Proverbs 22:10-14 NRSV
Drive out a scoffer, and strife goes out;
quarreling and abuse will cease.
Those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech
will have the king as a friend.
The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
but he overthrows the words of the faithless.
The lazy person says,
“There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”
The mouth of a loose woman is a deep pit;
he with whom the Lord is angry falls into it.
We live in a culture surrounded by words, spoken words, printed words, filmed words, televised words, words broadcast by the Internet. Prior to the Internet, there were gatekeepers (editors and producers) who, while they may or may not have done their job well, had the responsibility to making sure that the words that reached the public were approved and had value. Now, with the Internet, anyone can say anything and feel important and authoritative.
Now, I’m not bagging on the Internet for, like any media, it is a neutral device that can be used for good or evil. As Christians, it is our responsibility to make sure that our words—whether in our homes or neighborhoods or on the Internet—are words that are pure and gracious and glorify the Lord. Lately, one of the things I’ve been doing in my life is trying to focus on the fruit of the Spirit. What’s interesting is that entire passage:
Galatians 5:22-26 (NRSV) By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Notice the final verse: “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” The NAB translates it this way: “Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” Unfortunately, even for believers, rather than a place of edification, the Internet has become a place of war. Many, many websites are put up for the specific purpose of tearing down someone else. And while it’s important to teach correct doctrine, it’s also important to remember that the person with whom we disagree may simply be more spiritually immature than we are. Perhaps our fighting is actually damaging to her spiritual growth. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. . . . out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience–I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience? . . . just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 28b-29, 33 NRSV.
I know that I chopped up this passage a bit, but it was to bring out specific points. Notice here:
- Not all things are beneficial
- Not all things build up
- Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other
- Consider the conscience of the other person
- Not seeking my own advantage
One of the things I think we do is fight rather than pray. And it seems ironic that we think we can change the heart of someone when the Holy Spirit Himself has been unable to. That isn’t to say that we can’t sit down and share the scripture with someone who disagrees with us. We can. But there is a point when, if that person refuses to listen, that we need to stop talking and start praying. (We should be praying first, too.) Words that lead to war—even emotional war—shouldn’t be the way of the believer.
The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are things that should be at the forefront of our hearts and mind constantly. Are we patient (willing to suffer without complaining)? Are we kind? Are we generous (willing to give in where it doesn’t matter that much)? Are we gentle and are we self-controlled? The fruit is the mark of the believer and it should be what we are thinking about and doing all the time. It is also how we should judge everything we do, for if what we do isn’t seasoned with this, then we have likely stepped out of God’s will.
The passage in Proverbs says to “drive out the scoffer.” A scoffer is someone who is sarcastic, who makes fun of others in a hurtful way. Are we the scoffer? I think rather than looking for the scoffer in others, we need to drive out the scoffer that lives within us and replace her with a person who is living the fruit of the Spirit. When the scoffer is gone, strife, quarreling, and abuse will cease. If there is a quarrel, let it not be started nor fueled by me. Proverbs 15:1 tells us that “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NRSV). Today, I want to be a soft answer.