There are two principle categories of sin – those of the flesh and those of the spirit.
We have tended to pinpoint the glutton, drunkard, and adulterer far more quickly than we have the prideful, arrogant, divisive, slanderous, and mean-spirited.
Even more, we have turned a blind eye to – if not celebrated – caustic, mean-spirited words, actions and attitudes as if they are not reprehensive.
In truth, they are second-degree murder.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
You’re familiar with the command… “Do not murder.” I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother “idiot!” and you might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell “stupid!” at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. (Matthew 5:21-22 The Message)
I find Jesus’ words very uncomfortable.
I am more at ease with the musing of the Louisiana minister: “I don’t hate anybody. ’Cause the Bible says it’s a sin to hate. But there are some folks I hope die of cancer of the tonsils.”
Yet Jesus reminds me that my biting words, my character assassinations, my slander, innuendo, gossip and snide remarks are every bit as hateful to the heart of God as the knife dripping with blood or a smoking gun.
When we go on the warpath against others, becoming active in ruining their reputations, spreading accusations, uncharitably criticizing their behavior or taking verbal shots, we are emptying the contents of a gun in their direction.
It’s an assault with the intent to kill.
The Bible is very clear on this:
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything – or destroy it!... By our speech we can… throw mud on a reputation… This is scary… The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer… With our tongues we...curse the very men and women [God] made in His image… My friends, this can’t go on. (James 3:5-10 The Message)
The villagers of the Solomon Islands practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it.
Woodsmen credited with special powers creep up on a tree at dawn and then scream at the tree at the top of their lungs.
They continue this for thirty days.
The tree, it is told, then dies and falls over.
The villagers base their practice on the belief that hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.
I don’t know if their practice works on trees.
I do know that it works on people.
James Emery White
Excerpt from James Emery White, Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges (InterVarsity Press). Available on Amazon.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.