By / Mar 7

In elementary school, it was always necessary to enter the playground armed with insults and "your mama" jokes. You never knew when an argument would break out and you would need to tear down not only your opponent, but also his mama. As children, disagreements weren't solved by listening to an opponent's view and engaging their ideas with your own counterarguments. Rather, it was all about who could silence their enemy or get the most laughs from the crowd. If you were up against a kid especially good at dishing out insults, you could always resort to, "I know you are but what am I?" Repeating this statement would often annoy or frustrate your opponent and stop their attack. Worked like a charm!

It seems this type of arguing has become the norm in our day, even among adults. Our society simply hasn't grown out of our childlike ways of debate; we rarely engage ideas because it's easier to attack each other. It doesn't matter if you're watching a political debate or having an online discussion; we've simply lost the ability to think deeply, engage opinions that are different than ours, and do so in a civilized manner.

Sadly, this has crept into the church as well. We don't handle disagreements about doctrine or its application with healthy discussion and kindness. It seems we're unable to listen and try to accurately understand an opposing position. Rather than letting the love and kindness of Christ shine in the midst of a shouting, name-calling culture, we've too often emulated the tactics of the world. Yet, the book of Proverbs warns us against these hasty words, harsh tones, and hot tempers that have become the norm in our day.

Hasty words

The temptation to quickly speak our mind is powerful, especially when we think someone's wrong. Proverbs teaches this is the way of the fool:

  • "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things" (15:28).
  • "Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (29:20).
  • "Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin" (13:3).
  • "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion" ( 18:2).

This does not mean we shouldn't share dissenting opinions; it simply means we do so thoughtfully and intentionally. Taking time to slow down, listen, and think through our words before we speak is the way of wisdom.

Harsh tones

Proverbs not only addresses the power of words, but it also teaches that the tone of our words matter:

  • "With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone" (25:15).
  • "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body" (16:24).
  • "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (15:1).
  • "A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit" (15:4).
  • "He . . . whose speech is gracious will have the king as his friend" (22:11).
  • "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (25:11).
  • "The wise of heart is called discerning and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness" (16:21).

We are tempted to hasty, harsh words, but Proverbs tells us that not only is such speech foolish, but it actually doesn't influence anyone. How many times have you been convinced to change your mind about a theological or political issue by someone attacking your character and calling your opinion stupid? Chances are, most of us stop this kind of conversation because we realize there's no hope of a healthy debate. As the old saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Even if we have the truth, we can communicate it in such a way that it does not garner a listening ear.

Hot tempers

Hasty words and harsh tones often come when we lose our temper. Proverbs warns against this as well:

  • "A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention" (15:18).
  • "A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression" (29:22).
  • "Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent" (11:12).
  • "Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly" (14:29).

Let's be honest, this is difficult. Speaking graciously and controlling our temper seems impossible, especially in the vitriolic culture we currently live in. Telling someone to do this is like telling a blind man to see better—it won't happen in our own strength. It’s yet another reminder that to live the life of wisdom is impossible if we're not walking in the Spirit.

Jesus teaches us that our words and the tone with which we speak them show the state of our heart (Luke 6:45). Paul Tripp provides a powerful illustration:

Pretend that I have a bowl of water in my hands and I shake it vigorously and water splashes out of the bowl. And suppose I ask you why water spilled out of the bowl, and you answer that it spilled because I shook it. It all sounds pretty logical, doesn't it? But the answer is only partially correct. Why did water splash out of the bowl? Because water was in the bowl. If the bowl had been filled with milk, you could shake it for an eternity and water would never spill out of it.

When we get angry, shout, gossip, or tear down others we disagree with, we are showing what's in our heart. Even if others "shake us" through their actions or words, only what's truly inside us will spill out. As our sinfulness is revealed, the gospel calls us to confess, receive the forgiveness of Christ, and strive to live in God's mercy and grace each day. As we do so, that grace will change us from the inside out, and we'll increasingly show graciousness in our speech and disposition.

Amongst all the yelling, flared tempers, and highly polarized “discussion” going on in our culture, may the church demonstrate hearts that have been radically changed. And may we shine brightly through our thoughtful words, gracious tones, and controlled tempers.

In a world torn apart by division, in a social media environment that dehumanizes rather than edifies, it’s time for Christians to show the world a better way. Join us for the 2019 National Conference, “Gospel Courage: Truth and Justice in a Divided World,” on Oct. 3-5. Register now to learn what the Bible says about how we should stand and speak and how we should lead our families and churches for the cause of Christ.

By / Oct 11

NASHVILLE (BP)— The church should be at the forefront of promoting civility in a deeply divided culture, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told Christian leaders at a Southern Baptist-sponsored event in Nashville.

“We, of all people, understand grace,” Haslam said of Christians at an Oct. 3 lunch held by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), “and we of all people understand, ‘You know, I don’t really have the right to be on a high horse yelling at you because but for God’s immeasurable grace I’d be a mess. So we should understand the need for civility.

“By the same token, we also believe in truth,” he said, adding he still hopes he can have a civil discussion with those who disagree with him. “Understanding grace, I think, changes everything about all of your relationships.”

Haslam appeared at the ERLC Leadership Lunch in the SBC Building to answer questions from the entity’s president, Russell Moore, and the audience of pastors, leaders and other Christians from Middle Tennessee.

During the governor’s appearance, Moore presented Haslam with the ERLC’s 2017 Richard Land Distinguished Service Award, which goes annually to a person displaying excellent service to God’s kingdom. The ERLC trustees unanimously approved Haslam for the award at their meeting in August.

In presenting the award, Moore pointed to Haslam’s conviction and civility. Haslam has served as a model “for people all around the country when it comes to articulating a view of human dignity” on such issues as abortion and foster care, Moore said, adding he also has spoken out on behalf of religious freedom.

“What I appreciate about our governor is he is able to do that in a way that can persuade people who are out there in the sort of persuadable middle  . . .  and has really led our state to think about the forgotten people,” Moore said.

He became a Christian when he was 16 years old during a weekend Young Life camp in the mountains of North Carolina, Haslam told the audience. It marked the first time he had heard the Gospel of Jesus clearly presented, he said. The speaker urged the young people not to fail to decide about Christ. The message stuck with him, and he accepted Christ sitting on the steps of a gym, Haslam said.

Two or three weeks later, his mother – only 42 – died of a heart attack while taking a nap, Haslam said. “Those same folks who had worked to try to get me to go to camp and to introduce the Gospel were the same folks who literally enveloped me. And so from the beginning I got a great picture of: ‘Here is what the body of Christ looks like,’” he said.

Haslam succeeded as a businessman, was elected mayor of Knoxville before winning the governorship as a Republican in 2010. He will finish his second and final term as governor in January 2019.

When U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee announced recently he would not run for re-election in 2018, Haslam received encouragement to run for the seat. The governor announced Oct. 5, two days after the ERLC Leadership Lunch, he would not run for the Senate so he could maintain his focus on being governor the next 15 months. After 15 years as a mayor and governor, Haslam said he believes he can be most helpful as a private citizen.

Moore asked Haslam how he remains a Christian in business and politics.

“For me the answer is simple,” he said. Starting when Haslam was in his late 20s, four other Christian men showed up at his house every Friday morning to be open with one another. “Honestly, I think having a relationship with that group of guys has been the kind of steadying influence in my life.”

Asked about how he handles all the decisions he has to make as a governor, Haslam pointed to three factors.

“I hope it begins with the thought that this isn’t about me – this decision,” he said. “Hopefully you start out without the pressure of: ‘Okay, what do I need to do to look good in this situation?’”

Secondly, he tries to surround himself with wise counselors. No. 3, and most important, “I honestly feel that all of our decisions are characterized by being followers of the Gospel. They just are,” Haslam said. “[The decisions] are all, I hope, not just seasoned by [the Gospel] but determined by what we believe to be true.”

The governor told those attending they would be shocked at how similar their jobs would feel if they swapped places with him.

“I tell people all the time, ‘I thought I was coming to be the CEO of the state, but I was really coming to be the senior pastor of the state,’” Haslam said, citing the many competing, valid needs he must address.

Moore asked the governor how he deals with criticism.

“I take all criticism as with some validity,” Haslam said. “On the other hand, we can’t be a prisoner to it; we can’t be captive to it.”

When asked from the floor what issues the church in Nashville or Tennessee could help address, Haslam cited foster care and racial reconciliation.

“I think the church can help us to have a whole different conversation around racial reconciliation,” he said. “And I say that because we’re the people that believe that one day every tongue and every tribe and every nation is going to kneel down together. And if we really believe that, that changes all our conversations.”

Those “painful, frank and helpful conversations” need to take place, Haslam said.

The ERLC Leadership Lunch is held three or four times a year for pastors, leaders and lay people to gather for a discussion of contemporary ethical and cultural issues. Sometimes the format is a question-and-answer session with Moore. At other times, the lunch features interviews with special guests or presentations on relevant topics.