In the late 20th century, the one-word retort – “whatever” – arrived on the scene. It was either used to affirm a previous statement along the lines of “whatever you say”, or to express indifferent acceptance of a particular circumstance in the spirit of “Que Sera Sera”, or as a passive-aggressive counter intended to block further conversation on a subject. In some circles, the retort is still used today. It has been so overused that some would consider it to be one of the most annoying words used in conversation. And i would agree!
We live in a day of ever declining courtesy, civility and collegiality within society – and even more disturbingly, within the body of Christ. We would be wrong to lay the blame on the ubiquitous influence of social media as being the root cause. i am a firm believer that “whatever comes up in the bucket was already down in the well.” Social media may be the most-used hoist to bring the bucket to the surface at an appalling rate, but the issue remains with what is “down in the well”. This issue becomes even more disconcerting as we witness the cacophony of uncivil – and more importantly, ungodly – expressions from men and women who hold positions of leadership within the bride of Christ, whether it be the local church, or any of its parachurch institutions or entities. The fact of the matter is that we, as followers of Jesus, are called to be His light in a dark world. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). The purpose is not that our works are seen, but rather that the Father is glorified. There is no glory ascribed to the Father through the mud-slinging we are witnessing on social media. We must again learn how to converse – and even debate – without being unholy and profane – as brothers and sisters in Christ.
i don’t believe the problem is really new. i think the first century church was experiencing the same issue – but instead of using Twitter, they were just using their tongues. The apostle Paul spent the preponderance of his time in his epistles correcting the errant theology and godless behavior that was being expressed within the body of Christ. i can’t help but wonder what he would say to us if he was alive today!
But wait – i don’t think we need to wonder. He’s already told us through the leadership and anointing of the Spirit of God. His admonition to us is… whatever! “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV). i am convinced that if we used Paul’s definition of “whatever” to craft our remarks and responses to one another, the “Twitter-sphere” would look very different.
But that brings us back to the adage about the well. If it’s coming up in the bucket, it’s already down in the well. And the only way to clean-up the well is through repentance. We can’t artificially make it true, or honorable or pure. We don’t have the capacity to make the unlovely lovely or the uncommendable commendable. The problem is not solved by simply deleting an offending tweet. Unless we are emptied of the contempt and anger and bitterness that exists within the wells of our lives, it will keep coming up in the bucket. Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23 ESV). Later, Paul went on to admonish Timothy, “if anyone cleanses himself from the latter”– the very sin that Jesus described – “he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 NKJ). And the only way of cleansing is repentance – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).
The great news is that the solution to our problem today is the same as it was in the first century. And if there was ever a day that the world around us needs to see the truth of Christ lived out through our words, our actions and our tweets – it’s today. i pray that each of us who names the Name of Christ will heed those words, respond to that truth, and become known by our love for one another, as we speak words of “whatever” that bring glory to the Father.