A couple of days ago, many of the major conservative news outlets broke the story of former Navy SEAL and current chaplain Lt. Col. Wes Modder who was removed from duty and threatened with expulsion from the military. An office assistant, a young lieutenant junior grade officer, showed up last December with two “Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain” (foxnews.com). The officer, who turns out to be homosexual, had constantly drilled Modder with questions about his views on the matter. The ensuing handling of the case appears very unfavorable for a person in a position of spiritual guidance trying to use the Bible as the guide in helping people with right and wrong on such matters as sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.
Time will tell how this plays out, but we are living in different times. It appears that one of the more unconscionable crimes against society is to promote an objective standard of right and wrong which dares to call specific behaviors and lifestyle choices “sinful.” Readers of my blog have written me and told me they have seen posts of mine occasionally labeled as “hate speech” (I would invite the reader to peruse my archives in search of inflammatory, derogatory, or unkindly written articles). I have seen writers who would profess to be Christian and/or religious who are caustic, obnoxious, and unnecessarily offensive in tone and manner. Such hurt the cause of Christ and do not reflect His spirit. Hateful speech is, by biblical standards, sinful speech. Scripture speaks against it (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8). It also exalts godly speech: “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21), “Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6), “In speech…show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12), and be “sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Ti. 2:8).
But, when we let the world—without knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches—define “hate speech,” we will often get things turned upside down. We will have evil called good and good called evil (Isa. 5:20). We need to remain convicted in the belief that nothing could be more hateful toward a person than to have the opportunity to tell them the truth about anything God has revealed in Scripture and speak lies, whether to comfort, avoid offending, or to validate what God will not condone. We must reach out to anyone who rebels against the will of God in love, but what could be more hateful than encouraging anyone along a path that leads away from Him? Any word of false comfort and hope is the ultimate hate speech!
This morning, Jacob Kurtz is getting a lot of press for the wrong reason. He’s a basketball player for the University of Florida, and he inadvertently won the game for his team’s counterpart, hated rival Florida State. Kurtz is not a prolific scorer, averaging a little over four points per game, but this mental lapse or accidental tip will live in infamy.
That young man’s gaffe was almost certainly unintentional, but it still was damaging to his team. What a graphic illustration of how costly it is to assist “the other side.” It might be a careless or unguarded word that hurts the influence of Christ with a lost soul. It could be a rash or foolish decision made under the duress of fatigue, emotional strain, or the like that dishonors God. A momentary flutter of pride may cause someone to speak evil against a brother who just happens to overhear it and become discouraged. The possibilities are endless and ever-present, but each such infraction is nonetheless damaging.
Whether it’s a mistake of the head (without evil motives) or a mistake of the heart (the fruit of secret sin within), “bonehead” moves on the spiritual battlefield can send the cause of Christ into a state of suffering. What can we do to prevent such losses?
- Control your tongue (Jas. 3:2-12).
- Constantly practice thoughtfulness (Phil. 2:3-4).
- Curb your susceptibility to flattery, pride, and preeminence (cf. Prov. 6:17; 29:5).
- Consider others better than yourself (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 5:21).
- Clear your motives and ambitions of what is sinfully self-serving (cf. Phil. 1:17; Jas. 3:14-16).
Certainly there are other things we can do to prevent helping the other team. Paul says, generally, to exercise self-control in all things (1 Cor. 9:24-27) and compete according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). It begins with being aware of the power of our words and conduct, using them to contribute to spiritual victory for the Lord’s side.
You want to do some appetizing research? Go to the Mayo Clinic website and read about what causes bad breath. The harbingers of halitosis include food that gets stuck in your teeth, tobacco, poor dental hygiene, dry mouth (this occurs most frequently when sleeping at night, thus “morning breath”), oral infections, and many similar pleasant precipitators (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bad-breath/basics/causes/CON-20014939). Now isn’t that a joyful matter to ponder!
Well, have you considered the very graphic imagery Paul uses in Ephesians 4:29 to describe improper speech? He says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…” That word “unwholesome” is an interesting word (ESV—”corrupting”). It is from a Greek word meaning “to cause to decay” (TDNT). The footnote of my Bible says “literally, rotten.” The Greeks used the word to describe what offends the sense of sight and smell, but it came to describe even offensive sounds as an ancient fragment from Theopompus Comicus used the word to describe the “unpleasant sounds of flutes” (CAF, I, 746). They used the word to describe bad vegetables and rotting fish (WSNTDICT).
Notice what the Holy Spirit through Paul does with the word. In guiding the Ephesians in how not to walk, Paul gets graphic by warning against “smelly speech.” Get the picture by considering the descriptive word. When you talk, does what you say have the figurative effect of compost, fish carcasses, and the like? Or, let us come at it by way of contrast, as Paul does. Instead of uttering waste dump words, use “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
Throw away trashy speech through uplifting, timely, graceful talk! Is what you say helpful to others? Does it build them up? Does it bring them closer to Christ? Is it just the right word at the right time? If so, it’s like moral mouthwash!
If not, then let God’s diagnosis hit home! Clean up your conversations. Make sure what you say to others is to them a breath of fresh air!
What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common? Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word. Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language? Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?
You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy. You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person. How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.
In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.” Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.” The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom. That’s pretty serious! Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.
Our speech is powerful. One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation. As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”
Several have made the observation that hurt people are inclined to hurt people. I have been told that by others to explain mean, hurtful, rude, and inappropriate remarks. Yet, since everyone experiences significant hurt (so the Holy Spirit said through Job in Job 14:1), why doesn’t everyone lash out and wound others as they suffer from their own and various “injuries”? Why do others, including those claiming to be Christians, seem inclined to injure others with especially their speech? It is good to get some perspective and not take personally the times someone cuts and slashes us or we witness a hurt person hurting someone else. While it never excuses bad behavior, it does help to understand it better. However, what can we say to the hurtful hurt person?
- Take your hurts to God’s throne. He is perfect and perfectly impartial (Acts 10:34-35). He also has all the facts and all the answers. He can help our life’s situations better than anyone else. Let Him help you bear the load.
- Don’t allow your pain to injure your influence or your spirituality. It is possible for us to earn a reputation as sarcastic, biting, mean-spirited, passive-aggressive, critical, etc. Yet, we never want to do anything that threatens to douse our Christian lights.
- Find healthy ways to work through the hurt. Prayer has already been mentioned. Loving, spiritual confrontation is another (cf. Gal. 6:1; Mat. 18:15ff). Part of healthy coping is avoiding the unhealthy.
- Focus intently on the spirit of the “Golden Rule.” Be sure that you would want said to you what you are tempted to say or if you’d want it said in the way you’re going to say it before you let it fly. It requires tremendous self-awareness and self-examination to successfully do this, but it can make all the difference.
- Try to move from hypersensitivity to genuine concern for others. We cannot keep our feelings on our sleeves and keep a record of wrongs done to us. It’s not loving (1 Co. 13:5). What is loving is to work to look out for the interest of others (Phi. 2:4).
- Measure the impact of your words before you say them. You cannot unsay things, so think it through first! The late Marshal Keeble once said, “Before we speak, we must chew our words and taste them and see if they are pleasant words.” If not, swallow them!
Since “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro. 18:21), we must make the choice to say words that heal rather than kill, that restore and do not demolish. We should never wish to contribute to another’s struggle to walk in the light or get to heaven, and we must consider how our words either encourage or discourage. If hurt people hurt people, what do saved people do?
I was recently checking the customer reviews for an upcoming hotel stay. The reviews were from verified members of the hotel club of that particular chain. 74% of the raters gave it the highest possible rating, but it was interesting to read the remarks of the smattering of people who ranked it poorly. One said, “I’d rather drive an extra 30 miles than stay at this hotel. The staff is impossible to deal with.” Another put, “This hotel is nothing more than regular. Expect nothing great for a high price. Bad choice for the night of your wedding.” A third wrote, “Very overpriced for quality of accommodations. Mold in bathroom, poor upkeep, poor bed quality. Would not recommend this hotel.” Surrounding these aberrations are gushing reviews overflowing with superlative words like “by far the best,” “amazing,” “could not have asked for better,” “very happy,” “very clean,” etc. My best guess is that somebody did something to upset the “exceptions” or, as experience has shown, the guests may not have handled themselves well and helped matters escalated.
Here is something that is certain. So often, our complaints, angry words, unrestrained speech, and foul mood reveals far more about who we are than the object of our disgruntlement. Two people could receive the same customer service and react completely differently. Two aggravated people express themselves totally unlike one another. The waitstaff may be lacking at a restaurant, and one encourages while another berates. A teacher may have a bad day and one student might sympathize while another brutalizes.
Paul urged Colosse, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6). This is said in the context of evangelism, though the principle prevails in all our interactions. The late Wendell Winkler often said, “If you are not kind, you are the wrong kind.” Are we cognizant of the power of our tongues to heal or kill (Pro. 18:21)? Jesus says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Mat. 15:18). More than once, my parents admonished me in my formative years to “watch my mouth!” What sage advice for grown-ups, too! We might think we have good hearts, but our words reveal who we really are!
Naboth must have been shocked and baffled as the charges of blasphemy and treason rang in his ears. He must have felt jostled and panicked as he was grabbed and thrown outside the city of Jezreel. Surely he was filled with the acutest sense of injustice replaced only by the undeserved pangs of pain as his own brethren stoned him with stones (1 Ki. 21:12-14). He had been set up by wicked King Ahab (though Jezebel was really the “brains” behind the operation). When Ahab took possession of “his” ill-gotten vineyard taken only by the brutal plot that claimed innocent Naboth, did Ahab ever think about the murdered man (cf. 1 Ki. 21:19) as he puttered around his vegetable garden? Could even Ahab have thought that it was worth it? Whatever Israel’s king felt, Elijah the Tishbite, God’s mighty prophet, is sent into “the vineyard of Naboth” (1 Ki. 21:18; interestingly, God still saw dead Naboth as the rightful owner) and foretells of the bloody, ignominious end of Ahab’s house. Though God showed remarkable mercy in not ending Ahab’s dynasty in the wake of the wicked king’s humble plea (1 Ki. 21:28), the decree was only delayed. Ahab died in his chariot, a casualty of a circumstance God used to execute His judgment (1 Ki. 22:34-38).
Some time later, though now Ahab’s second son to reign currently sat on Israel’s throne and Elijah had been replaced by Elisha, the judgment on Ahab’s house transpired. Jehu “conspired against Joram” (2 Ki. 9:14), encouraged by one of the sons of the prophets (2 Ki. 9:7-10). Jehu meets Joram at an interesting site: “the property of Naboth the Jezreelite” (2 Ki. 9:21). God says He repaid Ahab on Naboth’s plot (2 Ki. 9:26). What a powerful lesson and warning from God! It is a message that says not only that you reap what you sow, but that there is sometimes irony in this sort of reaping. Another example is Haman in the book of Esther.
Let us consider this lesson first taught on Naboth’s land. Does the gossiper, intent on spreading rumors and divulging details about another, ever become the victim of his own methods? Does the hypercritic and unjust judge ever fall into a sin problem, only to find himself treated as he has treated others? What about the greedy or the unethical, who climb the corporate ladder by stepping all over whoever is above him on it? Does he ever meet the same, ironic end? There will be some Naboths, men and women who are unfairly and unjustly treated despite their innocence. Yet, there will also be some Ahabs, too, men and women meted out the same kind of end they inflicted on someone else. If you have to identify with anyone in this biblical account, let it be Naboth and not Ahab.