These tests may militate against our impulse to write immediately, spontaneously, and even crushingly. However, pausing to weigh the wisdom in whatever we would write may well lead us to forego the writing altogether – or certainly to adopt a wiser tone that corresponds with these biblical tests. We really do not need to write every wrong.
Following that shrieked exclamation, many a fault (real, fabricated, or imagined) has been charged to a sibling or a friend or a puzzled pet. It is inherent in the sinful nature of man – seen most cutely, if not most acutely, in children – to point out the shortcomings of others. If misery does, in fact, love company, most of us are more than willing to fill every seat on the bus to perdition. Perhaps this has never been more evident than it is now, in this present climate of fear, anger, confusion, and division that defines our culture. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about something – or someone. And what they have to say isn’t pretty. But must it all be said?
Certainly, in this nation of ideas, we are free to express ours. In fact, our Constitution assures our legal right to do so. And do so, we do. Especially online. Social media provides us with the endless opportunity to opine on anything – whether anyone cares to hear it or not. Not to be left behind in the flurry of accusing or blaming or “doxing,” those who profess to follow Christ are often among the loudest voices, penning (well, typing) stinging rebukes of others who also bear the name of the Savior. Granted, there are legitimate differences over public policy, judicial interpretations, and even political worldviews. But must it all be written?
Judging from many Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, forums and blogs, the comments are posted faster than they can be read, digested, and reasonably responded to. It is as if so many – including many Christians – have been charged with the task of personally righting every wrong. As we examine the propriety of this phenomenon, we could take at least three approaches.
First, we could consider the justification for such posts, comments, and tweets (“writings”). Are the writers justified in their writing? Perhaps. Indeed, it is quite possible that their position is the moral – and, thus, biblical – position. We could also consider the writers’ motivation. Do they have noble intentions? Again, perhaps. It may well be that their motivation is to see culture accede to that biblical mandate, which serves as the justification for their writing. Finally, though, we could consider the wisdom behind those writings. Often, the writers build upon the presupposition that they are countering foolishness with wisdom. Cultural foolishness, political foolishness, and a host of other assumed expressions of foolishness are addressed in what they write – but does what they write conform to the biblical notion of wisdom? There are several tests that will help us answer that question.
Following a blistering taxonomy of the hurt we wield with our tongues (and, by extension, our keystrokes), James writes of the truly wise who demonstrate the “meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13, ESV). So, there is a good first test of our wisdom: is it meek? Would an outsider reading our comments and discussions be inclined to describe our tone as meek or humble? That alone should give us pause. James then gives us a series of sub-qualifications that all flow from wisdom that is godly – that is, from God: …[T]he wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (v. 17) So, these provide the basis for our next tests.
Is our wisdom pure? Are we certain that there are no personal (or, in many political discussions, tribal) agendas cloaked behind our otherwise principled writings? Are we singularly pursuing the purity of God’s wisdom as it is rightly discerned through careful and prayerful study of His Word?
Is it peaceable? This test has to do with our “delivery,” as well as with the anticipated outcome. First, do we come in peace to the discussion? Or do we come with guns blazing? Second, and directly related to the first: are we promoting peace or provoking a verbal duel?
Is it gentle? If our writing is peaceable, it is probably gentle. Yet, it bears scrutiny at this point, as well, for when we are myopically focused on the “peace” we envision, we may shrug off gentleness in favor of expediency.
Is it “open to reason”? This element of wisdom calls our whole conduct into question. Are we merely proclaiming our position or are we engaging others’ position? If we are confident that we are correct, we need not fear the discussion with others who hold to different views. Yet, it is common in this culture of division to choke out another’s voice before we have even listened to it. Again, it may well be that we are defending a biblical argument while the “other side” is not; still, we must be mindful of our own sinfulness, our own proclivity toward self-aggrandizement, and a dogged determination to win at all cost. Being “open to reason” may help us keep those tendencies in check and ensure that we are proceeding wisely.
Is it full of mercy and good fruits? Simply being peaceful and gentle, and allowing the other side to have their say, does not necessarily equate to our tone being merciful. Benevolent dictators are dictators nonetheless, and debaters with the high moral ground are often inclined to condescend to their opponents in a way that mirrors such benevolence: conveying the perceived authority with velvet chains that belies mercy when resisted. The fruit will reveal the root; a merciful tone – acknowledging our own need for mercy – will more likely bear fruit that redounds to the glory of God.
Is it impartial and sincere? Impartiality is perhaps a restatement of the element or purity; that is, our wisdom is to be separate from our own agenda insofar as it deviates from God’s revealed will. This also means, however, that we must guard against jumping blindly on to the bandwagon of our favorite author, pastor, blogger, or other netizen. Of course, we can align ourselves with others with whom we agree; yet, that alignment must also be sincere. We must mean what we say because we believe what we say to be what God says.
These tests may militate against our impulse to write immediately, spontaneously, and even crushingly. However, pausing to weigh the wisdom in whatever we would write may well lead us to forego the writing altogether – or certainly to adopt a wiser tone that corresponds with these biblical tests. We really do not need to write every wrong. We can step aside or even step out of the debate, especially when the cause has become a tarnished idol, having lost the luster of God’s glory to adorn it. This is not a call to civility for civility’s sake, though that will be an ancillary benefit. Rather, this is simply a call to biblical conversation, which is to be gracious (Colossians 4:6), holy (1 Peter 1:15), and intended to build others up (Ephesians 4:29). Surely, such instruction applies to our written conversations, as well as spoken ones. In the end, we have this hopeful promise: …a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:18). Let us be peacemakers – in every venue – so that the Lord might bring forth from our faithfulness a harvest of righteousness, which will turn hearts toward Him.
Steve Curtis is Founder and International Director of Timothy Two Project International.