Recently I’ve heard several people make comments to this effect:
“You can have spot-on theology and an off-putting personality. It’s not just what you say but how you say it.”
Overall, I agree with their premise that how you communicate Truth matters. Of course it does. Unguarded tongues that spout out information, however factual, with no empathy or maturity will end up bulldozing over others’ feelings. Or come off sounding like a preschooler in a crowded area: “MOMMY! Why does that lady _____?!”
I’m sure if you have or have been around kids, you can fill in that blank. The facts were right, but the delivery was less than… socially acceptable.
But when it comes to adults, is habitual rudeness really independent of theology? Can someone be known for being mean but also have it all right when it comes to God? We are all imperfect humans with bad days, accidents, moods and stress. However, if someone is characteristically offensive and pushes people away with their hurtful behavior, I believe it reveals something deeper about their theology. They might have all the right words to say, all the arguments memorized and the scriptures to back it up, but Proverbs says the heart is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). Whatever is on the inside bubbles up to the top through our actions and words. Our thoughts and beliefs may seem “spot-on” but if our lives don’t reveal the character of Christ, we have to ask ourselves if we really get “it” – who He is and the life He calls us to live.
The whole book of James makes for a great study on this, but James 1:26 makes the verdict pretty clear:
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
This doesn’t just go for words, either. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Often those with rough personalities and seemingly healthy theology boast that they have no “filter.” They can act and say whatever they wish because they have been set free from the prison of caring what other people think. Warnings against the dangers of comparison and encouragement toward independent thought (both of which I fully support) are taken to the most extreme form in these cases. Galatians 5:1 right? We’ve been set free! No more “yokes of slavery” for us.
They may have the right facts on the outside – God loves them just the way they are and they shouldn’t compromise their convictions to fit in – but the way they execute them reveals a faulty theology deeper down. It’s all about them and their independence.
I remember overhearing a conversation when I was a teen between a church staff member and a volunteer on a church committee. The volunteer explained that the congregation had been complaining about the staff member’s disregard for others’ feelings, wounding many in her path. The staff member was disgusted, replying to the effect that she wasn’t going to change her identity based on some whiny church ladies’ pearl clutching.
Knowing both of these people and the situation, I saw both sides as a teen. I longed for the confidence the staff member seemed to have. That carefree attitude would come in handy in the world of school politics. In a way, she was right about the petty issues they were fighting over. They shouldn’t have mattered. But they did. As I surveyed the aftermath of the staff member’s decision to not care about the opinions of others, I saw her pride had morphed Hulk-style into smashing others to the ground.
You see, though it appeared on the outside like she was in the right, the effect of her attitude revealed a deeper flaw in her theology – in fact, the reason she was on staff at a church in the first place. To serve others in the name of Jesus.
The word theology is literally the “study of” paired with “God.” The Divine granting access to the Creation, the Great Teacher opening Himself up for analysis. The word in itself conveys glory and humility. It is an astounding concept: Holiness framed and wrapped into a system, a textbook, a specimen to be examined. If speaking the word doesn’t cause us to die to our arrogance, we must step back and start over once more.
Can someone have spot-on theology and be known for their insensitive or arrogant behavior? Can someone get it right about God and not have peace with their brothers and sisters in Him? Is it even possible to have a well-informed belief – to truly and deeply believe – in the Giver of love, mercy and compassion and yet live a lifestyle of direct opposition to those traits?
If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22), I would say no.
May we pray Psalm 139 with sincerity. God already knows what is on the inside. But people don’t. If the things we are most known for contradict what Jesus was known for, I would say our theology is farther off than we’d like to admit, no matter how many Sunday School answers we can spout off.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
– John 14:23