When Jesus told Peter to lay down his sword, he instructed us all to reject violence and unnecessary conflict. This is not restricted to my refraining from physically attacking you for differing beliefs; it must, by extension, affect our words and attitudes toward those outside the body. If I unthinkingly hurt you with my words, then I am every bit as guilty of attacking you as if I had truly taken sword against you.
Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12 both compare God’s word to a sword. It pierces hearts and minds; it divides between right and wrong. It discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. But there’s a danger in wielding a sword carelessly or rashly. I recently saw this approach come out in a lesson I was listening to about Catholic doctrine. Setting aside the fact that the preacher was teaching factual inaccuracies, his tone and word choice would have likely driven away anyone who identifies as a Catholic.
He said things like:
- “They claim to respect the Bible, if you can call what they do respect.”
- “How can anyone think this is pleasing to God?”
- “The priests get up and do their mumbo-jumbo.”
I almost interrupted the lesson (and I kind of wish I had). It was unnecessarily harsh and disrespectful to others’ long-held beliefs. Sure, he might have been preaching Biblical truths, but he was doing so in a way to ensure he alienated anyone who didn’t already agree with him. I’ve been guilty of the same in the past, but it’s no more than another form of self-sacrifice to show grace in our speech toward or about those with whom we may disagree.
The place where this seems to be the biggest challenge is online. When we get behind our keyboards, our natural filters disengage, and we write things in posts and comments we would likely never say in person. I’ve even seen it in church families — brothers and sisters who are perfectly pleasant to each other’s faces but who have written extremely thoughtless and mean-spirited things to each other online.
We would all do well to remember some warnings from Jesus and His followers about our speech:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
James 3:10 – 12
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
We should be as careful with what comes out of our mouths and our keyboards as we are about any other potentially sinful activity. Our words need to be thoughtful and intentional, inviting consideration rather than demanding a reaction. Yes, there were times when Jesus’s or Paul’s words gained a hard edge; that’s not in dispute. Those times, however, were the exception rather than a habit. Our habit needs to be one of grace.
Disagreements happen, even among the closest of Christian families. We can have disagreements without being disagreeable. We can talk about doctrine without condescension. We can address controversy without meanness.
Here are some things that might help:
- Read Jesus’s words and the letters of Paul in particular. They each have times where they address difficult topics. Looking at how they did so while maintaining a good relationship with the affected parties is a valuable lesson.
- Delay commenting. If you read something online that provokes a reaction, avoid posting a comment until the next day. If you’re like me, you might have an easier time wisely choosing battles with this approach.
- Turn off harsh voices. This might look like turning off Rush Limbaugh or Tucker Carlson. It might mean unsubscribing from incendiary Facebook pages. It might mean avoiding sites like Daily Kos or The Drudge Report. If we feed ourselves bad examples, we will begin to emulate them.
- Pray for the person who made you angry. Don’t just pray that they come to their senses. Pray that you will forgive them and that they will have a closer relationship with Christ.
- Be prepared to follow Christ’s example. “What would Jesus do?” is only enough if you are willing to do it.
My hope and prayer for all Christians is that we lay down our verbal weapons and keep doors of opportunities open rather than closing them with a harsh word or unkind attitudes. Every person is valuable to God. We should speak to them like we understand that.