Three or so years ago, Mac Brunson, of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida became the object of intense criticism by a man who launched a blog chronicling his serious dissent and disagreements with who is now his former pastor. The entire episode wound up being battled not only in the court of law, but in the court of public opinion and personal blogs.
Not long before that, Steve Gaines, the man who replaced Adrian Rogers at Bellevue had become the favored target of his critics, garnering not only multiple websites against him, but also receiving attention from news papers and television. Supporters and opponents for both men began their personal campaigns of intense criticism, or staunch defense. (my personal experience with both men has been very pleasant)
In each case, words, words, and more words, have been printed, spoken, emailed, recorded and transcribed. Blogs have burnt up key boards, friends became divided, feelings were hurt, families suffered, and the reputation of Christianity received another shiner. Words, words, and more words.
In the transition from one area of words to another, we spent the entire season of football last year listening to the wars of words over Tim Tebow. From his faith to his family to his throwing form, to his willingness to get on one knee before millions and pray, words, words, and more words, were thrown back and forth between friends, enemies, supporters, and opponents.
Using Tim to move from the name of Christianity to the fame of football, we have witnessed the “never intended to be heard outside the locker-room” words of Gregg Williams, in the bounty scandal of the New Orlean Saints. From there, we can move to the lies football coach Bobby Petrino told to his bosses, his fans, and his press; not to mention his wife and family. Of course we can’t leave out Ozzie Guillen for his “words” about Fidel Castro; which netted him a five game suspension from his baseball team. Words, words, words, words . . . .
And now it’s an election year . . . .
Obviously as someone who preaches, teaches, writes, my life is full of words, words, and more words; and every time I read the passage of scripture above, I am rejuvenated with dread over all the words that have come from my mouth or pen. I am not only worried about the ones that were unguarded, but also the ones that I had time to think about and form.
Furthermore, it is because of this verse I often fear as much for the times that I was in the right, (and spoke with great confidence and ghusto) as for the times I was in the wrong. Words are dangerous things that can cause unintended harm, collateral damage, and great ruin in areas that are not mine to ruin. That’s why Michael the archangel would not speak an evil word against the devil, but just said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
I am becoming more and more amazed at how loosely people use words against each other as though they will never come back as witnesses against us. Now someone is going to cry out for “healthy debate”, or “freedom of dissent.” Dissent and debate have nothing to do with the way that we use words. Even in dissent and debate, words should be used with a surgeon’s steadiness, so as not to cause unintended damage.
Obviously words are necessary. While they may be necessary, they are not expendable. Jesus said, every idle one of them will be brought into judgment. When we look behind the king’s English at the word idle, we find the word “argos” which means essentially, empty or useless. It is apparent enough that words themselves are not the problem but rather men’s use of them. The Bible says in Colossians 4:6 to ” Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt . . .” That being said, when reading many blogs today, especially many “Christian” blogs born out of dissent, fueled by criticism, and applauded by jeers, there is not much “grace” in their speech.
None of this means that sin is never to be confronted, sinners never to be rebuked, or Christians never to be held accountable. It does mean that as children of God, especially when confronting sin, speaking truth, countering lies, rebuking each other, expressing ourselves, and communicating with others, our words should always be chosen with great care and seasoned with a spirit of love. One thing that we must never forget about our words is that they will be read back to us one day in the light of perfect truth.
A common thought that I keep hearing and reading as I peruse the differing “battles” among men in online articles and other blogs, was captured in a statement made by Wade Burleson in a recent article that he wrote. While giving advice to someone about their response to someone’s blog article, he wrote, “Next time bloggers say something that you deem “false,” just keep quiet, and if it is truly false it will eventually go way. If what has been written is NOT false, then you should focus your attention on repairing problems in your midst. Bloggers don’t create the problems, you do.“
The last part is simply not true. Writers/bloggers can create problems. They can make a bad situation worse. They can make mountains out of mole hills. They can hinder healing. There have been many times in my ministry when two people could have worked out their differences, were it not for a third who very foolishly used their “rights” in order to have their say, or stir up other people not directly involved. The end result being a broken relationship on one side, and puffed up, pride filled, clueless mind, and insensitive heart on the other. Words that are defamatory, inflammatory, untrue, exaggerating, belittling, or all other sorts of negative connotations can cause great harm and damage. Even when lies are “short-lived”, they can do lasting damage. The idea that people should always just keep quiet while someone else hides behind a blog and seeks to exacerbate any wrongs they have committed, without any form of accountability, is further evidence of the saddened state of humanity.
Words mean things, and they always matter. We must never get in our hearts and minds that we can say what we want without being held accountable for it. Jesus will hold me accountable for every word I preach, teach or write; this article included. Remembering that our words will come back is a much needed change worth making.