What an incredible ordeal this Covid pandemic has been for so many. Globally, billions have endured much grief, overcome immense challenges, and will feel the impact for years. There is a great need to empathize, encourage, and support one another as we move through what we anticipate to be the last stages of this crisis. We will spend many years seeking to make sense out of what we have just experienced and its wide-ranging implications. For now, there are a few things that have become remarkably clear through this past year that should deeply concern us. One of the most glaring concerns that has been put under a spotlight this past year is our need to have our voices heard has the power to mute the intensity of the light our lives are intended to emit.
Jesus taught that those of us who claim Him as Lord are to be a light in this confused and corrupt world. Jesus was demonstrative when he taught “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16) Darkness reigns in our world and God has created and called us to be a light that offers love, hope, and redemptive truth to all with whom our lives intersect. Unfortunately, this crazy Covid season has revealed and exposed a fundamental flaw in many of us – we believe the fallacy that it is more important that our voices be heard than that we actually have something to say. As a result, our words have all too often served as a bowl, hiding the very light our world desperately needs.
While we may claim that being light in our world is important, we often fail to understand that sometimes being a light means choosing not to speak. In a culture where self-identification, self-expression, and possessing the right to be our authentic selves are deemed to be our highest virtues, Christ-followers have bought into the lie that we should speak out on every issue in whatever manner and platform available. We all too often have chosen criticism over curiosity, accusation over seeking to answer real questions, condemnation over consideration, and self-righteous dogma over sacrificial demonstrations of grace and love.
We are called to speak, and it is important that we do so when necessary. However, I wonder if it is possible that God desires we do it less and with far more respect and regard for our audience than what we are offering the social landscape. In fact, one of the greatest statements Scripture offers us about our responsibility to speak should serve as a strainer through which our public voice should be sifted – “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” I Ptr 3:15-16
Peter gives his audience who were dealing with intense adversity politically, socially, and in the marketplace where pagan beliefs and practices were prevalent seemingly counter-intuitive instructions. There are six aspects to the strainer he presents in this passage: 1) Realize Christ (not culture, politics, or even people) is your primary loyalty and concern; 2) Be prepared to answer those who ask about the faith you profess: 3) Live out that faith in such a way that it is attractive and provokes curiosity from others; 4) You are not responsible to nor is it beneficial to speak on every cultural issue; 5) We are to remain silent unless our speech is characterized by gentleness and respect; 6) When we are willing to restrict our speech in these ways it creates fertile ground for lies to be exposed and truth to be embraced.
Take a moment to consider with me the apostle Paul’s exhortations to three different audiences all dealing with far more infringements on their civil liberties, far greater corruption in their government, and far more hatred and persecution than we are facing in the US in 2020.
- You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips . . . Make allowances for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Col 3:7-8, 13
- Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 2 Tim 2:23-24
- Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Phil 2:14-16
Consider a few applications of these passages that we need to apply so that our light not be diminished by our voice and when we speak we are able to offer something that transcends the destructive discourse - able to offer unencumbered light in a dark and dying world.
- Just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say (post, tweet, etc.) it.
- Just because you are right doesn’t mean you are right to say it, and just because you have the right to say it doesn’t mean it is right to say it.
- Stewarding the influence you possess is more valuable than ranting about whatever you think is most important in that moment.
- Leveling accusations and the non-discriminately spreading of conspiracy theories will evoke a reaction, but it will not invite your audience into meaningful and redemptive dialogue.
- Conflating American politics with God’s Kingdom inappropriately elevates the former and diminishes the majesty and mystery of the latter. God’s purposes are far greater than the US political landscape.
- Being argumentative is difficult to deal with in a child, but is devastating in adults.
- Speech characterized by gentleness and respect isn’t about being polite, rather it’s about entrusting your words to God’s Spirit and allowing Him to determine their impact.
- It is far more important that we become people who actually have something to say than being people who never miss an opportunity to say what we want to say.
- Choosing to flambee someone because of their faults reveals less about the object of our scorn and more about our lack of understanding of the gospel we claim.
- When we realize the power of our words; choosing when to speak, what to say, and how to say it become far too more important than allowing them to be determined by anger, resentment, fear, frustration, or disappointment.
- Choosing to remain silent (publicly) when experiencing strong emotions may diminish “your brand”, but will enhance the intensity of your light and magnify the glory of Christ.
Soon the tsunami of both the pandemic and this contentious political season will end and we will begin to do an accounting of what it has left behind in its wake. As difficult as it will be to pick up the pieces for many, I believe the greatest impact could be the diminished credibility of the Christian community in the US because we have chosen to speak too often and too recklessly without a proper appreciation for the power of our words to either enhance or diminish our light.
Ultimately we will have to come to the sobering reality that blaming corrupt politicians, overly restrictive mandates, the need to preserve the integrity of our elections, our perverse world, or our responsibility to fight for “what’s right” (as we define it) does not justify how we have conducted ourselves throughout this ordeal. We will be forced to accept that the primary fault may just lie in our desperate need to have our say at the expense of being a light in our world.
The good news is that the ground that has been lost can be reacquired, however not retaken. This cannot and will not happen if we fail to learn one of the most valuable lessons this season has to teach us – When we assume that our greatest Kingdom impact comes from using our mouths as a megaphone to make our voices heard, that megaphone transforms into a bowl, muting our light and our gospel impact. The power is too great and the mission too essential to allow this to continue.
Our words have the power of life and death. In order to choose life, we must entrust our words to the Holy Spirit who will guide us to shine God's light. When we pick up the megaphone it is as if we are hiding His light with a bowl but when we set it down it transforms into a spotlight pointed at our savior. Which do we prefer? We answer this every time we open our mouths, post, tweet, text, etc.