We Can Provoke In Wrong Ways, But Also In Right Ways

25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit as well. 26 Let’s not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. ~~Galatians 5:25-26 (NASB)

We could blame social media for the increasing lack of civility in the past few years. Sadly, Christians have succumbed to the online savagely (myself included) far too often, dishonoring the Lord in our quest to win arguments. Of course, social media isn’t the true culprit here — we are! Social media just makes it easier to be nasty.

This weekend, I was in a Twitter conversation that very well could have turned ugly. By God’s grace, it didn’t. Neither of us minced words, but the Lord helped us find ways of respecting each other even as we passionately held firm to our respective positions. The Holy Spirit even helped me understand that the woman I debated was correct on an important point of her argument. My concession doesn’t mean I agree with her basic premise, mind you. But it does mean that I can treat her lovingly and with respect.

If we had allowed our conversation to degenerate into name calling and personal attacks, I don’t think I would have admitted any error on my part. I would have doubled down on efforts to vindicate myself and make her look foolish. Never mind that such efforts most likely would have only exposed an uncharitable attitude on my part. Twitter arguments usually thrive on incivility and caustic provocation.

When Christians provoke each other to anger, we demonstrate our unwillingness to follow the Spirit. Let’s look at the verses leading up to Galatians 5:25-26:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the desire of the flesh is against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, in order to keep you from doing whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. ~~Galatians 5:16-24 (NASB)

Provoking brothers and sisters in Christ to anger — especially in venues where non-Christians can watch an argument devolve into a cat fight — poorly represents the Holy Spirit. Indeed, such provocation shows unbelievers that our claims of godlessness mean nothing. They rightly conclude that we are hypocrites, and they see no reason to believe our Gospel message. Mean-spirited behavior in no way brings glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having said that, the Twitter conversation this weekend provoked me in healthy ways, and I thank my sister in Christ for that provocation. Yes, some of her remarking caused me discomfort. She made a comment that shook me to the core, forcing me to confront an assertion I made that outright contradicts the Gospel. Or it would have contradicted the Gospel if I’d held on to it. She provoked me to think more Biblically about how I defended my position on the issue we discussed. Would I really pervert the Gospel in order to defend an otherwise Biblical position?

She also provoked me to think about how I treat people with whom I disagree. She taught me that I could hold firm to my convictions while still being kind and respectful. If she permits me to do so, I’ll show her initial Tweet in an upcoming article and explain why I take issue with it. If she decides not to let me use her Tweet, I’ll write about the topic without mentioning her, letting enough time pass so that no one on Twitter will relate my post to the interchange between us. Respecting her necessitates making sure she doesn’t feel maligned.

Finally, she provoked me to consider whether or not I live by the Spirit in terms of my online behavior. It’s sobering to reflect on the too many instances when I’ve misused social media. In my zeal to promote right doctrine, I’ve often been harsh and proud, unwilling to receive correction for my attitude.

My sister in Christ provoked me in wonderful ways this weekend. Praise God that she did.

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