Word Choices

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. – 1 Peter 3:8-9 (The Message)

Those aren’t fighting words.

That can be a good thing. I can remember a few church meetings and dinner conversations that would have been greatly improved by adding sympathy or love or compassion or humility. They are necessary tools for living in a way that’s likely to warm God’s heart.

Still, I’m wary of this good advice from 1 Peter. It’s so either/or. Aren’t there plenty of choices in the spectrum between agreeability and sarcasm? Like godly warning? Or faithful rage? Or righteous indignation? Or brokenhearted grieving?

Occasionally non-fighting words are just what’s needed.

But not always.

I wouldn’t choose these verses to share with a refugee friend who has escaped certain death at home only to face deportation. Nor with a colleague who has just been stopped for “driving while black.” Nor with a neighbor who has been told her choices for her own body are now illegal.

1 Peter 3:8-9 is great—and sometimes Matthew 23:33 is more to the point.

God of utter gentleness and prophetic thunder: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. Amen.

About the Author
The Rev. Dr. John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of the Congregational Church of Salisbury (CT).