“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Jesus (from Matthew 12:36-37)
So, Who Is The Idiot?
Actually, this article isn’t about any particular person being an idiot. I won’t be belittling any one person in this post at all. I gave this post the snazzy title for one simple reason: to prove a point.
Because of a recent socio-cultural event that has occurred, the blog-o-sphere and social media outlets have exploded with a renewed fervor of linguistic mud-slinging and name-calling. Sadly, a vast portion of this has come from people of every corner of the “Christian” community. The fundamentalists are fuming; the generally conservative are being crass; the moderate are mussing; the liberals are lashing out. Harsh words and harsher attitudes are being spread all over the digital universe faster than most mid-90s PCs could process. And it needs to stop.
The Apparent Hypocrisy of this Post
Now, before I go any further with my post, I want to point out the glaringly obvious problem with everything I am about to say. It is this: I am the one saying it. Many of you who are reading this have only known me for the past four years as the pastor of Sylvania Church. You consider me (I think) to be a generally nice person, one who preaches some hard things sometimes, but only because I care. you find me mostly thoughtful and not overly harsh, at least when we are sitting around chatting over a meal. However, there may be some reading this who knew me from a longer time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe you knew me in my pre-seminary or even (as ashamed as I am to admit it) seminary days. Maybe you knew me before that. Maybe you knew the Phillip who had virtually no control over his tongue and said his piece regardless of the consequences. For those people, you are likely thinking, “Why on earth would this guy think he has anything to say about compassionate speech?” Well, though it may seem hypocritical, let me assure you – it is because my tongue has been so wayward in the past that I can actually speak to you as an authority on why the madness (at least from the Christian perspective) has to stop.
The Way The Christian Talks and Listens Is A Big Deal
You know how the story goes. Somebody says something snarky. Somebody else responds with greater bite. Before you know it, there are more expletives flying about than in a Quentin Tarantino film – all in the “name of Jesus” of course. The world gets to see the “Christian” community at its worst. The Christian voice loses its testimony of grace, compassion, and perseverance in the midst of strife. Supposed brothers and sisters in Christ bash one another’s “digital faces” in, all the while the unbelieving world quite proudly points to our hostility as further reason for unbelief.
But the problem goes way beyond how we speak. It also goes to how we listen. Take the title of this blog for instance. TOTAL HONESTY – I named it this so that maybe a few extra people would read it. Why? Because no one reads compassionate pieces, laced with mercy. It has to have edge. It has to have bite. It has to “stir things up!” Now, total honesty from you – why did you stop by to read it? Maybe it is because you just like to read the stuff I write. Maybe it is because a friend suggested it. But maybe, just maybe, you thought “the preacher” was going to take off the gloves and have a throw down – and you didn’t want to miss it.
What does it say about us, especially as Christians, if we only feel we can be heard by being provocative? Even worse, what does it say about us if all we will listen to are those things which push the envelope? Will we not take seriously the statement from Jesus that we will be judged for our speech? Will we not consider the call of Proverbs about the fool’s lack of control over his tongue? Or James’ call that the tongue is a dangerous, violent thing when not controlled? Or the call of Paul to only give gracious speech that builds up the hearer?
Now, some of you are pretty savvy. “But didn’t Jesus call the Pharisees ‘blind guides leading the blind to hell.'” Didn’t Paul call that one guy a ‘son of Satan?'” Yes. Yes they did. And I am not saying here that there are not proper times for more aggressive speech than others. But, in the case of Jesus and Paul, the were both killed (in part) for their teachings. And, at least in Paul’s case, he backed up his harsh speech by cursing the man with blindness!
So, who is the idiot? It may be all of us. At least, all of us who claim to follow after Jesus, yet deny making even an effort at reforming both the way we speak and listen in our modern conversation. Words matter. They matter more than followers on Facebook and Twitter, than blog-post hits and likes, than the very shallow and dangerous popularity contest we all seem to be playing. If you are a Christian of any stripe at all, at least give this some consideration: before you post your next rant, before you launch your next hashtag assault, before you use your blog as ground-zero, think on the words of Jesus. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”