Jesus Was Non-Defensive

By Larry Titus

All defensiveness and emotional tumult is a fear response because of your need for acceptance and ruthless control of the territory of your safe fantasy world.
— Aphorist, Bryant McGill

Defensiveness is a trait I come by quite naturally. It was deeply embedded in my nature by the actions and genetics of many grandfathers before me, and originating with my first grandfather, Adam. When God accosted him in the garden about his newly acquired sin nature, his retort was, “The woman you gave me caused me to sin.” Wow! Adam was thinking quickly on his feet. But, that’s a classic. I’ve used it ever since.

Of course the woman was quick to place the blame on someone else, that slippery snake the devil, and so it is that to this day the descendants of Adam and Eve have become quite adept at shifting the blame.

Here’s a good story from my own life. I was standing in line at a restaurant waiting to be seated when a waitress, wheeled around quickly to clear off more dishes from a table and ran smack dab into me. She dumped her complete tray of Alaskan King crab shells all over a dining couple. She burst into an explosive rant against me, “See what you made me do?” She was in a rage and edging forwards as though getting in range for a punch. For a brief flash, I was reminded of Mike Tyson’s anger and bad intentions in the ring.

I’ve been blamed for a lot of things during my lifetime but this was a first. My only fault for this tragic accident was standing in line waiting for a table. Rather than admit she couldn’t see me because of the size of her tray and how she was positioning it above her head she pivoted and took her wrath out on me. I was innocent and I was wrongly accused! 

Since that time 40 years ago I’ve had ample opportunity to be really wrong, on hundreds of occasions. I could offer excuses with the best of them. I’ve also had the opportunity to point an accusing and bony finger at the nearest person. I would bark, “See what you made me do?”

A few years into our family rearing season I took my wife, Devi, and our two children, Aaron and Trina, to an A&W Root Beer drive-in. (Back then, rare was the town that didn’t have an A&W Root Beer drive-in.)

The waitress hung the tray on our car window. There were chicken baskets, hamburgers, fries and frosty root beer mugs, and as I was about to dig-in, I heard my daughter in the back seat say, “Dad will you roll my window down, please, I’m hot.” You can guess the tragic consequences of her request. Instead of me hitting her back-seat window button I fat-fingered the driver’s window button. The tray hanging on the window tilted and fell hard. The ketchup looked like it had been painted down the side of the car. Fries and fried meat were everywhere. The car-hopping waitresses all stopped and ran over to help. 

I wheeled around in the seat just about to angrily say, “Trina, see what you made me do?”

My wife Devi said, “Who are you going to blame this time?” I was busted!

It’s amazing how our nation and world are filled with people who aren’t to blame for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. I’m just the victim.

“The reason I’m in prison was my dad was a drug addict.”

“The reason I’m on drugs is because my parents were abusive and I turned to drugs to deal with the pain.”

“The reason I’m bitter is because I was left alone when I was a child.”

“My marriage failed because my husband cheated on me.”

“The reason I was late for work and got fired was because of the heavy traffic.”

“I turned to alcohol because of my parent’s divorce.”

It’s always someone else’s fault, I’m never to blame. Oh, really? Why is it we’re so reluctant to assume responsibility and so ready to shift the blame to someone else?

What kind of fear has such hold on us we can never embrace personal responsibility?

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Leaders and leadership candidates - hear me, please! You won’t have optimal spiritual or emotional growth if you are a defensive person. Defensiveness hits you everywhere. It compromises career and personal relationships. My wife, Devi, is convinced that it is the number one enemy of intimacy in a marriage. I’m inclined to agree with her. And of course she should know, she lives with me. 

Defensiveness is handing off your responsibility, blame, or guilt to someone else.

  • Defensiveness says, “I already know what you’re going to tell me, so I’m not interested in listening to you.”  The response of this person to any suggestion is automatically, “I know, I know.”
  • Defensiveness says, “I didn’t do it. It’s someone else’s fault.”
  • Defensiveness says, “If you think I’m wrong, then you’re wrong.”
  • Defensiveness says, “I will never assume blame or step up to responsibility.”
  • Defensiveness says, “I will blame others for my problem and consider myself a victim.”
  • Defensiveness insists on arguing so the blame can be shifted or postponed.
  • Defensiveness says, “I would rather blame you than to embrace the pain of change.”
  • Defensiveness says, “I would rather remain unteachable than admit I’m wrong and grow.”

Defensive people are ALWAYS unteachable. Defensive people LOVE to argue. Defensive people PREFER to remain in a state of spiritual immaturity. They don’t grow. If you’re not growing, you’re thwarting God’s plan for your life.

By the way, defensive people rebuff instruction. They’ve already learned everything there is to learn.

My son was on a youth basketball team that never won a game. He would come home every night from practice, defeated, discouraged and ready to quit. And every time he would blame the loss of a game on the one girl who was on the team. It never occurred to him that he might be part of the problem. I wonder who he got his defensiveness from? It must have been his mother.

Why Are We Defensive?

  • We want to look good.
  • We fear people will think less of us if we admit our weaknesses or mistakes.
  • It’s a way to control our future.
  • It’s a way of avoiding vulnerability.
  • It’s a way to avoid responsibility.

Here’s a key principle. We bring in others to help defend us.  We play politics in the office and make calls and write memos to defend ourselves. Executives keep voluminous files they might use in the future to cover themselves from blame. We even hire defense attorneys to protect us.

Something more than sin happened in the Garden of Eden. That’s when man and woman began playing the blame game. That’s also when they began sewing fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, the stark proof that they had sinned.

Several months ago I brought a very talented young minister into my office. My goal was to help his presentation. He’d been showing alarming traits that were negative and destructive. I personally felt responsible for him since I had recommended him to several pastors, and none of them would invite him back. I felt if I could bring some things to his attention that he could be easily corrected and seem improvement.

So, we met and I began rolling-out my concerns.

  • “You’re late with deadlines, by a long shot, totally ignoring the pastor’s request.”
  • “Congregations and pastors are getting a distinct impression that you are anti-church, and they’re not interested in having you back.”
  • “Some of your doctrine is questionable, but you’re unwilling to listen to the concerns of others.”
  • Because he claimed he had heard from Jesus directly he instantly rejected any comment or direction on his doctrinal orthodoxy. He was right and all others were wrong. After all, who can argue with a person who plays the “Jesus told me” card?
  • His response was, “I’ve never been hurt so badly.” In other words, “I’m a victim. I’m hurt therefore I won’t receive anything you said.”

Defensiveness always shifts the blame to others.  It’s your fault because you hurt me. Defensiveness is the making of fig leaves, an industry that will never go out of business. For President Obama the problem is the Republicans and former President Bush. For the Republicans it’s President Obama and the Democrats.

For the Palestinians the Jews are the problem. For the Jews the Palestinians are the problem. For the Catholics of Northern Ireland, the Protestants are the problem. For the Protestants the Catholics are the problem.

For married couples, it’s always the spouse. No one is willing to accept responsibility. 

The New England Patriots, from the manager to the quarterback, denied knowing anything about the deflated footballs. The coach of the Seahawks couldn’t bring himself to admit making the worst call in NFL Super Bowl history. Thankfully the quarterback came to his rescue and assumed full responsibility.

When former cycling champ Lance Armstrong struck two parked vehicles as he drove home from a night of partying, he found it more convenient to allow his girlfriend, who wasn’t behind the wheel, to take the rap. 

Donald Trump’s defense mechanism is as big as the Trump Tower.

Here’s the issue, if you don’t assume responsibility, there is no way you can change anything.   You can never change someone else, you can only change yourself.  If someone else is the problem there is no hope for your future. It’s only when you personally assume responsibility that change is possible and likely.

It seems to be human nature, doesn’t it?  I’m never to blame. Here are some scriptural clips that address defensiveness:

"When Saul was accosted about why he didn’t kill all the Amalekites, he said, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD.  I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction.  But the people took of the spoil sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”  Notice the people were the problem. They, Saul said, just wanted to keep the animals alive so they could offer a sacrifice to God." I Samuel 15:20-21. 

He even tried to spiritualize his disobedience.

I think Aaron, the brother of Moses, had a much better excuse when he built the golden calf.   Talk about stretching the truth!  “When I threw the gold from these evil people into the fire, poof, out came this golden calf.” See Exodus 32. The truth was Aaron actually sculpted the idol himself, and then had the gall to blame the people with this outrageous story.

He even tried to spiritualize his disobedience.

I think Aaron, the brother of Moses, had a much better excuse when he built the golden calf.   Talk about stretching the truth!  “When I threw the gold from these evil people into the fire, poof, out came this golden calf.”  See Exodus 32. The truth was Aaron actually sculpted the idol himself, and then had the gall to blame the people with this outrageous story.

The New Testament has a great example of a defensive soul.  In Matthew 25:24 the one-talent man buried his talent.  He response, when called to account, was, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.  See, here is what belongs to you.”

We have a saying in America, “Pass the buck.” Do you know where it originated?

Poker became very popular in America during the second half of the 19th century. Players were highly suspicious of cheating or any form of bias and there's considerable folklore depicting gunslingers in shoot-outs based on accusations of dirty dealing.  In order to avoid unfairness the deal changed hands during sessions. The person who was next in line to deal would be given a marker. This was often a knife, and knives often had handles made of buck's horn - hence the marker became known as a buck. When the dealer's turn was done he “passed the buck.”

President Truman had a sign on his desk that said, “The buck stops here,” meaning, stop passing the knife. The knife stops here.  I take full responsibility for my actions.

I think President Truman is the first politician in recorded history that was willing to assume personal responsibility.  Do you have any idea how refreshing it is to see a politician accept blame for something? It’s a miracle similar in magnitude to the crossing of the Red Sea. 

I think one of the reasons God chose to reveal himself to Isaiah was because of his willingness to say, “It’s Me!”  “I’m the sinner; I’m the culprit.”  “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King the LORD of Hosts.”  Isaiah 6:5, ESV

 

Likewise Daniel, David and Ezekiel, were all quick to own up to their sins. 

We’re defensive of others, too.        

If you haven’t noticed how defensive we are of others, especially our children, attend a Little League baseball game.  The very safety of coaches and umpires is on the line when a defensive dad is on the sidelines. “You idiot, can’t you see he was safe on first base.” “Get some glasses.” “Don’t you know my son is superior to yours?”

Not only am I adept at defending myself, I’m also good at defending others. I defend my children, my family, friends and people I don’t even know, not realizing that every time I defend someone I block them from taking personal responsibility. The very thing necessary to bring a person into maturity is undone by my defensiveness for that person. 

As soon as a boy is arrested for a crime his parents are quick to jump to his defense. “It couldn’t have been our boy.” “He’s a good boy, he couldn’t have done that.” No, he wasn’t a good boy and he did do that. 

My little darling girl couldn’t possibly have bitten a hole in the little boy’s arm while they played in the church nursery. Admit it, your little darling has someone else’s flesh in her teeth. 

So there you have it. I’m not the problem, my kids aren’t the problem, my parents aren’t the problem, my politician isn’t the problem, my favorite movie actor isn’t the problem, no one’s the problem. And that’s the problem. We are so prone to defensiveness we’re unwilling to let anyone take responsibility for his or her actions. 

To again quote Bryant McGill, “Your goal should be zero defensiveness.”

My sagacious wife, Devi, aptly says, “Defensiveness is the number one enemy of intimacy.”  She is absolutely right. There can be no intimacy in a marriage or any other relationship as long as defensiveness is allowed free play.

The Answer

The most non-defensive person who ever lived was also the only sinless person who ever lived.  Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, never defended himself. 

“As a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”  Isaiah 53:7, NKJV

I Peter 2:22-23 (ESV) says,  “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

Another sure telltale sign of defensiveness is argumentation, yet Jesus didn’t do that either.  Matt. 12:19. He never cried out, he never argued, he never lifted his voice.

My friend Joe told me of a corporate meeting he was recently in that perfectly exposed the defensive nature of people:

"I was in a project meeting for the financial planning platform that we rolled out last year.  As the meeting progressed we slowly felt a cold horror. We realized the product was going to roll-out incomplete and missing a key feature.

The room grew quiet. I could see from the body language that everyone was rapidly shifting into a blaming mode and defensive posture to protect themselves from blame.

I said to the room "OK, I can see from everyone's expression that we're now completely focused on who's to blame. Would it be helpful if I just took the blame right now?" (It was my project and regardless of whose specific fault it was, I own the project so in the end it's mine anyway.)

The looks across the room were mixed - some were relieved, others were trying to figure out what the catch was, so I said "Look - while we try to figure out who is to blame, we aren't focusing on the problem, let alone solving it, and even if we were all to agree who is to blame, it won't change what we have to do and that is to fix this thing. For that to happen, I need everyone focused, so let's just agree that it's my fault and move on."

It took about 2 more minutes of discussion and then we moved on to fixing the issue.  What's funny about all of it is that no one really got mad about it and because we didn't argue about it, it only came up one more time (with my boss), and he said the same thing - as long as it gets fixed, I'm good with it.

That’s the most perfect example I can think of, of someone who emulated the spirit of Jesus.  Jesus assumed all the blame and took it to the cross.

In the Old Testament a special day was chosen, The Day of Atonement, for all the sins of Israel committed the previous year to be atoned for. But the unusual thing was, rather than one animal to be chosen as a sin offering, two were chosen. One of the goats, however, was not sacrificed but released into the wilderness, to wander forever until it died of natural causes.  The released goat was called, “Azazel,” or the scapegoat.

The Bible says not only did Jesus cleanse your sins - he removed them, like the scapegoat, as far as the East is from the West. Psalms 103:12. The only sinless person who ever lived took all your excuses, justifications, defenses and blame-shifting and forever removed them. You never need to be defensive again.  Is there an Amen in the house?

I responded to a slightly deranged neighbor of mine (I’m trying to be nice by saying, “slightly”) who accused me of blowing my leaves into her yard. Standing there in the yard, I told her, “I didn’t blow leaves into your yard. You blew the leaves into my yard.” Of course she responded with an equally mature, “You liar, you did it.”  “No I didn’t.” “Yes, you did, and you’re a liar.”  Then she added the coup d’état, “And you’re a preacher.” “Yes, I’m a preacher and preachers don’t lie.” Well, that was a lie. Preachers lie all the time. Talk about insulted!

Well, how would you respond to a slightly deranged neighbor falsely accusing you of lying? I responded the only way my defensive nature knew how, “No, I’m not, you’re the liar.” Why didn’t I shut up the moment she accused me? I think it’s because I have more of a goat nature than a sheep nature. Why couldn’t I have assumed responsibility and said, “I’m so sorry; I’ll try and see it never happens again.” What is it about my human nature that wants me to run from any form of accusation? Why can’t I assume responsibility and carry the blame myself?

Another friend of mine, Ron Campbell, a prophet in the Dallas area had a great suggestion. “If you could meet the person responsible for all your problems, and kick them in the pants, you would not be able to sit for a week!” The funny thing was I read his quote on FACEBOOK, immediately followed by a defensive person’s post telling him why he was wrong, thereby proving his point.

I love Isaiah’s response to the Lord’s revelation:  “It’s me, Lord.” 

Jesus stood before his accusers and refused to defend himself.  If the only person who never sinned could stand silently under attack, surely we can.

If you’re wrong, you don’t need to defend yourself, you’re wrong.

If you’re right, you don’t need to defend yourself, you’re right.

Jesus is our defense and the Holy Spirit is our defense, therefore you never need to defend yourself. When you stand before Jesus on judgment day you will not be able to say one word in your defense. 

Jesus is your defense attorney before the father and the Holy Spirit is your defense attorney before Jesus. There is no need to defend yourself. If Jesus and the Holy Spirit aren’t good enough to represent you, you stand little chance of succeeding by defending yourself. 

Several years ago I brought my entire church leadership staff together for our monthly meeting. Wishing to appear totally open and vulnerable I asked the group, “Is there anyone here who has anything to share concerning my leadership style?” I was sure that one or two would have something to share that would improve my leadership. I didn’t think that all 20 would.

Most of the suggestions were either trivial or lacked helpful specifics. One, however, was ruthless in his comments. My administrator brought heavy artillery and left me shell-shocked.

“You don’t listen to anyone. You’re totally defensive. If we try and correct you, you turn it back on us. You’re totally unteachable.” He didn’t spare anything, including my fragile emotions.

By the time he got through I was devastated. I didn’t sleep at all that night. 

The next day I was scheduled to speak at a conference at Messiah College, just a few miles from where I was pastor. I pulled myself out of bed, tired from lack of sleep, eyes puffy from spending hours crying, and emotionally exhausted from the vicious attack. I got in the car and headed to Messiah College, with full intentions of asking the Conference Chairman if I could be excused from my commitment. But the strangest thing happened as I drove to the Campus.

Instead of heading to the College it was like an unseen hand pulled my car to the exit that led to my church and office parking lot.  Within the few seconds that elapsed between when I left the highway and the four right turns required to turn into the parking lot I heard the unmistakable voice of my Lord. “Larry, I’ve tried to use your enemies to tell you you’re defensive. I’ve tried to use your friends to tell you you’re defensive. I’ve tried to use your wife to tell you you’re defensive.  Now I’m using your Administrator to tell you you’re defensive. If you do not listen and deal with your defensiveness, I will remove your anointing.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about. I didn’t feel he was talking about my salvation but my effectiveness in ministry. I could never come into maturity as long as I was defensive. My defensive nature would eventually cost me my anointing.  I knew he was serious.

I pulled into the parking lot and proceeded directly into the administrator’s office. I thanked him for rebuking me, calling me out on my defensiveness, and even risking his job by confronting me. Talk about liberated. It felt like chains were falling off me. 

I proceeded to the conference, but rather than excuse myself I stood up and began to prophesy alongside the South African speaker. I have never done that in my entire life! I have no doubt the degree of anointing was commensurate with the degree of repentance for my life-long defensiveness.

Bryant McGill said, “You can get to a place where you see clearly; that place is zero defensiveness.” That’s the place I want to be. What about you?