More than a Hashtag#: Civility
The level of civility in our culture is dropping like a rock. Whether it’s TV talk shows or online comments on news sites and social media, we seem to have lost the ability to discuss an issue calmly and logically. It quickly devolves into name-calling, with people spewing vitriol at levels that just make you shake your head in frustration. So what happened to civility?
Something To Talk About:
- Our lack of civility: As people of faith, we are called to a higher standard of engagement and interaction with our neighbors, even those with whom we may disagree on an issue. Our faith provides us with spiritual resources to take the conversation to a different level. We can choose respect and hope over animosity and bitterness. We can choose to listen and learn rather than attack and insult. We can choose to have discussions on any subject in civil tones. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Ephesians 4:29 adds, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
- The Power of words: Words are powerful. We’ve all, no doubt, been wounded at some point by careless, unkind or mean statements. Their effect on our lives, even years later, is undeniable. No matter how much we deny it, it still makes us cringe to remember the taunts of the second-grade bully on the playground and or the rumors spreading through the high school hallways. “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” (Proverbs 18:21) One small comment or remark can make the difference between building a relationship up or tearing it down. We have the power to either encourage or destroy others with our speech. Your words can literally alter the course of someone’s life. And Ecclesiastes10:12 tells us that “Wise words bring approval, but fools are destroyed by their own words.”
- Stewarding the power of words We need to control, to steward our words. Proverbs 10:19 says, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” We must show restraint with our words. Are your words appropriate? Are your words timely? Do you speak the truth in love? How can we use words in a way that they build up instead of tear others down? Think before you speak: Choosing your words wisely and learning when to keep your mouth shut can transform the impact of what you say. Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words may cause great damage, but the word of the cross has the power to heal and set us free when we recognize the love and grace that has been proclaimed through Jesus Christ.
- Questions: You probably know the pain of regretting words you have spoken: words of pride, dishonesty, envy, gossip, or anger. Although you can seek to restore bruised relationships through repentance and forgiveness, spoken words can never be retrieved. If we were to put some spiritual controls on our mouths, what would they look like? If we were to run what we say through some kind of filter before we say it, to clean things up and guard our souls, what would those filters be? (1) “Is what I am going to say true?” (2) “Is what I am going to say helpful?” (3) “Is what I am going to say personal?” (4) “Is what I am going to say loving?”
- “The need to bring civility together with deep convictions is not just an option for Christians – it is an obligation grounded in biblical teaching.” –Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary. Reaction?
- What is the difference between civility and courtesy?
- Words are a continual choice with an inevitable consequence. Agree or disagree and why?
- How can we hold on to strongly felt convictions while still being authentically kind and gentle? Is it possible to keep these things together?
- What do you think accounts for the hostility that so often characterizes people who comment online?
- The quality of your life is directly connected to the content of your conversation. Agree or disagree and why?
- Read James 1:19: Which of the three behaviors is the most difficult for you? What is at the root of why this is difficult for you? How can you improve?
- Read Colossians 4:6. What does it mean for your conversation to be gracious and attractive?
- Which one of the following four filters would you put first? Why? (1) Is what I am going to say true? (2)Is what I am going to say helpful? (3) Is what I am going to say personal? (4) Is what I am going to say loving?
- Where do we go from here? What’s the next step God wants you to take? When will you take it?
- What is one thing you can do this week to grow in having your conversation be always full of grace?
Take one thing home with you:
Our words are important; what we say matters. Words can be used to build up, encourage, and speak great truths. They can also be used to tear down, hurt, or even speak truths in unloving ways. As James notes, though the tongue is a small member of the body, it holds much power (3:2-4). I’m sure we have all had times where you wish you could pull back in the words that just left your mouth, but know that once it has been said, it can’t be unsaid. And in this day of social media, we need the wisdom more than ever, of being careful what we say – or type. Our words, when posted online, leave a lasting imprint and can be shared with thousands at the press of a button.
We should be thoughtful about the words we use, knowing the great power they wield. We need to learn control. Control of the tongue does not mean never speaking up. Control of the tongue means being deliberate and thoughtful in what we say.
This year, I encourage you to be thoughtful about your words, asking the Holy Spirit to help you discern how you can use your words and your silence to build others up, to comfort the hurting, to stand with the oppressed, and to live out the good news of the Kingdom of God.