I am full of words. Ask anyone who knows me, I talk a lot.
For a long time I thought that the more words I used the brighter and wiser people would think me, but I have been learning that this isn’t necessarily the case. Knowing when to speak and when to stay silent to allow God to work is something I struggle with, but God is working on me and SLOWLY I am growing in this area.
I am also being challenged about the kind of words I use day to day, and the words that I hear thrown about in life, particularly in christian circles.
‘The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.’ Proverbs 18:21 (NLT)
If Jesus is ‘the life’ and we are to be imitators of him, then we should be speaking life over each other and ourselves- not death. Ultimately anything we say is either life-giving (a blessing) or death-bringing (a curse), and Deuteronomy 30:19(NIV) says:
‘This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. ‘
I realise that in context this was regarding the law for the Israelites, but the heart of God’s message is still relevant to this point- we have a choice, to bring life or to curse it to death.
Subsequently I am growing to have a real problem with the term ‘Banter’.
Not because I simply dislike the word, or because I cannot enjoy humour and good natured teasing from people who know and love me. I love the absurdities of life and the little quirks that each of us have, they add colour to our humanity, and these are a great source of joy and amusement.
But I have a problem with it because ‘Banter’ has seemingly become an all encompassing licence to knock people down, publicly and privately, in the name of humour.
It is often used as a way of voicing our own deeply held dislikes and prejudices, (sometimes with ill-concealed aggression), and of refusing to consider the root of our issue, and the feelings of the person or people to whom we have directed it. Or it is an insecure and cowardly way of making ourselves look bigger/cleverer/cooler/more popular by putting people down.
‘BANTER’ and it’s content is rarely truthful, and is certainly not loving. If you have a legitimate difficult truth to bring to the attention of someone specific, you do it when you are not feeling angry and you do it privately.
At worst, it is ignorance, abuse and bullying, loudly voiced and widely applauded. At best, it is foolishly inconsiderate of people and their feelings, situations or beliefs, and it is damaging.
Our words have huge power. We are made in the image of God and he spoke the world into existence, Jesus is called the Word of God made flesh, and we have authority in his name to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and drive out demons. What we say can have breathtaking and positive impact in the world, but it can also speak lies and pain over someone’s life to detrimental effect.
When we ‘Banter’ in a group, it is very difficult for the recipient to defend themselves or maintain dignity, and they’d need a thick skin or a deep peace in their sense of identity to ride out the moment without embarrassment. Why not enjoy the humour of a situation that doesn’t make someone feel small, but which celebrates LIFE?
Because words spoken as banter, however harmlessly meant, are rarely encouraging, we don’t know what nerves they may touch, or how deeply they may take root.
I know people who have thought themselves stupid, ugly, unworthy, gay, sexually cheap, unloveable, valueless and lonely- suffering huge pain because of words people have spoken over them. These words often end up shunting people down the very route that they were teased about, as enough people have declared it so, they conclude it must be true.
We don’t know what issues other people struggle with or what they have gone through in their lives, so we cannot take the risk of mocking or speaking to others with assumed authority about who they are.
We don’t have the right to proclaim someone stupid or make comments about their sexuality or unworthiness, even as a joke. It is not the truth.
The truth is that we are made in the image and likeness of God and are of massive value, and God has a purpose for each of our lives that only we can fulfill, and he will bring it about in his perfect timing. He is the only person qualified to speak over our identity, as the one who made us, loves us and died for us, and if we don’t line up our words with His, we are effectively cursing ourselves and each other.
Our culture prizes foul-slang, mockery, disrespect and inferiority of image and status as ‘great humour’. However, I have been in many christian circles where the snarky jibes; proclaimations that he or she is ‘out of their league’; sweeping statements of ‘he’s crap because he’s a man’ or ‘the trouble with women is…’; superiority of theology or denomination versus ‘their inferior standpoint’; or comments about someone’s sexuality, particularly the flippant ‘you’re so gay’ and ‘dude, that’s so gay’, have been banded about when they are not fact, let alone truth. This has often caused deep wounds, and has been instrumental in allowing the enemy to chisel away at someone’s true identity, and keep them trapped in his lies.
We are made for so much more than this, and as christians are no longer in bondage to sin and death or it’s curses, therefore we don’t have to speak as if we were. We are free to build one another up, to encourage and exhort each other, knowing it doesn’t detract from our value. Ultimately the goal is to draw each other towards God, gaining peace in the process, as we become more like him.
Please don’t think that I am puritanically suggesting the end of sharing jokes and humour with each other. Our laughter is a gift from God and the ability to laugh at our foolishness and mistakes can ease the learning process, reminding us that we’ve not got it sussed. But let’s celebrate the growth in maturity, building each other up with insight on how far we’ve come on the journey. Teasing can focus on what used to be, if it’s funny and not still a sore spot, but let’s be sensitive to the Holy Spirit so that we don’t squash any tender new growth with a thoughtless case of runaway mouth.
This can mean specifically encouraging each other, learning the art of complimenting with integrity and truth, or resisting the joke on the tip of our tongues which just might knock someone’s confidence or sense of value. Above all, we must be loving.
We are called to be salt and light to the world (Matt 5:13-16) enabling the world to see the goodness of God and bring him praise.
I wrestle with this, too frequently letting our culture inform my behaviour rather than the other way around.
I can hold bitterness and let that influence my words to some of my nearest and dearest, sometimes knocking them down publicly for a moment of comedy. It doesn’t honour them, it doesn’t honour me, and it most definitely doesn’t honour God. Instead I am left with a slightly sour taste and the feeling that I may have just hurt someone I love.
It comes down to feeling unloved ourselves. We don’t quite trust that we are precious or loveable enough, so we fight to prove and justify ourselves to each other and to God. But there is no need. We are already justified in Christ. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit, if we heed his promptings, to bring life wherever we go. So go to God and ask him how he feels about you. His outpouring of love will blow your mind.
I challenge you to practise.
Practise being a collision for your circles of influence with the loving presence of God. I will do the same and let us see what life springs forth.