By Jacqueline J. Holness
I’m a sucker for romantic love. I always have been and always will be. I secretly devoured Harlequin romance novels as a precocious preteen. As a teenager, I would lock myself in my bedroom crooning love songs along with my stereo. As an adult, I’ve attended more weddings than I can count. And as Valentine’s Day is just a few days away, I’m reveling in all that is red, pink, and heart-themed.
There’s more to love than romance, however. The Bible teaches us about a higher form of love, agape love, which is much more important in the eternal equation.
Although the presidential election occurred months ago, the hot button issues that divided our country during the election process—issues like the economy, health care reform, immigration, and family values—are still capable of igniting fiery debate inside and outside of the church.
Don’t get me wrong. These discussions are worthy of passionate debate. But I am concerned that some of the conversations among Christians of different political persuasions, including discussions with nonbelievers who may be negatively affected by our behavior, have bordered on the judgmental, the mean-spirited, and the hateful.
These conversations are often void of agape love. How can Christians disagree with one another without being disagreeable? I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few questions I try to ask myself before engaging in contentious debates, particularly with my Christian brothers and sisters of differing opinions.
Are my words worthy of my heavenly Father?
Remember the children’s song, “Oh, Be Careful Little Eyes”? The last verse of the song admonishes children, “Oh, be careful little mouth what you say” because “there’s a Father up above, and he’s looking down in love, so be careful little mouth what you say.”
James 3:1-10 warns us about the explosive effects of the tongue. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (v. 9). So before I say anything in a discussion that promises to be heated, I try to remember that God hears what I’m saying (or sees what I’m typing) and that all humankind is made in God’s image.
Are my words respectful?
I also try to have the “law of kindness” on my tongue. Even the strongest of words can be delivered with courtesy. After all, what I say says more about me than it does about the person toward whom I have directed my impassioned speech. We are reminded in Matthew 15:11 that what goes inside of our mouths does not defile us; rather it is what comes out that defiles us.
Do I know what I’m talking about?
Most people have opinions, but not all opinions are informed opinions. We must offer facts—not conjecture based on feelings. Proverbs 15:2 reminds us, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.”
Have I put myself in another’s place?
One of the reasons I love Jesus Christ is that he was willing to get on our level. It’s easier to receive harsh criticism from people if I believe they have been where I have been or are sympathetic to how I feel.
Have I prayed about what I will say before I say it?
In contentious situations, I want to be sure to pray before opening my mouth to speak. The Lord promises that he will give us wisdom if we ask (see James 1:5).
Are my words necessary?
In Ecclesiastes 3, we are told there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Sometimes my words just won’t add anything to the discussion. And we can often deliver powerful messages through silence.
Have I apologized if I have gone too far?
Sometimes heated discussions get out of hand. In some cases an apology is in order.
Agape love may require more effort than romantic love, but it is the only love that lasts forever.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.