“You cotton-headed ninny mugging!” (Elf, 2003). “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975). If only the insults and comments that we hear and see were as childish as that.
A lot of our language has devolved from respectful discussion with one another to destructive and harmful name-calling and judgmental condemnations. It is displayed on the morning news from all sides. It has become public record through the “marketplace of ideas” on X (formerly known as Twitter). It is heard in our kitchens and offices while we gossip and destroy the reputations of those we don’t agree with behind their back. This behavior is destroying our communities and homes.
It especially has no place inside God’s family of believers. “Disrespectful, dismissive, vengeful, mocking, motive-judging, and condemning reactions never produce healthy, loving, vulnerable, honest, reconciled, and unified community where confession, repentance, and forgiveness are encouraged.” (Reactivity, Paul David Tripp, 2022).
The tit-for-tat battle will escalate into outright destruction, as we have seen violent overreactions happen. How can we put down our guns, real and verbal ammunition that are both aimed to kill? A dab of humility and a douse of grace will help.
Jesus rescued a woman from a death sentence in John 8. Those who were so angry and ready to kill with words and stones were humbled by introspection. Jesus defused the situation with, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” We all need to admit our own fault in adding fuel to the fire. I must confess my own quick and unhelpful emails sent out of anger rather than a response of love. I admit my own harmful words stabbed like a dagger, just the way I wanted. And then I have a smug attitude while the recipient bleeds from my lack of compassion.
Jesus’ transforming grace is the only solution to this. I don’t confess so I walk around like a sad puppy who ripped the couch apart again. I do so to be overwhelmed by God’s words of amazing mercy for me. Jesus told the woman “I don’t condemn you.”
“I counted [the names God has for his people] a while back, trying to note how often Christians were called ‘weak’ or ‘sinful’ by Jesus and the apostles and how often they were called ‘holy’ and ‘pure’ and ‘beloved’ and ‘chosen.’ I counted 682 total names in the New Testament. Guess how many were positive? 610! What?! 610. A 9 to 1 ratio. There’s still some hard truth—we are still sinners—but he overwhelms us with the truth of our identity, who we now are, through Jesus.” (from a sermon delivered by Pastor Mike Novotny, “Off the Deep End: God’s word to the abused,” 9/27/2020).
Jesus doesn’t use his words to demean or demoralize you. He builds you up with a new identity and a new person that is hidden in his perfection. Nuzzle yourself in the security of his affirmation. His grace is not a one-time event but an ongoing and empowering declaration. He forgives you.
You don’t have to use words to hurt people. Instead, we can return to his call, his mark, his intention for us that can transform the destructive landscape and bring it light: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).