By Dick Koehneke
“I am writing these things to you so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
In my family of origin, and when our children were growing up, we had several activities and family traditions that were not up for debate or even discussion. It was understood that “that’s how we do things in this family.” Paul is saying, “This is how we do things in the family of God, the church of the living God.” He’s saying we need to behave in such a way that the truth of God – of which the church is a pillar and buttress – is not compromised in the eyes of others by the way we conduct ourselves. As the household of God, this is how we behave to bear witness to that truth.
That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Our mutual love testifies to the truth of the gospel. Because we are loved by God, we love one another. Let’s focus for a couple of moments on one expression of that love – how we conduct ourselves in our speaking about each other as the family of God, the church of the living God, as we testify to the truth of which we – together – are a pillar and buttress. The pillar and buttress stand strong and firm when we speak about one another in love. This principle applies to families, friendships, workplaces, schools, communities, congregations, denominations – in other words, in all situations.
Pastors and other people in spiritual leadership ought to understand the destructive power of the tongue. Spiritual leaders are subject to all sorts of gossip, sarcasm, ridicule and attacks on character. A pastor went to a member family’s home for dinner one evening. While the parents were in the kitchen, their little daughter and the pastor were talking in the living room. “So what are we having for dinner?” the pastor asked. The little girl replied, “I think we’re having old goat, ‘cause I heard my daddy say to my mommy that we’re having the old goat for dinner tonight.”
The internet has opened a vast new universe of possibilities for speaking ill of one another. We need to hear the words of the inspired apostle Paul to the Ephesians: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32)
This is the obedience that comes from faith. As Paul said to the Philippians, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27)
Here’s something to consider. Say you’re person A speaking with person B, and person C comes up in the conversation. You realize that what you’re about to say to person B about person C might cause person B to think less of person C. Should you go ahead and say it anyway? In most cases you shouldn’t. There are times when you should, such as unethical behavior by person C when person B is someone who needs to know, or when person C has a problem that person B might help to address, like financial issues. Besides these kinds of cases, what do you think you should do? How would you like to be treated if you were “person C” in a different conversation?
Let’s do away with sarcasm, ridicule, and criticism of the other person’s character and motives. Let’s commit ourselves to speaking well of one another and explaining each other’s actions in the kindest way, as Luther says in his explanation of the Eighth Commandment. When we disagree, let’s debate the point at issue; let’s not attack the integrity or motives of the other person. It’s not difficult to find fault. We all have plenty of faults, and most of them are not hard to find.
Faultfinding is not our way. As members of the household of God who live by the Spirit, we’re not interested in faultfinding. We don’t get fired up by attacking or ridiculing. We’re into encouraging. We speak about one another as we would like to be spoken about. When a conversation in person – or online – takes a turn toward sarcasm, ridicule, and character assassination, we challenge it and try to put a stop to it; at the very least we disengage from it. “That’s not how we live in this family.”
If people choose to make you the object of sarcasm and ridicule because you no longer join them in their ungodly behavior, what should you do? Rejoice! “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14) People who talk critically to you about others most likely are talking critically to others about you. Now you have given them something good and God-pleasing to talk about!