Ask Father Paul: Is stubbornness a sin?

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DEAR FATHER PAUL: I have been married to a sometimes very stubborn, unyielding man for decades. Don’t get me wrong. He is otherwise a good, godly man, and we have had a good and happy life together. But he can be so stubborn! He jokes about it and says his stubbornness is caused by his Scottish heritage, and there is nothing he can do about it. What does the Bible say about stubbornness? Is it a sin? A.B.

DEAR A.B.: I am tempted to reply that if being married to a “sometimes very stubborn” man is your worst problem in an otherwise happy decades long marriage, just keep silent and count your blessings. Over the years, I have counseled lots and lots of women whose husbands had serious drinking or gambling problems, couldn’t hold a job or, who fooled around with other women. Now those are “real” marriage problems! But the unpleasant truth is that if your husband is indeed “sometimes” stubborn, especially about petty, minor things, he is not a 100% godly man as you report. So, like all of us, he has a ways to go … “he’s a work in progress.”

But you asked me, “Is stubbornness a sin? The answer is “yes and no” … but too often, for many people, the answer is “yes.”

The Bible says in I Samuel 15:23 (New Living Translation) that “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshipping idols.” So I am in no way endorsing stubbornness.

But here is what I mean by “yes and no.” Some synonyms for stubborn are “fixed, obstinate, resolute and unyielding,” which, believe it or not, can sometimes all be “good” character traits. If we, for example, are “fixed, obstinate, resolute and unyielding” about going to church, obeying the law, paying our bills, always telling the truth or remaining faithful to our spouse, those are all good traits. In other words, if we are stubborn about believing and doing good, godly and desirable things, that does NOT have to be a sin!

Here’s an example of this Kingdom principle. The Apostle Paul stubbornly journeyed to Rome upon the instructions from the Holy Spirit, in spite of the fact that his close ministry associates warned him that it would cost him his life. It did.

On the other hand, if we are “fixed, obstinate, resolute and unyielding” in NOT obeying and following the clearly spelled out instructions from God for living a godly life, as found in his word, the Bible, that IS a sin.

Clearly then, if we ARE going to be stubborn, we must be very careful that we are stubborn about the “right things.” That means we are stubborn about doing good and about loving and obeying God.

But for all too many of us, we get our “stubbornness quotient” totally backwards. In other words, we ARE stubborn about doing ungodly things and NOT stubborn about doing godly things.

Perhaps the best Bible example of this truth is found in the contrasting “stubborn” behavior of both Moses and Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, as told in the Book of Exodus, Chapters 5 through 14. The Bible tells us that the Lord spoke directly to Moses and ordered him to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt.

Basically, Moses received clear instructions directly from God, but he stubbornly refused to obey God, even arguing with God to “send somebody else.” But Moses finally overcame his sinful, disobedient stubbornness and then stubbornly began following God’s instructions. Later, Pharaoh also heard directly from God through the words of Moses who repeated to him God’s own words “Let My People Go.”

But Pharaoh stubbornly refused and God began visiting ten horrendous plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh continued to stubbornly disobey God, and God finally took the lives of every first born cattle and child in the entire country, including Pharaoh’s own son! Finally, broken, Pharaoh gave in and allowed Moses and his people to go free. But, as they were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh (again) stubbornly changed his mind and sent his entire army in pursuit after them. You remember what happened. God drowned the entire army of Egypt in the Red Sea!

Here’s the lesson. Ungodly stubbornness IS indeed a sin and it can exact a terrible cost … especially when we are stubborn against the clear instructions of God. I should add that God has often checked my own stubbornness through godly words from my dear wife. God often gives us the gift of someone close to us to help us if only we will listen. All of us should pray therefore that we “become easily entreated and NOT stubborn” by those God puts in our lives.

Finally, In last month’s column I answered the question, “What’s the very best short advice you can give a person in this day and age?” I answered with the wise advise that King Solomon gave at the end of his long life in his autobiography, the Bible Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon said at the end of Chapter 12, “Love God And Do What He Says.” And I am here just going to add … and do what God says willingly, and without stubbornness.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION? Send it to me at paulmassey@earthlink.net and I will try to answer your question online, at TheCitizen.com.

[Father Paul Massey is Canon to the Bishop of the Mid-South Diocese of The International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and is assigned to Christ The King Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia. He is a chaplain to the Peachtree City, Georgia Police Department.]