“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit,  for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45, ESV)
I really don’t want to write this post, it actually hits too close to home because I find myself guilty of what I am warning. Yet, in this political climate I believe the core idea I plan to share is needed by all of us. We have a real problem in American Christianity related to the way we speak about political issues and interact with people who hold opposing views. Take a look at Jesus’ words in Luke 6. A tree is known by its fruit. That’s simple, apple trees do not give us bananas. This is a simple concept, and a common idea repeated in all of Scripture and picked up by Jesus in His teaching. The fruit of a person’s life reveals the root existing in the heart. A person who has been authentically converted to Christ will begin demonstrating Gospel-shaped fruit (character – see Galatians 5:22-24 and the Fruit of the Spirit). On the other hand, a person claiming Christ but consistently producing self-absorbed character actually reveals they have a flawed faith. But pay close attention to Jesus’ application of this idea in this text. How do we know the fruit in a person’s life? It is revealed in our words, in what the mouth speaks and in what our keyboards write. Jesus here speaks to both the content of our words and the posture from which they are spoken.
Crazy political rhetoric is nothing new to the American experience, and the outworking of those angry words turning violent has also always existed in ours and all countries. C’mon, Alexander Hamilton died in a duel being shot by Aaron Burr over political language and arguments. But our day is one where that rhetoric is getting louder and deeply hateful. Cancel culture on both sides makes it very difficult to say anything without getting shot at, and even wounded by what you thought was friendly fire. Just this week two of the key leaders in evangelicalism wrote posts coming to different conclusions as to how they would vote. John Piper and Albert Mohler both addressed their approach to this political moment with grace and a level of humility as they explained how their interaction with God in the Scriptures compelled them at this time. I am thankful for both of these men, and agree with aspects of both arguments. Yet, what I believe is so incredibly troubling is the responses, both in social media and in church culture. In my opinion, these two men are among the most important voices for our time, but they are getting shot at and attacked, not by the outside world but by those within Christianity. One is being labeled a Marxist, liberal, sell out to the left. Meanwhile the other is being called a Nazi, racist, sell out to the right. And somehow there has arisen in Christianity a sense that this sort of labeling and name calling is alright if you somehow support the “right” side of the argument. We do it with our Christian leaders on social media. We join the attacks against politicians as they run for office. And we do it to each other when the other person’s politics don’t align with our own.
And in the midst of this Jesus says that the words we speak (and write) reveal the true nature of our heart. Bad fruit is still, well, bad fruit, even if the reason for the words being spoken are for what we believe is a good cause. Our culture is yelling at and past each other, using the idea of cancel culture to marginalize any voice of disagreement, throwing people in in distinct categories that allows us to ignore any argument they might hold. We use terms like “leftist”, “cultural Marxist,” “liberal,” “white superemacist,” “Fundamentalist,” quickly labeling others with these terms when they make arguments that disagree with our own and that of our tribe. This then, we tend to believe, gives us reason to discredit them, use hateful language toward them, and ignore anything they say. The tendency is then to create echo chambers where the only voice we hear is our own being reflected back to us in the language used by others. Our social media feed and news source of choice often is often little more than finding people who agree with me and express those views to my “Amen.” As we sit in that echo chamber we are tempted (and many just join it) to join the angry hostile rhetoric attacking the views of others who disagree while using the same name-calling and labeling to marginalize their voice. This is the norm in our culture right now. It is the basis of so many cable news shows and is propagated all over social media. Furthermore, this angry name calling rhetoric seems to be the default of almost all who are in the political sphere at this time, with both candidates running for President setting awful examples for our country in this issue. But while it is the norm, Scripture speaks clearly to us about the content and posture of our words.
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)
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)
For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. (1 Peter 3:10)
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. (Proverbs 15:28)
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. (Titus 3:1-2)
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the
But no human being can tame the tongue. 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. (James 3:8-10)
I get pretty passionate about certain ideas and positions. I get passionate when talking theology, sports, politics, and pretty much anything else. Yet, I run the danger of allowing my passion for an idea and begin believing that I actually have a corner on being right. This quickly spirals so as to impact the way I see the other person, not just their view. I can quickly speak as if my passion in my view is the only thing that matters in the conversation. In the last verse from James, the brother of Jesus warns us that we cannot at the same time lift our voices to heaven in praise of God and curse other people who are made in the image of God. Don’t miss this, it is huge. When our language moves from dialogue to attack, when we believe being unloving is justified because of the rightness of the cause we are actually revealing a deep wickedness in our heart and a hypocricy in our language. Angry and hostile language reveals a heart problem, and it also is one of the clearest proofs that we really don’t get the Gospel.
What we find in the words of Jesus which is echoed in places such as Proverbs, James, the prophets, heck, in all of Scripture is that the words we use and the way we speak them is one of the clearest indicators of authentic faith in Jesus. “You will know them by their fruit,” He says. We should expect the world to be wrapped up in divisive, hateful language that marginalizes others. The core problem they have is that they do not know God and have placed self at the center of their universe. But we are Kingdom people with Jesus as our King. Yes, the world makes their argument while not listening to others, but for us it ought not be so. We should treat all people with loving respect, hearing their voice, and lovingly sharing our convictions as well. They are people created in the image of God.
I’m going to be honest, in the rhetorical posture of our culture representing the voice of Christ is super-hard. Cancel-culture will eventually cancel everyone who does not enter into the cancel culture itself. A Christian being transformed by the Gospel who refuses to label others and speak in anger will eventually be seen as too liberal by conservatives and too conservative by liberals. Eventually, you will have the labels thrown your way as you seek to speak forth your allegiance to Christ as King in the political spectrum. And when you don’t join the outrage people might decide you are a sell out. So let me say this clearly, if that happens it is actually a really good thing. When our rhetoric and posture are just like the world, when we pick sides and join in the yelling, we may fit in. And we may believe we are instituting authentic change. Yet, what we are actually feeding a lost and unbelieving world is rotten fruit springing from an unchanged heart. On the other hand, those whose rhetoric and posture reveals the love of Christ, treating every single person as an image-bearer of God may get marginalized themselves, but they also represent the good fruit being formed on Gospeled-trees that our world so desperately needs. In fact, it is my conviction that one of the reasons our culture is in the predicament it is in is because it keeps getting fed rotten fruit by those who claim their fruit represents Christ. When the church is just as angry as the culture, just as divisive, just as cancelling, just as willing to see another person through a label rather than as an image-bearer of God, be sure, we will spew forth bad fruit. Yet, the world is then eating this fruit in the belief that it somehow connects them to God.
If we are authentically experiencing the Gospel our speech will be different, whether it is from our lips or keyboards. Paul gives us two phrases that will help us here. In Colossians 4:6 he says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt…” Here Paul is calling us as believers to make sure that our speech is seasoned with the same grace and love that we have been shown by God. He had every right to cancel us and marginalize us in His righteous anger. Instead God pursued us and it is His kindness and love that brought us to repentance. In Ephesians 4:15 Paul reminds believers in this church that they are to, “Speak the truth in love.” Speech that is full of truth but without love will be harsh, judgmental, and hurtful. Speech that is full of love without truth will end up affirming sin and will not give anything that can authentically change people’s lives and perspectives. We are to be the people who speak the truth in love. Did you get it, seasoned with salt, speaking the truth in love. This is the rhetoric and posture that should characterize us as Christians. Oh that we would have a revival in this kind of language in the church of the living God. Well, let me take that a step further, oh that I would have a revival of this kind of speech in my life.
So the next time I read a few responses on Twitter and decide I am about to chime in, here’s hoping that the Spirit of God reminds me of what I wrote, and more importantly what He has revealed in His Word. Here’s hoping that I will think twice before hitting send or speaking out. And here’s hoping and praying that I will strive to make sure my languages is salty in the Gospel sort of way. Thanks for reading.