Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
A running theme in my column last year was the various ways in which the church has wrongly adopted vicious and self-interested discourses and rhetoric which are so popular in our country. Charity is seen as people-pleasing or being “PC.” Complex issues are reduced to simplistic caricatures and fiercely defended. Opponents are mocked. Giving offense is a badge of honor. And opposing perspectives are summarily dismissed.
I’d like to add another item to this list of ungodly conceptions about how Christians should speak: Our duty is to tell the Truth and share the Gospel, and nothing else. So, we should not be concerned with what people think about us.
To help clarify what I want to talk about, here are a few variations of this belief:
If you care what people think about you, you’re being pragmatic and will probably compromise your faith.
We’re told the world will hate us, so there is no sense in being concerned about how others perceive us, especially the ungodly.
Some Christians have been so brainwashed by “political correctness” that they are worried about hurting people’s feelings rather than telling the Truth.
We are to be God-pleasers, not people-pleasers.
A few weeks ago, I was shocked to come across a passage in Romans that I believe radically challenges this view of how we ought to interact with people:
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
I had a number of reactions to this passage.
First, how antithetical this is to our tendency towards arrogance and disregard for others, particularly online. Truly, how often do we consider whether or not our words will promote harmony? Our culture delights in and rewards those who spread controversy, but do we? Should we? There is currently an entire sub-culture in Christianity that subsists on criticizing and stirring up controversies, all under the name of “discernment.” At Christ and Pop Culture we try to ensure that we discuss issues that we believe are important to and for our readers, but I’m sure we’ve also fallen at times to the temptation of spreading controversy over promoting harmony.
Second, note Paul’s warning about repaying evil here. Perhaps you don’t feel that you “repay evil for evil,” but it is quite common for Christians to justify their political party or politician or a mocking portrayal of an opponent by saying, “Well, the Other Side does this all the time.” Isn’t this the kind of logic that Paul commands us to reject?
Third, what struck me most about this passage is the command to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Not only does Paul command us to spend time considering how others will evaluate our actions, but he even calls us to act on their evaluations, to do what will be “honorable in the sight of all.” So, although we should not be seeking the approval of men, we ought to do what is good or honorable in the opinion of all, when possible. I think that this idea has many implications for how we speak and act in the world. We might ask ourselves:
Can I tell the truth in this circumstance without offending this person, or is there a less offensive way to say this?
Can I speak out against this political ideology so winsomely that my opponents will admit that my actions are honorable?
Can I correct this brother or sister so that all people see my love for them?
Can I share the Gospel to this person so that they and other unbelievers agree that my methods are good and honorable?
So often, we allow the rightness of our cause (or the perceived rightness, as is all-too-often the case) to justify all kinds of arrogance and disregard for our neighbors, but Paul calls us to use actions and words that befit the rightness of our cause.
If Christians (myself very much included) would consistently and seriously pursue adopting habits of speech that befit our calling, I am convinced that we would honor God before the world, win over enemies with our love and reasonableness, and divert time away from unprofitable debates and controversies so that we might devote ourselves more to loving our neighbor and fulfilling the Great Commission.