The year 2019 birthed a phrase that many of us have come to be familiar with — "cancel culture" — and what this term symbolizes is not only symbolic of the time we live in but, I think, is pretty much an opportunity for the precious diamond that is the gospel to be displayed in public conversations. Merriam-Webster says that canceling and cancel culture have to do with the removal of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions. This can include boycotts or refusal to promote their work. What has increasingly become sad to watch has been how this graceless and merciless vitriol has slid into the congregation of the people of God, especially on the streets of the "inter-webs".
While there is a place for justice and judgment to take place in human affairs, I increasingly feel that the internet has made us turn into somewhat sadistic in how we treat, talk about, and challenge those who have either done wrong or those that we clearly disagree with.
While in times past we played a very passive role by reading magazines or listening to the news on what happened in other places, today we can access information about situations we are not personally involved in, quickly read through it, perhaps leave a nasty comment, and scroll down for more scandalous information we could feast on and comment on. It's a drug we are addicted to.
Again, I want to reiterate: there is some really bad and nasty stuff that happens not only in the church but also in the world around us — but our attitude and response as believers did not suddenly change with the advent of the world wide web. We gotta watch ourselves, man! We are the people of the Book — or so should we be.
After delivering a very clear message to the Colossians about their need to tether themselves in the supremacy, sufficiency, and divinity of Christ, and giving some practical applications, Paul ends that letter by telling them how important their conduct is. He says:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)
While the immediate context is not obviously talking about the cancel culture, the application is broad and far-reaching. The idea that we as believers should walk in wisdom towards outsiders is one that all of us reading this would like to agree with. We are all guilty of behaving like jerks behind our keyboards as we react and respond to all kinds of things on the interwebs. I am definitely not one of those who would swing the pendulum to the extreme and suggest that we do not post, comment or engage on social media — because our voices of reason — being salt and light of the earth — are evermore needed in our day and age. However, we can do better in walking in wisdom towards outsiders, as Paul instructs.
But who are outsiders? It is those that are not believers. There are plenty of calls for us to behave in particular ways towards one another but this one has to do with those who not not "inside". The text is calling on us to "live" or "deport ourselves" in wise ways towards unbelievers. And as we do so, Paul says (in the actual original Greek) we ought to make most of the opportunity we have with them. John Piper says wisdom knows more than facts. It has a “feel” for how to use them [facts] for God’s good purposes. It has a “nose” for timing and tone and touch.
Canceling people and tweeting rage might not be the best use of time for us as we relate to outsiders. The most amazing and yet futile pursuit we engage in as believers is that we have such a passion to see people espousing and living by Christian morals than we are about seeing them changed by the gospel which actually truly inspires us to live by our morals. It is ridiculous. Cars with dead engines do not drive smooth.
But how were they to walk in wisdom towards outsiders? Paul goes on to tell them to have gracious speech. This hits right at home. This is and should be our default. We speak with grace. But what does this look like? I think it means we speak kindly.
The truth doesn't have to be shoved down people's throats for it to be true. We can engage and respond, but we should do it with grace. Seasoned with salt. I love steak. And I am African. So it means I put more salt on the steak (or any other food) before even tasting it. That is the best way to do it. It tastes so good! When Paul says our words must be seasoned with salt he is saying we should speak as though what we are talking about really tastes good — because it does — these are words from God, man! The Prophet Jeremiah said these words:
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.
The things of God taste good! What makes them taste bitter for outsiders (sometimes) is that when we communicate them we add our own horrible, sinful spices that take from them! While we all have feelings and thoughts about the things that happen in the world and should be able to express them — we should strive to do it in such a way that honors our God.
Reading through the gospels, Jesus had his harshest words for the religious leaders who were on the "inside" than the people that were outside and lost — the tax collectors and sinners. We cannot afford to cancel people and write them off — because the very nature of our calling is to see to it that they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His Son through our faithful proclamation of God's good news for them.
There are only two groups of people in this world. Those that are lost, and those that are found. Surely our attitude towards those that are found is that they are part of our family, and we pray and labor that those that are lost can be found and be a part of the growing family of God worldwide. So our attitude should always be missional in scope.
What does this mean? It means we are praying that the Lord would save people. It means we are working and laboring through our local churches to reach the lost around us. It means we are praying for, thinking about and even partnering with those brothers and sisters far off as they labor to preach the gospel. That is really what we are called to do — believe it or not. The rage and the social media canceling might be cute but it's useless in the eternal scope of things.
Lost people will always act like lost people — and that should not surprise us — it should compel us all the more to labor for the harvest.
Thank God that He did not cancel us when we deserved it the most. He pursued us and sent us His son to save us! So for us, let's work towards less canceling and more laboring for the gospel in our small ways wherever the Lord has placed us.