By way of disclaimer, I’m stating outright that prior to a couple of weeks ago, I did not know who Rachel Held Evans was, though I’d heard of her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (Its premise reminded me of the guy who ate exclusively at McDonald’s for an entire year.) Neither have I read any of Rachel’s writings nor heard her speak.
I note these things only to emphasize that I have no desire to debate Rachel’s theology, or alleged heresy. Doing so is completely out of scope for this week’s blog posting.
I became intrigued by Rachel Held Evans when I read the flurry of social media posts regarding her hospitalization and medically induced coma. I was taken aback by the wide swings of the emotional pendulum regarding her condition. The reactions were shocking, ranging in intensity from borderline worship to chilling vitriol, neither of which is appropriate. Today, I want to focus on the acerbic backlash many are unleashing in response to Rachel’s hospitalization and subsequent passing.
I understand our charge as Christ-followers to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3), and I embrace that calling. I also know there is a way to address men and women holding views other than my own that is endearing and conducive to fruitful discussion, just as there is a way to speak to them that is off-putting and rude.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. – Ephesians 4:19, NIV-1978
Over the past week, I have read venomous, hateful writings in the online world, from pastors no less, shepherds of God’s flock, and I find myself thinking, Dear God, I am so thankful that I am not under this pastor’s care. Such online attacks and rants are, in no way, “helpful for building others up.”
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2:12, NASB
Unleashing a barrage of vitriol does not qualify as excellent behavior, and does nothing to persuade the “Gentiles” to the cause of Christ. Far too many wearing the name of Christ appear to be more concerned with rightness than they are with righteousness.
The term “unwholesome” used by Paul in the Ephesians quote above is the word sapros. It is a word of putrefaction, describing things that are rotten, corrupt, foul. Consider the stench of rotting flesh, or fruit that is decaying. It is a revolting smell, and this is precisely what Paul says we “smell” like when we allow such bile to escape our lips, or our computer keyboards.
Sapros words nourish no one. To the contrary, they reek and contaminate. They are a revulsion to all who read or hear them, and we should be as put off by them as we are by the smell of rotting fish.
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 29:20, ESV
The Mouth-Heart Connection
What is most unsettling is the reality that what comes out of our mouths/keyboards is a direct measure of the condition of our hearts. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34b). The impurity of my mouth is a reflection of the impurity of my heart. The online bitterness of this week can be halted only from the inside out.
A heart filled with Galatians 5:22 spiritual fruit will respond to any circumstance with spiritual fruit, even the confrontation of sin. Never forget, we are to correct one another “with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:25), to restore one another “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36), and also ” For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). If I am kind, gracious, and gentle with others, particularly those with whom I disagree, then people are generally kind, gracious, and gentle with me, even when they disagree with me.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. – Proverbs 10:19, ESV