Do not be alarmed. We’re about to try a test:
“The Marvel movies are unintelligent, low-brow garbage, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the most moving, thoughtful and well-made superhero films of the 21st century.”
Okay, how did reading that make you feel? Irritated? Validated? Did you laugh?
If you love superhero movies, you likely experienced an emotional response. Sure, I offered an opinion. But many people are bothered to hear those thoughts. They could easily bring tension into a conversation, whether in person or online.
We all supposedly know that reviews and other expressions of opinion are subjective. But sometimes we must remind people of this. A chat between friends gets intense, both are talking louder and faster each passing moment, and then we step back, hold up our hands and say “Hey, it’s just my opinion!”
That’s not our fault, right? People should recognize an opinion, right?
We may be right that people should be less sensitive to subjective opinions. Yet we can make the situation worse by loading our expression of subjective thoughts with hyperbolic, objective language. We might tell ourselves, and each other, that we’re only sharing opinions. But if these are mere opinions, why do we become tense or fired up in a way that gives the topic more weight than mere “opinions” call for?
Sometimes as enthusiastic Christian geeks, or fans, we can become a little too intense for non-fans to spend time with us. When that happens, we have crippled our ability to live out the relational, loving and representative purpose God intends for us.
Ephesians 4:29-32 gives us some great insight as we navigate the passionate conversations of fandom. Let’s highlight a few verses we can apply:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV).
Here, the Greek word for “corrupting” means “rotten, corrupt, unfit for use and worthless.” It implies a spreading condition, and covers any speech that starts dissension or hurts another person. Instead, Paul commands us only to speak in ways “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
This mentality humbles me. To enter every conversation asking, “How can I bless, encourage and build up this person?” defies my nature. This especially applies to our reckless venting on social media—moments we can unwittingly unleash “corrupting talk” that draws others into sin. “corrupting talk” that draws others into sin.
Yet I’ve seen how God can use the intentional, Spirit-governed words of his people to give his children the grace (meaning “undeserved favor”) they need in the moment. And it’s thrilling to realize you were his instrument.
Continuing in Ephesians, Paul reminds us, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30). He warns that our careless, hurtful or disruptive words actually grieve the Holy Spirit, God himself, when our words hurt people or encourage conflict.
Friendly debates can sometimes be fun and thought-provoking. But no “friendly” fan debate is worth making someone hesitate to talk to us later. We have God’s seal on us, marking us for a monumental purpose. So the Holy Spirit is grieved when we carelessly forget that purpose and wind up irritating someone or stirring up dissension over a trivial topic.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32). This Greek word for “kind” has a range of meanings that includes “pleasant,” but primarily “fit for use” and “useful.” Being kind is about giving others a beneficial, pleasant experience with you. It’s a thoughtful, serving, and selfless approach to interacting and having relationships with others.
This focus on others facilitates our tenderheartedness. This Greek word also means “compassionate.” Our focus on kindness helps us consider others’ struggles and disadvantages, even if they irritate or wrong us. Then we can actually avoid feeling anger and irritation with someone, and instead feel tenderness and compassion for them. In this way we begin to reflect the character of Christ, who willingly suffered and died out of tender-hearted compassion for us, his former enemies (Romans 5:10).
As much as we might like to think of ourselves as rational and logical, we geeks are often highly emotional and led by our desires rather than our God-given purpose. We can easily find ourselves seeing other people (and interacting with them) based on what we’re feeling. Which is why it’s so important for us to recognize what we’re feeling, identify the perspective that is feeding those feelings, and then put on this new identity we have been given, with its new perspective and recognition of what is REALLY true and important about life and those we interact with.
In these verses, I see the Holy Spirit calling us to purposeful intent, even when talking about our geeky passions (like the DC/Marvel debate). We’re called to constant, tactical awareness of our roles in others’ lives, whenever we open our mouths or put fingers to keyboards.
When we approach our interactions with others this way, we enter our new identity as ambassadors for Christ, extending undeserved favor to others on his behalf (Ephesians 4:29). By building relational equity through the grace we give about the human stories we love, we will find even more influence when discussing what matters most.