By Carmen Fowler LaBerge
While everyone likes to be called by name, no one likes to be called names. We’ve heard all the names people on the political left and right hurl at one another—and sometimes we’ve repeated them.
Lifeway Research found that more than one-quarter (26%) of evangelicals believe it’s justifiable for a leader who shares their political ideology to make insulting remarks about an opponent.
But when Christians engage in publicly insulting people, what is achieved? Is God glorified and are people edified? Is the gospel advanced in ways that honor Jesus?
In fact, a false witness and a foreign gospel are sown into the soil of culture and fruits of unrighteousness (hatred, discord, jealousy, bitterness, envy, rage, dissensions, etc.) take root.
Why then are we surprised when we reap the whirlwind? As Paul notes in Galatians 5, “if you bite and devour each other, watch out or your will be destroyed by each other.”
When Christian leaders insult those elected to serve in positions of government our public witness is harmed as we reveal a spirit that is worldly-wise and betray the Spirit to whom we should show honor.
What we communicate when belittling others and likening them to anything less than fully human image bearers of the living God is that we don’t believe what God has said about the dignity of each one and every one.
We also betray our own sense of identity. If we understood ourselves truly as servants of the Servant King and ambassadors of His kingdom, we’d speak with authority but without insult.
We would rightly influence the culture in the direction of Christ and not bear false witness to the fullness of His grace and truth.
As you examine your public witness and how you address the conversations of the day and those in public positions of leadership, here are four concerns to consciously and prayerfully consider:
1. The concern for the dignity of the other
In other words: Am I seeing the person or am I only seeing the issue?
At some point God opened my eyes to see a certain individual, with whom I have profound differences, in an entirely different way. I no longer saw him as a list of issues. I no longer saw him as an adversary to be defeated or an enemy of the church to be vanquished.
I saw him as a prisoner of war. I saw him as a person whose mind was so captive to lies and deception that he honestly could not hear what I was saying nor see what I was seeing from my position of freedom in Christ.
My heart broke and my rhetoric softened. As he continued to undermine the foundations of the Word of God and call things truth that were patently false, I saw clearly what was going on. The adversary came into view and so did this image bearer of God held completely captive by him.
I started to pray in earnest for him and as I prayed my side of the conversation changed. I continued to speak truth, but now in deepest love. He has not (as of this writing) changed his mind nor yielded his positions, but I love him with a love that refuses to let go of the possibility that he may yet be snatched from the snares of the enemy.
When tempted to resort to insults, stop and see the dignity of the person at stake. If you say what’s on the tip of your tongue, how will you then honor Christ with that some mouth?
How will your witness to Christ and ministry to your community be compromised by disparaging the image of God in the person who right now, on this particular issue, makes you so angry you risk giving in to sin?
2. The concern for the common human experience
Ask this of yourself: What assumptions have I made and what motives am I attributing to this person that may be inaccurate or exaggerated?
My guiding verse here is Philippians 2:3 which reminds us that those who have the mind of Christ esteem others as better than ourselves and consider the concerns of others in addition to our own.
I don’t assume people share my view of things. I don’t assume I know how you feel nor what you’re up against today. I don’y assume I would know what to do if I were in your shoes, and I don’t assume you like me (nor is getting you to like me my aim).
I assume that, like me, you’re human, a sinner in need of salvation. I assume your life is at least as complicated as my own, your character is yet in process, and your sanctification is still a work in progress.
The Word of God applies to us both. It is the True Truth between us. It can supply a point of common ground from which we find some common cause in proceeding together toward the common good. I assume you want to achieve that end as much as I.
When tempted to assume the worst, stop and reconsider what you may be attributing to the person or the conversation that may be false. And recommit seeking one point of common ground from which you can explore the potential of the common good.
3. The concern for the truth
In what areas of my life do I need to (re)commit ruthlessly to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God?
As Christ’s people we are people of the Truth: definitive article, capital T, Truth.
Where we have misread or been misled, where we have departed from the truth of God’s character or His will, we repent and we recommit ruthlessly to the truth; not some variant or hybrid rationalized me-truth but the whole truth, nothing added and nothing taken away.
This kind of commitment to the Truth is rare which makes it immediately recognizable in the world today.
Those ruthlessly committed to the truth see hopeful ideas and egregious errors in both political parties. Purveyors of the truth do live on just one side of America’s partisan divide and the truth itself isn’t particular to America.
The truth is a Person, of whom we are servants. He is Lord of all and in His Spirit we speak as those who have authority, even when we lack the positional power the world assumes is necessary to be a truth speaker today.
When tempted to shade the truth or pass along anything less than the whole truth and nothing but the truth, stop and ask God to help you recommit, ruthlessly, to the truth.
Anything less puts you somewhere on the slide into enemy territory of the father of lies.
4. The concern for the gospel
Is my chief concern advancing the gospel always and in all ways?
It all comes down to a question of glory: me or Thee? In a selfie-centric, social media “how many followers do you have?” world, its hard to keep the emphasis on the gospel always and in all ways.
It’s hard to make much of the name of Jesus when you’re trying to make a name for yourself.
Ask yourself: How big a deal is Jesus, really? How big a deal is that Jesus is who He claimed to be, did what the Bible says He did, and does what the Church testifies He’s doing right now, by the power of the Holy Spirit? Can that news compete with the news of this day?
In a culture that has become news obsessed, are we good news obsessed? Are we seeking to advance the gospel always in all ways through all means right now?
Let’s be clear: There remains no name under heaven, given among men, by which we can be saved. Whatever or whomever you’re taking aim at today, what’s at issue is the gospel. Your name isn’t at risk but the name of Jesus is.
I find when I’m focused on Him—His name, His glory, His mind, His view of things, His heart for the lost—I’m both energized and at peace. I’m more ready to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and instead of just giving people another piece of my mind (which the world doesn’t need) I’m able to give people what they desperately need: the peace of the mind of Christ.
One more point before we go: The reverse side of insults is undeserved flattery.
Neither is the way of Christ. And when necessary Christians are to call out those who corrupt the truth. I’m recalling here Paul’s words directed a false court prophet in Acts 13: “Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?’”
Let those who have ears to hear, hear. And let each who has heard and responded in faith to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ go forth to make His name great in the world today.
CARMEN FOWLER LABERGE (@CarmenLaBerge) is a speaker, teacher and host of “Mornings with Carmen,” She is the author of Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation and executive director of the Common Ground Christian network. Carmen is part of Grace Community Church in Nashville where she lives with her husband, Jim. You can connect with her online at ReconnectwithCarmen.com