The Death of Civility

The level of civility in our culture is dropping like a rock. Whether it’s TV talk shows, or online comments on news sites and social media, we seem to have lost the ability to discuss an issue calmly and logically. It quickly devolves into name-calling, with people spewing vitriol at levels that just make you shake your head in frustration. The President demeans people on Twitter and people respond in kind. But before we go blaming others for how bad it’s gotten, maybe we should look in the mirror.
If the things you said or texted or e-mailed or posted each day were collected, what would it show? I’m afraid that, while there might not be the profanity that others might use, the tone and content might look pretty similar. In response to a newspaper’s question, “What’s wrong with the world?” Christian author G.K. Chesterton wrote back, “Dear sirs, I am. Sincerely Yours, G.K. Chesterton.” I heard someone say one time, “Everyone needs to get downwind of himself from time to time.” Sometimes we have to take a step back and admit that we’re part of the problem.
In my quiet time yesterday, I prayed that God would help me to have the heart for people that He has. When I got to the office that morning and started working on my Bible School lesson the passage was Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said…, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”Racais a synonym of fool, literally meaning “empty-headed” or “good-for-nothing.” In other words, calling someone an idiot or a moron or a worthless bum is a sin that brings judgment.
Can I be honest? For years I’ve just glossed over these verses and kind of assumed that Jesus didn’t really mean it, or was using hyperbole, even though I knew better. It was easier not to think about it, because if I did, I’d have to change my behavior. But one of Jesus’ primary points in the Sermon on the Mount, the section from which this passage is taken, is that if we really have God on the throne of our life, then everything in our life should be focused on doing His will. And that includes the way we speak to and about people.
Jesus makes us look beyond the surface actions (such as murder in v.21) to the underlying purpose of the law, which was to develop a deep sense of the value of human life, and to develop a strong community. The disregard for human life that allows someone to commit murder starts with demeaning and devaluing others. So Jesus goes beyond the law to the root heart issue that leads to violent attacks and the disruption of the community—our devaluing of others.
Every single person—EVERY SINGLE PERSON—on Earth is a unique creation of God, and so valuable to Him that He sacrificed His son for them. Regardless of the choices they make, regardless of how they conduct themselves, regardless of the way they treat others, they are unique and valuable creations of God and are to be treated with respect. When we demean others, we’re devaluing God’s creation. We’re treating them as if they’re less than everyone else.
God looks beyond our surface actions, all the way to the heart. He wants us to see people as being as valuable as He sees them. And the practical benefit is that that’s what strengthens relationships. That’s what builds community. He wants our relationships with each other to be strong. And it starts with seeing others as being as valuable as He does.
So, the next time you look at that guy who cut you off or that politician who just makes you shake your head, and you’re tempted to call him or her a moron, remember Jesus’ words. I promise the bite marks on your tongue will heal!