What happened to civility?

These days, you see it on bumper stickers, banners, and social media posts, and you hear it on the radio, on cable news channels, and in casual conversations—seemingly all around us, our culture is now marked by an incredible loss of civility.

Christians, at least from us, these things should not be so.

Scripture has much to say about the words that come out of our mouths, which by extension would rightly include the words we post online, or hang on a banner, or place on our vehicle.

  • Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

  • Ephesians 5:4 – Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

  • Colossians 3:8 – But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

Later in the New Testament, James warns us about the tongue, saying that while it is only a small part of our body, like a small spark it can set a great forest ablaze. The point is, it can do much harm.

  • James 3:6–10 – And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. … It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

These things ought not to be so.

Despite what the media and culture want us to believe, the problem is not located in our thinking or living differently from the world around us. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), therefore we should look like neither the kingdoms of this world nor their citizens. The problem is not that our strongly held, biblical convictions differ from the world around us. The problem is that at times Christians are prone to respond like the world responds to those differences.

What should we do instead?

Scripture does tell us to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5), but we do so remembering that “we are not waging war according to the flesh” (10:3). We do not battle as the world battles. We battle with the truth of the gospel, with prayer, with making strong arguments for biblical truth, while also following Ephesians 4:29 and Ephesians 5:4 and Colossians 3:8. We need to show the world that it’s possible to speak strongly without speaking with “corrupting talk.”

As we interact with those with whom we disagree, not only in face-to-face conversations but also in online exchanges, we’re to remember the commands of God to us in 1 Peter 2:17:

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

1 Peter 2:17, ESV

Everyone deserves to be treated with honor and respect, because everyone is made in the image of God. Everyone deserves honor, even political leaders or others around us with whom we may strongly disagree.

Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash