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Germ Warfare

There is so much talk about biological terrorism that an article on it—even in a publication like this one—might not be surprising. But this article is not about modern weapons of mass destruction. It is about a much older weapon and one the Bible warns about: the tongue.

Used correctly, the tongue—a combination of the words and tone we use—can help curb infections in the body of Christ. Fitly spoken words not only can fight the germs of lies, bitterness, hatred, and fear but also can be a balm for the weary, the sorrowing, and the lonely (Ephesians 4:29).

Used incorrectly, however, the tongue can actually become the enemy (James 3:8–10).

Have you ever observed a scene like this?

A: Excuse me. May I ask you something?

B: Yes.

A: Did you know that the way you had the PowerPoint slides arranged made it look like Sharon did more than Peter did on the program?

B: What? I don’t see—

A: You give the wrong impression, and that makes it a lie.

B: What?

A: Either you change that or I will go to the administrator!

B: But I don’t see what you are—

A: I am offended, and I want you to do something.

Do you think A really wants a problem looked at and fixed? Or does it seem he wants to prove he is right? Let’s ask him.

Interviewer: Excuse me. I couldn’t help overhearing. You seem to be a little upset.

A: I am not upset. I just want this presentation to be accurate. The way it stands it is deceitful.

Interviewer: I’m afraid I don’t understand.

A: Well, since Peter did the most work on the program, his name should go first, not Sharon’s. It’s only right.

Interviewer: I see. Why did B say he put Sharon’s name there?

A: He didn’t. It was just carelessness, I suppose. But if he won’t fix it now that I’ve pointed it out, it will be a lie.

Why should such a small thing create so large a reaction? A is not related to Peter and has nothing against Sharon. Peter and Sharon have not complained about the listing of the names. So what is the real agitation here?

A has a vision of what is right to do. B did something else. A feels it is his duty, his moral obligation, his Christian calling even, to stomp out that violation of what is, in his view at least, unassailably right.

What gets lost in this swift and seemingly righteous defense of what is right is this: what is actually right. Principles are important. And standing up for them is important. But people are the reason that principles exist. So people should be our first concern.

When the “right thing” is defined by what someone likes, prefers, or thinks is right in his own estimation, without biblical basis, pouncing on the “offender” comes across like germ warfare. A becomes like the antibody; B becomes like the germ. Kill the germ!

Wait. When antibodies attack good cells, cells that are just going about doing their jobs, the body has an autoimmune disease. The antibodies are misidentifying
good cells as bad cells. A (the antibody) wants to rid the body of “deception.”

Deception is a germ, to be sure. But is this a case of deception here? That is the really important question. To skip that and go right to the correction (even if handled sweetly) is missing the point.

A (the antibody) needs to ask this question of himself before he does anything:

Why is it so important to me to get this list changed? Why is it so important that I would speak angrily to my friend and co-worker, even to the point of calling him a liar? We must allow A to give his reasons.

A: I feel strongly about this because a principle has been violated. I would be wrong not to point it out.

B: But the programs are already printed, and to reprint them would cost a lot more since we would have to get it done in one day.

A: Did you have anyone read this before you printed it?

B: Yes, I did. All of the names are spelled right.

A: Well, it’s still wrong. It should be fixed. It’s going to look bad.

It seems that A believes that everyone will assume what he assumes upon reading the list of names. B seems to have typed the list without attaching any meaning to the order. Is B a germ to be stomped out? I think not. What if the conversation had gone like this instead?

A: Good work on the PowerPoint presentation. Very informative. May I ask a question about it?

B: Sure.

A: Why did you list Sharon’s name before Peter’s?

B. I was thinking alphabetical order by last name. Why do you ask?

A: It occurs to me that some people might think that she did most of the work on the program when Peter actually should get the bulk of the credit.

B: Good point. I’ll be sure to clarify that during the presentation.

A: Thanks. I think Peter will appreciate that.

The level of vitriol Christians level at each other over items even smaller than this is troubling. What was accomplished by A in the first scene? He managed to make B feel bad, to smudge his own testimony, and to cause a disruption in what would have otherwise been an enjoyable result of much hard work by many people. And all in the name of correcting a wrong. And that seems wrong. It seems he may have become the very sort of germ himself that he is out to eradicate.

Let us all watch out for the germs. And maybe just as importantly, let us watch out that in watching out for them we do not become germs ourselves.

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