Tensions are rising in homes, on highways, at the shops, in the media, and perhaps especially on social media. The virus has exposed our sinful virus of self-centred desire. As James puts it, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).
I’m not on Facebook or any other social media platform, but neither do I live in a cave. I am aware of the verbal wars taking place. I am aware of Christians shouting at and over each other. I’m aware that some seem to think it is a sign of profound spirituality to cut people with verbal swords. And, as a Christian, I am ashamed by it. As the world carenes down the cliff of hopeless fear and hateful rebellion, Christians should be showing an alternative. Sadly, too many are merely sloganeering and slandering alongside ungodly co-belligerents. Therefore, to those tempted to utilise their words, and their keyboards, as weapons, please, take a cue from Peter’s impetuousness and just chill.
When the crowd of the temple guard came to arrest Jesus, Peter swung his long-bladed knife lopping off the lobe of a servant (Malchus, John 18:10). Though this required courage, nevertheless, soon after, he and the other disciples ran for the proverbial hills. Soon, Peter would deny that he even knew Jesus. When it came to identifying with the cross of Jesus, and when it came to denying himself and bearing his own cross, Peter’s commitment waned. He, it would seem, was a lot like us. As Calvin helpfully observes, “We are much more courageous and ready for fighting than for bearing the cross.” Swinging at others is easier than denying ourselves.
Many Christians, including pastors, love a fight and therefore they are continually “defending the faith” and opposing what they believe is error in the church at large. Biblical contending for the faith has morphed into unbiblical being contentious for the faith. The result is a lot of needlessly blood-soaked reputations and needless conflict. I am deeply troubled by this. I wish such “defenders of the faith” would chill. Probably all of us, in these days, need to take a deep breath and chill. For, as pastor Kent Hughes observes, “How easy it is to be out of step with Christ when we think we are serving him, even defending him.” Touché.
The real test of our commitment to Christ is not in fighting but in faithfulness: being faithful in loving those who, like you, are not yet perfect; forgiving those who, like you, still sin; giving the benefit of the doubt to those who, like you, don’t always get it right; encouraging those who, like you, are in need of a kind and understanding word.
Exercising self-control has biblical priority over being defensive. Solomon writes, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). If your words, whether typed or spoken, are constantly striking others as a “sword thrust,” then you are neither spiritually healthy nor are you promoting health—spiritual, relational, or any other kind. If you have to always have your say, then you had better chill and plead with the Lord to renew a right spirit within you (Psalm 51:10). As this week’s prayer guide reminds, “Paul warned the Galatian churches: ‘If you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another’ (Galatians 5:15). It comes natural to us to snap at others when we are irritated and to pursue our own self-interests to the detriment of others. Pray that we will be delivered from this temptation so that we do not consume one another.”
Brother and sister, we all need to guard our hearts and sheath our tongues as well as our keyboards. Let’s show our commitment to Jesus Christ by following his example, who, “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Meditating on this is sure to make a difference in how we respond to others.
Chilling with you,