“Don’t kill the messenger.”
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“And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother” (Matthew 14:9-11).
If you google the phrase “Don’t kill the messenger,” you’ll get all sorts of conflicting reports about how and when the phrase was generated. Some say it was a wartime phrase (maybe “Don’t shoot the messenger” came from that); others say Shakespeare coined the phrase; still others say it was Socrates.
I think they’re all wrong. I think sometime around A.D. 28 or 29, right after this horrific event transpired, one person whispered to another, “Way to kill the messenger,” and the phrase has stuck ever since. What does it mean its simplest form? It means that people have a tendency to kill (or get angry at) anyone who brings them a message they don’t want to hear.
John had brought such a message to Herod, who had divorced his wife, Phasaelis, so that he could take Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip 1. John had the gall to point out that what Herod had done was unlawful. Oddly, this didn’t anger Herod as much as it angered his mistress. Herodias would have killed the messenger with her own hands then and there if she could have gotten away with it. But she waited, and eventually she got her chance. When her daughter, Salome, danced nicely for Herod and his guests at his birthday party, and the drunken Herod was so pleased that he offered Salome up to half his kingdom, she questioned her mother about what she should ask for. Herodias had been waiting for this, and she had a ready answer. “Ask for the head of John the Baptist.” And that was that for John.
I can’t remember the last time I heard about anyone losing their head for bringing an unwelcome message, but I have surely known many messengers who were “killed” by the unhappy recipients of their messages. And I have to say, it’s a foolish if not downright immature response to truth.
How do we grow if we don’t receive correction? Is there anyone who says, “I’m happy right here where I am. I don’t want to mature a bit; I don’t want to grow beyond what I am right now. I want to stagnate until my heart stops.” I hope I never meet anyone who feels this way. I wouldn’t have a clue what to say to someone with such low standards for their lives.
Human nature can’t be given its head. Although it’s absolutely natural to get indignant when someone tells you something you don’t want to hear, it’s not spiritual. Scripture tells us that the wise man seeks godly counsel, and the wise man accepts rebuke, and the wise man heeds correction. So what would the opposite be? What can we say about the foolish man? He rejects godly counsel, rejects rebuke, and ignores correction.
The flesh will always rise up when it is challenged. But if we want to be people who walk in the Spirit, then the next time someone brings a message we dislike, we need to ask ourselves why. Does it line up with Scripture? Then we’re wrong to bristle. Does it challenge our flesh in some way? Then we’re not letting Christ live through us. Did it hit a button? Then we’re the dog in the pack who was hit by the rock. You can always tell that one because it’s the one who yelped.
This is hard, but try it the next time you get an unwanted message. Try thanking God for sending you a chance to grow. And then, for a nice change, thank the messenger.