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A New Year's Challenge

I remember when I signed up for Myspace for the first time. I was a junior in high school (I think). I was too sheltered to know much about it, but I was told I could connect with this girl I liked in youth group…We could message one another and stuff.

Just before college I signed up for Facebook. At the time, it was sort of the graduated version of Myspace. I was told that mostly college students had a Facebook. At the time, Facebook allowed me to connect with “new friends” that I met that one time at that freshman orientation event, and to stay in touch with my friends from back home.

Since then, social media platforms have significantly evolved. I am not really sure if I would say it has been for the better. While the original pros still ring true—I am able to stay somewhat in touch with friends who live elsewhere in the world—a significant number of cons have come to characterize social media.

Besides the sociological concerns of how connected/addicted people (including myself) are to their devices, another concern I have is related to the things we post. Sometimes some really inspiring, encouraging, or fun things are posted and shared on social media. Sometimes, I have come across posts that send me into a bout of depression for a week because they are so ruthlessly…. mean.

Jesus, Paul, and James

Jesus sometimes had some pretty strong admonitions for those who wanted to follow him. One of those strong admonitions is found in Matthew 5 and involves this strange Aramaic word “raca.” Jesus is teaching about the heart of the Kingdom and sort of re-framing their understanding of the Law. His teachings begin with, “You have heard it said…,” and then he says, “But I tell you…”. He is challenging their paradigms. He is calling them to go beyond the letter of the Law and pursue the sort of heart that God desires in His people.

He teaches that murder begins in the heart. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”[1] All of us would probably agree that murder is a pretty serious sin because taking the life of another person requires a sort of calloused inhumanity that most of us would like to think we would be immune to. But Jesus says that the hanging onto anger and hatred for another person is the same root sin that produces murder.

What is striking is that in the next sentence Jesus connects murder and hateful anger to our words. He says, “Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” The word “raca” is an Aramaic term of insult. It is a term used to put others down and degrade them.

I used to think this Scripture was literally saying not to call someone a fool or use the word “raca.” I thought, “Well, that’s easy to obey. The word “raca” makes no sense in English.” The heart of what Jesus is saying is that murder and hatred and the capacity to view others in derogatory ways are all part of the same family.

Jesus says elsewhere that, “For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good person produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil person produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak.”[2] Our words that we say about other people disclose the condition of our heart. The degree to which we are able to demean and degrade other people is the same degree to which we have not been formed into the image of Christ.

James sort of reframes Jesus’ teaching about words by using an illustration. He wrote,

“Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.”[3]

The overflow reveals the condition of the source. If saltwater comes out of our mouths or shows up on our Facebook posts, the spring is polluted.

Sometimes people try to justify their harsh language by appealing to the notion that sometimes “the truth hurts.” The assertion is that it is apparently ok speak the truth with little regard to the collateral damage it may have on other people. Speaking the truth does not require that we be jerks. Remember, “love and kindness and gentleness” are all listed in the fruit of the Spirit list. If the spring is being led by and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the overflow will reflect love and kindness and gentleness. Paul also said that we are to “speak the truth in love.”[4]

Memes, Shared Posts, and Status Rants

My heart has been consistently heavy the last several years because of all the animosity that exists in our country that makes its way to social media. I have gotten myself into to some of my own tense conversations on social media platforms. I have said or posted things that I probably should not have. I have also been mischaracterized and misunderstood. It happens. But, my pastor’s heart is grieved when I see people who claim the name of Jesus post things that are mean, rude, and demeaning to others.

I have literally seen people who claim to be Christians post a meme containing a Scripture verse and then hours later on their page they post a meme that contains profanity and degrading language about people who are different from them. As James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.”

I’ll be honest, a good bit of the animosity revolves around political ideologies. Please don’t read into what I am about to say or assault me with a rebuttal. I just want to point out that hypocrisy exists if we appeal to a pro-life conviction because the Scriptures condemn murder and then turn around and call our political opponents “fools” or we essentially say “raca” to them. In the same segment of teaching that Jesus addresses murder, he also addressed our words. There’s a Proverb that states, “The tongue has the power of life and death…”[5] This should at least concern us enough that we reconsider what we might post or share on our social media platforms.

I read Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone in 2019 and this quote rings true:

“….When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman. 4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, ‘Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?’ 5. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed. There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.”

Please don’t get defensive because she mentioned politics. Simply acknowledge the validity of her point. She calls out both sides. The point is that dehumanizing language is never ok—no matter how much it agrees with any other agenda.

In 2021, I want to challenge all of us to speak and share and post things that are life-giving. Let’s seek to purify the spring of our and let the overflow be characterized more and more by love and kindness and gentleness.

[1] Matthew 5:21-22 [2] Matthew 12:34-36 [3] James 3:10-12 [4] Ephesians 4:15 [5] Proverbs 18:21


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