Before I share the conclusion I have come to on a subject that has been on my mind for a while, let me tell you that the first person who needs to read this is myself. But I think it is something people tend to brush aside as unimportant, myself included, when really they just don’t want to face the truth. And here it is:
Picking on someone out of “love” is not a love that exists in the Bible. It is not a love that God has for us or that we have for God. Can you imagine someone standing up in church and saying, “Well, I only pick on God because I like him”? I don’t think anyone would quite know how to respond to this. We, as human beings, like to tease. We like to laugh, and we like to enjoy each other’s quirks and how they make us happy. But how do we communicate that? I have heard so many people say, “I only pick on people I really like.”
In fact, this is something we are instructed not to do. Peter throws “unkind speech” right into the mix of other evil behaviors: “So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation,” (1 Peter 2:1-2). This implies that until we get rid of unkind speech, we will not be able to grow into a “full experience of salvation.” That sends a pretty clear message that this isn’t something God wants in our lives.
In which case, if God is love, is it even possible to pick on someone out of love?
Paul didn’t seem to think so. Like Peter, he equated “harsh words” with things like stealing. Ephesians 4:26-32 makes it pretty clear that our speech is of importance to God.
Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Get rid of harsh words. Let everything you say be an encouragement to others. Be tenderhearted.
This seems to have been a natural occurrence for the early church. When Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, he instructs them only to continue what they have begun in this area: “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thesalonians 5:9-11).
So why is it that so many of us do not do this? I would like to contest the statement I have heard over and over again. I think the more correct statement would be “I only pick on people I am comfortable enough with that I know they will pick back, and not be offended.” However, I have to wonder, is there a chance that when you pick on someone who falls into this category, while they may not by outwardly offended, you may have offended their spirit? Is it fair to say that when someone is offended or hurt by something that you say “in jest” after you have put them in the category of people whom you are comfortable picking on, that they are just too “sensitive”? I have also heard people say, “Well, I tell them I love them. They know I love them, so it shouldn’t matter if I pick on them. They are just being sensitive.” I contest this statement as well. Harsh words are sometimes expected from those who we do not know, have little chance of seeing again, and do not value above any other person in our hearts. But for these words to come from someone in whom we have placed value, trust, and godly love… Is it any surprise that they should come as a shock? In James 3:5-10, James explains that it is not healthy for a blessing and a curse to come from the same mouth:
In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
Therefore, this argument of love balancing out the teasing is invalid.
Now, I’m not saying that I think all teasing is bad,or that there isn’t a time and place. Some things may cut deeper than others. But I think people – yes, even Christians – have a tendency to overlook the gravity of their speech. Words are powerful, as the verse above testifies, and I have a lot to learn about this myself. People’s feelings, should they be hurt, should not be dismissed in a moment by labeling the person as sensitive, in a bad mood, or unable to take a joke. This isn’t fair to the immortal soul within them. Consider this quote from C. S. Lewis’ book, The Weight of Glory:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal … it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
I don’t know about you, but this makes me think of people just a little bit differently. With any luck, it will help me to think twice the next time I am tempted to cut someone down before the words get out.