Most people collect things. I gather inspiring quotes and spread them around my space to wave hello as old friends do when I’m bored. Or tired. Or sad. Or just 100% done. One such companion, originally included in a play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, is “The pen is mightier than the sword.” As a particularly uncoordinated being, I adore the fact that the power wielded through my mind can be just as potent as—if not more so than—the power wielded by my physical prowess. You should like this fact, too, because the thought of me slinging a sword around is so far from graceful. (If I ever took up fencing, I would entitle that period of my life “99 trips to the E.R.”)
When I think about the state of virtual communication, though—comments on Facebook, reply threads on YouTube videos, Twitter wars, you name it—to confuse the pen (or, um, the keyboard) and the sword would be the easiest thing in the world. Normally decent human beings go around hacking away at each other just because there’s a screen involved. I’ve done a lot of observing in my time. Yet another perk of being an introvert. And do you know what I’ve discovered? Get ready for it: people just aren’t very nice to each other. You could get whiplash reading the hostility previous friends (or even absolute strangers) pour forth from their fingertips. Sure, the world is broken, and of course we shouldn’t expect dying souls to watch their language. But are those of us who have known true life any different?
Christ set us free so that we would be free indeed. I guess that means we have the option to trample others’ feelings—in a public sphere, no less—without worrying whether we’ll be sent to hell for it. Scripture says that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. We’ve done that, so we’re “safe.” Yeah. But isn’t there more to this new way of life than simply seeing what all we can get away with? There is. It’s using our freedom to make a difference in the lives of others.
This whole grace concept is scandalous, and it’s just as difficult now (especially for a recovering legalist like me) as it was for the first church. But oh, goodness, did they wrestle with it. Paul urged the believers in Galatia to not use their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love to serve one another. He also pleaded with the Corinthian Christians: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”
Listen: this isn’t about taking away your rights as an American to express whatever you want whenever you want however you want. It’s about acting like a citizen of your real country: the one where God is your highest authority and chief audience. The one where only what is good for building up is to come out of us; the one where we always talk in a way that smacks of grace, seasoned with salt to preserve and heal others; the one where soft answers consistently turn away wrath. Because there’s more at stake than our rights being exercised. We have the power of life and death in our fingertips, in our tongues, and we can draw people to the lamb that was slain or we can push them away. We can build up the kingdom in unity or we can tear it down with our own hands like the foolish women of old.
We carry a dual message: it is the deepest balm for oozing decay, but it causes so much offense to the dying. May we not add extra offense to a gospel that is already difficult to hear. The fact that there is a cup of wrath being stored up against the evil in human hearts is not a pretty one. This call to lay down everything we are (daily!) on an altar of sacrifice is so hard. And this world we walk around in—the pain, the brokenness, the bondage—if we won’t be bringers of hope and peace, who will? Let’s turn our pens and keyboards into instruments of life. Lay down the sword and lift up the cross.
…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.