attacked him. He says to those in Corinth who have been attacking his authority and credibility, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor.12:15). 

How can Paul say such a thing to those who are hurting him and opposing him? One word: love. What we find is that Paul genuinely desires their best, even at his own expense. He sincerely loves them. Paul is not motivated by the desire to win an argument or to prove that he’s right in conflict. He’s compelled by a genuine love for people and a desire for their best in Christ.

Being salt and light in the public square is more than only sharing the gospel; it also encompasses our motivations for sharing the gospel. Why we communicate matters just as much as what we communicate.

Many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were known for their love for the law, but not for their love for their neighbor. Paul, schooled in the law, emphasizes the necessity of love: “If I . . . understand all mysteries and knowledge . . . but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Paul concluded that if love isn’t the motivation and anchor, then we’ve missed the point. 

If we are truly honest, it’s extremely difficult to conclude in our society that many Christ-followers are sincerely motivated by love for people. It appears that like the Pharisees, we are more motivated by a love for truth. It only takes a few minutes of scrolling through most social media comment sections to see that we are more motivated by a desire to be right and win an argument than we are motivated by a genuine love for the image-bearer in front of us. It is a sad reality that we often mock, humiliate, and sarcastically criticize those we disagree with. 

Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. We do not have to choose between one or the other. We are called to love God, to love his Word, to love his ways, and to also love our neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40). Love has a deep concern for truth and the imparting of grace (John 1:14). Even in our correction of others, our hope and desired outcome should be to see repentance and alignment with Christ in those we speak truth to.

How You Communicate Matters Just as Much as What You Communicate 

If there are any words of wisdom that I can give you from my personal experiences of failure, as you seek to communicate the hard truth to those in Christ or those who do not know Christ, it is this: “Be surgeons, not butchers.” Both butchers and surgeons use sharp knives and objects to cut, yet they both cut in different manners, with contrasting goals in mind. 

Life is not the desired outcome of the butcher’s blade. There is no gentleness or concern for the object being cut. Surgeons, on the other hand, cut with great care and gentleness because their goal is to heal and not kill. Surgeons cut as is necessary for what is helpful to preserve life. 

The surgeon’s cuts may hurt and lead to months of recovery for the individual experiencing the surgery, but people are willing to lay on the operating table and be cut because they know that the surgeon wants to see them healed. No one desires to lay down on a butcher’s table. 

We often forget that the way in which we communicate truth either validates or diminishes the gospel message that we preach. For example, parents who regularly yell at their children and are harsh with them, give them a distorted view of God and the gospel. You can’t be a butcher and a faithful witness for Christ at the same time. Our goal should not be to correct harshly, but to exhort with humility as those who lean on God’s grace ourselves. 

Paul says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col.4:6). Jesus also gives us a warning by saying, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak . . . ” (Matt. 12:36). It is wise to remember that we are always in the Lord’s presence, and we should communicate from a humble posture.

We Are Citizens of the Kingdom 

In John 17, Jesus spends a significant amount of time praying that his followers would be one and united. The problem with being a spiritual butcher is that butchers naturally cause unnecessary divisions and lack the tenderness required to bring healing in environments of pain and conflict. 

Being a kingdom citizen, on the other hand, means that I should be highly sensitive to protecting, encouraging, and serving my eternal family in Christ. My inclination should be that of an agent of peace and healing, not division. Allowing categories from this temporal world to supersede our heavenly allegiance to Christ and our siblings is something that we should avoid and repent of. 

Today, we have Christians who are more committed to a political party, a particular tribe, or a set of followers than our heavenly kingdom. Christians are filtering their theology through worldly allegiances instead of their eternal citizenship. This has damaged our witness. We are too quick to slander and cancel anyone who doesn’t fall in line with our worldview. 

Why would anyone want to listen to the gospel message of Christ from Christians who are just as divided as the unbelievers they preach to? Why be a part of a group of Christians that can’t see beyond this world and rarely pursue unity? Jesus said that people would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another, not simply who we vote for or align with. 

If we are to have a united global church, then hatred and division cannot flow so easily out of us. Paul says that we should “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3). To be salt and light in this world as kingdom citizens, requires that our actions display that we are for one another, even in our differences, and that we are gracious and patient with one another as we speak truth. If not, we will see new converts in Christ entering a spiritual community that is no different than the physical community they came out of and which stunts their spiritual growth. This is not God’s heart.

My hope is that these categories have stirred your heart to consider how you are currently living as an ambassador in your context. I’m rooting for you and praying that Christ will shine brightly through you as you live boldly for him. The Lord bless you and keep you.

This article originally ran in the Summer 2022 issue of Light.

Jon Kelly

Jon Kelly is the lead pastor of Chicago West Bible Church. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24