Rhetoric, Attempted Murder, and the “Fire of Hell”
Our country was brought to its attention this week when a madman violently attacked a gathering of political leaders who were practicing for a charity baseball game. The big takeaway: “We need to dial back our hateful rhetoric in our country, respect one another more, and learn how to agree to disagree.”
I could not “agree” more. Words are powerful, and thoughtless words can be downright deadly.
But don’t take my word for it.
In Matthew 5:21-23 these words of Jesus are recorded: ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca”, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.’
In case you missed it, let me put it this way: “If you murder someone with your words, you could go to hell.”
I know there is a lot of theological ground to cover here, which I don’t have time to go into in such a short devotional. Please don’t think it’s all over if you have been guilty of calling someone a fool. First of all, the more specific meaning of this last infraction refers to the declaration that someone is worthless. Secondly, God is gracious toward us when we do such things. Jesus says if we do this we will be in “danger.” Not that we will go to hell.
So it isn’t the end.
But we are in danger.
Obviously, calling others names and questioning their worth is no way to manage our anger. Why do we do it? I have seen these patterns emerge over the years and toss them out as possibilities:
Some people assassinate the character of others because they don’t get their way. In the church this could involve anything from a failed attempt to leverage the resources or people of the church for personal gain or anger over not being selected for specific roles.
Some people judge others because they have a legalistic spirit. Legalists frequently find fault with others in regards to some biblical truths while ignoring other truths in their own lives. Ironically, if someone accuses a brother or sister in Christ of wrongdoing to others and hasn’t attempted to reconcile in person, he or she has broken one of the most fundamental teachings of Christ (Matthew 18:15). This is the way legalism works.
Some people criticize others because they are filled with guilt. When a sin is eating us up on the inside, we lash out at others. Perhaps our ability to find fault in others helps us live with ourselves.
Maybe you have found yourself having a conversation with someone who continues to speak poorly of others. You might consider the following:
Do I know what I am hearing is the truth? Have I checked things out for myself? I have learned the hard way people will lie to me about their experiences with others, or leave out vital parts of the story. When I check things out for myself I am sometimes disappointed with my sources, but thankful I was diligent with my pursuit of the truth.
Am I being played? We all have hurts in life. We all have times when we don’t get what we want, when we are prone to legalism, and when we carry around un-confessed sin. People who assassinate the character of others are very good at appealing to the normal hurts we have experienced in life (Read the story of Absalom as a good biblical example -2 Samuel 15:1-6). Before we know it we have traveled with them for so long and burned so many bridges there is no turning back.
Am I honoring God? This is the most important question of all. The reason Jesus was so strong in his warning in Matthew 5 is because He knew His Father was serious about checking the behavior of those who say hateful things about others. When we say something that unfairly casts another person in a bad light, we are calling God a liar. We are suggesting the people He has created are not “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). And we are claiming to be a people of grace while failing to show grace.
God doesn’t look on such things lightly.
Which is where the “hell fire” comes in.
I’m not saying we could go to hell if we have the wrong rhetoric and spread bad things about others.
But Jesus did.