I remember it very clearly, or at least parts of it very clearly. I was a senior in high school. You know, I had life all figured out. I do not remember what we had disagreed about, but my mom and I had a debate. A debate that turned into an argument. I had to go to work at my part-time fast food job before we resolved the argument. I remember leaving very angry. I felt like parents get to cheat. That they get to be right just because they’re the adults. I thought it was unfair. I was right. In fact, I was so convinced that I was right I believed I could win in a court of law. Even a judge would decide my side of the argument was correct.
As I was driving to work I think the Holy Spirit spoke to me. It wasn’t audible, but that verse about “honoring one’s parents” was brought to mind. I sensed the Spirit say, “It doesn’t matter if you are right. You are wrong because I have called you to honor your parents.”
This may shock some people, but sometimes my wife and I argue. We have disagreements. Sometimes, we even say mean things to one another. I have matured a lot since my teenage years, and I am nowhere near as argumentative as I was then. But, sometimes I still act immature and I still make a federal case out of relatively pointless issues. Sometimes my wife is right. Sometimes I am right. However, most times I come to the realization that my being right is no longer the issue. Most times, even those times when I am technically right, I am wrong. I am wrong because most times how I behave is not Christ-like. How I seek to prove my point is not loving. How I use my words is not gracious. Sometimes, even when I may be right, I still have to say, “I am sorry. How I talked with you wasn’t ok. I was not being a very loving husband.”
The bible actually has a lot to say about the words we speak. One of the most potent passages is from James:
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell…
…With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:6, 9-10)
James goes on to describe how fresh water does not come from a salt pond. In other words, the overflow reveals something about the source. Our words reveal something about our hearts. A fundamental issue for James is that other people—whether they be unbelievers, Muslims, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Atheists, LGBTQ, pro-choice, illegal immigrants, or whatever—other people, that is all people, are created in the “likeness of God.”
One of the reasons Christians are “pro-life” is because theologically we believe that every human being is created in the image of God. Every human life matters. How is it then that we can curse others with our words on social media platforms? We do exactly what James is describing when we use negative words to attack other people. Out of the same mouth (or from the same keyboard) comes blessing and cursing.
When I realize that I am wrong even when I may be right, the deeper issue for me is my heart. I have to reflect on the reality that my aim in those moments was proving my point—not loving the other person. Then that begs the question: what in my soul do I actually need to surrender over to Jesus for him to transform.
In the Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard writes about discipleship:
And as a disciples of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means, we recall, how to live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine…I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that he did all that he did.
In other words, being a “Christian” is about more than believing a couple of key doctrines so that one receives a one way ticket to heaven. As a pastor, sometimes I assume people know this. I assume that people who claim Christianity also mean that they have signed up to follow Jesus. That they are disciples on a journey of discipleship. That they are, as Willard puts it, “learning how to do everything [they] do in the manner that” Jesus did.
If this is true, then we are always learning how to love as Jesus loves, extend compassion as Jesus did, and offer grace as freely as Jesus offered. And, unless you would be able to say while being crucified, “Father forgive them,” I imagine you have room to grow. I know I do. I know I don’t forgive as freely and as recklessly as Jesus did. I know my words sometimes betray my motives. My words reveal something in me that needs transformed.
What About You?
It seems incredibly easy to start an argument on social media these days. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone reading this finds a theological error that they feel obliged to point out. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone got flustered that I implied we need to love liberals. Yet, I want to suggest that we are better than this. If you are a believer—if you claim the name of Jesus—then for Christ’s sake speak life. Or, type life. We are better than this Church. We are better than our collective reputation of being gun-owning, homosexual hating, republican voting, judgmental Christians. Better yet, the Jesus we represent is better than that. He’s much more mysterious and beautiful than our testimonies reflect sometimes.
So, I simply implore you to think twice before typing, commenting, tweeting or posting. Because, it is possible to be wrong even when you are right. It is possible to have good “points” in the debate, but sin in the process of making them. Let’s reflect Jesus with our words.
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (p. 283)