“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)
The other day someone thin shamed Candace Cameron Bure. She was promoting a bracelet on her personal FaceBook page for 31bits, a fashion and design organization that empowers people to rise above poverty. As hurtful, uncalled for, and inappropriate as those comments were, my guess is that DJ Tanner has been around the block enough times to know that mud-flinging is an expected side effect of celebrity. Celebrity shaming has become a cultural norm. The sad truth is, I would be shocked if I were not assaulted by headlines that screamed about Kim Kardashian’s failed marriage or how anorexic and obese Jessica Simpson is while checking out my groceries. Society considers the private details of celebrity lives public information and celebrities not worthy of human dignity and respect. This is evidenced by the fact that we are not offended by the barrage of titillating fodder that masquerades as news on today’s magazine racks. We have become so desensitized to this assault on humanity that we have completely missed the fact that the tide has turned and we too are now drowning. No longer satisfied to hurl insults and judgments at celebrities, we have now turned on ourselves. It’s easy to do with reality shows and You Tube videos gone viral. Everyone’s a critic and everyone has 15 seconds of fame. With the advent of the internet and social media sites like FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter we are all singing a new version of “it’s a small world after all”, flinging our own mud pies and ducking behind electronic projections of what we so desperately wish our real lives looked like. I’m pretty green when it comes to terms like “thin shaming” and “fat shaming” but even though the terminology may be new, the destructive pattern of judging and name calling is not.
Sticks and stones will break our bones but since we are so civilized we have put down our weapons and picked up our words. Ironically, the only One who was ever worthy to cast the first stone did not. (John 8:1-11) God never fat shames us, thin shames us or guilt shames us. He calls us beautiful, He calls us loved, He calls us His own, and He calls us to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are His children and Christ is the first born among many brothers. (Romans 8:29) If then we are brothers and sisters in Christ and the world is to know us by our love (John 13:35), we might want to reconsider celebrity shaming and what I call “preacher shaming”: publicly disparaging and judging the ministry of others. Preacher shaming is really not unexpected given the constant electronic mud-slinging. Anyone who has a modern-day “pulpit” ministry is at risk of being hit but I believe that it is very important to consider what we say publicly about another person’s ministry.
As individuals in the body of Christ we are called to know and to meditate on the word of God (Psalm 1:2) and to test the spirits (1 John 4:1-6) to see if they are of God. There is so much that can distract and derail us from following after God and His will for our lives, even things that might appear on the surface to be good or Godly. So there is much value in considering, reflecting and testing what a preacher has to say against the word of God before blindly applying it to our lives. Indeed I have heard many speakers invite their listeners to test their message against Scripture and decide for themselves if it is of God.
A few years ago I was preparing to go to Sydney, Australia to attend the well-known Hillsong conference. The speaker line up that year included Pastor Joseph Prince. While I was not overly familiar with Joseph Prince, I had seen and heard him speak over the internet and my first impression of him was not favorable. I disliked the way he dressed (he looked to me like an Asian Michael Jackson!) and there was something in his message that I also did not like or disagreed with. I decided that he was not someone whose ministry I would sit under and so dismissed him. As such, when I arrived at the Hillsong conference, it was my aim to avoid the sessions where Joseph Prince was preaching. But lo and behold, Hillsong does not publicize the speaker order ahead of time and the opening message was preached by none other than Pastor Joseph Prince! I was quite disgruntled at the thought of having to endure his message but since I was already there I did not leave. I had come to Hillsong Conference with a great need in my spirit, something I had been begging God to heal for many, many months but instead of receiving healing the matter was only becoming worse and I was beside myself. At the conference, of all the great preachers and men and women of God who spoke, it was the two messages preached by Joseph Prince that God used to heal me and set me free of my agonizing bondage. Now not only do I have a beautiful and amazing testimony in this area of my life but I am also humbled before God for having judged one of His servants. I benefited beyond what I could have imagined or hoped for from the ministry of a man that I had never met but had judged and dismissed. And what does the Bible tell us of this matter? “Do not judge or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) At first glance, this verse may seem to be in contradiction to testing and trying the spirits to see if they are of God. As with many matters of faith and Scripture though, it would seem that there is often a distinction so fine as to be easily missed or misinterpreted. Testing a teaching or word to see if it is in line with the Scripture is, I believe, different than judging the speaker’s heart or ministry. We are to discern if a word is God-ordained but we are also to refrain from judging another’s heart, as it is God alone who sees our hearts. “It is God who judges: He brings one down, He exalts another.” (Psalm 75:7) “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5) This verse reminds me of the story of Saul and David. King Saul had forsaken the Lord and God had removed His favor from him, anointing David to be king instead. Even though Saul remained on the throne for decades after David was anointed, and even though he hated David and pursued him and sought to kill him, David did not stretch out his hand against Saul. When David had the opportunity to kill Saul and take the position that he was anointed for, the position that God Himself had called him to, David held back and he did so on more than one occasion. “But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him (Saul), for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt?” (1 Samuel 26:9) We may not be celebrities or kings but if we declare Jesus as Lord and Saviour, we are God’s anointed and our words are powerful. We might never dream of physically stretching out our hand against a brother or sister in the Lord but if we are not careful we can easily stretch out our electronic tongues, wounding and softly, gently, kill one another with the sword of social media. Instead let us take our fingers off the keyboard, plant our knees on the floorboards and “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”. (Hebrews 10:24)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21)
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