By Pat Knight
From the shoreline, we witnessed the erratic, audacious activity of three mallard ducks involved in a physical scuffle. They were aggressively flapping into each other, first in the water, then in the air. There must have been a distinct reason for the unusual behavior among a group of birds that is normally a peaceable species.
God observes similar harassing behavior, as Christians interact during disagreement, criticism, or quarreling. At such times it is difficult to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian conduct. What a shame! “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).
We are commanded to love one another. “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other … God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever!” (1 Peter 4:8, 10-11, NLT). Love and serve with the capabilities God provides; with all the strength He infuses to glorify His name and to encourage others.
Occasionally heard are comments such as, “I would never have guessed he is a Christian from the way he acts at work.” Or, “she is so involved in gossiping and backbiting, how can she claim to be a believer?” God is unhappy with the person and abhors such behavior. Incriminating words, off-color jokes, or unkind remarks place God’s stamp of disapproval on a Christian’s testimony.
Because God commands us to love one another and to be peacemakers, extending kindness and patience in all circumstances, how can we possibly rationalize inappropriate words? “We speak as those approved by God, who are to be entrusted with His Gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Sanctified by Jesus, we are set apart for holy purposes, taking our directions solely from God. He is the one who specifies conduct and speech. We are instructed to “imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NLT).
We are quick to dismiss bad language as a slip of the tongue. God expects us to be personally responsible for every word we utter. Do your words uplift or degrade?
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
Our words carry the ability to slice through a person, bringing him to his knees, and crippling his spirit. Positive, loving speech enhances our Christian testimony. Cruel words cast doubt on our relationship with Christ.
There are times when Christians are guilty of spiritual cannibalism. We have all seen it happen: cutting words disfigure and disable, ingesting God’s children alive. We witness jealousy, egotistical comments, and hurtful, tactless responses. Irascible words produce deep wounds that seldom heal.
Like large mammals who hunt their prey, people also stalk the unsuspecting with criticism and gossip. As the animal moves in for a quick, decisive kill, we characteristically destroy with anger, untruths, slander, judgment, or accusations, until we have devoured one of God’s beloved creatures. We claim to be more advanced intellectually than the animal world, but such actions prove us wrong. If we’ve circulated in Christian circles very long, we’ve observed variations of this scenario, completely contrary to God’s teachings to love and treat others as we want to be treated.
Does it provide self-satisfaction to watch a fellow Christian squirm and suffer? If we notice a person physically in harm’s way, we likely intervene to prevent injury or to save a life. So, why do we hesitate to get involved when emotional or spiritual health are threatened? We are specifically commanded, “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8).
At the time the Israelites escaped their Egyptian slave masters and were traveling toward the Promised Land, Miriam questioned Moses’ authority as their leader, expressing jealousy of her brother’s assignment as God’s prophet. She challenged God’s decision by exposing and criticizing Moses’ marriage to a foreign-born woman, attempting to undermine his authority. Miriam demanded to know why God had spoken solely through Moses and not through her or her other brother, Aaron.
God answered Miriam by confirming that He chooses His prophets and that Moses was greater than all the others (Numbers 12:4-9). As severe judgment for Miriam’s rebellion, God inflicted her with leprosy. Her skin instantly turned white as snow. Her gracious, forgiving brother, Moses, prayed for her healing. God promised to heal Miriam, but first required that she remain quarantined outside the camp alone for seven days, holding up the journey for all the people until her punishment was fulfilled. She was designated an outcast until she could resume contact with the rest of the community.
Learning from Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion, it is necessary that we trust God to choose His appropriate followers for specific ministries. He lavishes each believer with distinct spiritual gifts. If we tirelessly use our own gifts to serve Jesus, we will have neither time nor energy to monitor how others are occupied with their individual assignment from God.
Steaming jealousy, escalating anger, and a contorted sense of self-worth apparently motivated Miriam. She was not different from people today; only the circumstances vary. God was displeased with her. “The anger of the Lord burned against them and he left them” (Numbers 12:9). When our Lord views similar tendencies in His children today, He displays equal displeasure and disciplines His own. Jealousy is a trait that insidiously consumes our emotions. Priorities change. Apathy replaces faith. Destruction of spiritual relationships is inevitable. Any prolonged jealousy leaves victims in its path. A good dose of repentance, strengthened with personal, fervent prayers for forgiveness is the antidote God honors.
Deception erodes trust. Where there is no trust, there arises doubt and suspicion. Then, relations with God and people degenerate; we have sinned against both. We need not look far to find examples of the damage lying and deceit cause in the world around us. Betrayal among friends is often irreversible, unresponsive to human efforts of repair. “But with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b). Our heavenly Father is able to reinstate our broken relationships just as he did for Miriam and Moses. Jesus taught, “‘For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled; and those who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Luke 18:14b).
The flailing ducks couldn’t resist pecking at one another until feathers flew. God urges us to employ Jesus’ attribute of a gentle spirit. “No one should seek his own good but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Leave squawking and aggression to the avian species.