"Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, 'Was I not joking?'" Proverbs 26: 18-19
The definition of neighbor may have changed a bit over the years, but it never strays far away from the meaning of someone close to you. It is someone close enough to be impacted by your behavior. Whether it means a fellow-citizen or a near one, Proverbs warns against taking shots at people close to us.
Jesus perfected the art of answering a question with a question. One day He was tested by a lawyer who was trying to trip Him up with a theological quandary, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus literally asked him, "Do you read?" It was a way of saying, "What do you think?" He meant it as an invitation for the legal beagle to bay at the moon, and strut his stuff. Jesus knew a thing or two about setting a trap. The lawyer answered his own question by quoting, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Jesus told him his answer was correct, and then commissioned him, "DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE."
The lawyer was caught by his desire to look right in the eyes of the crowd that had gathered around their discussion. He asked his next question, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus launched into one of the most memorable of His parables, "The Good Samaritan." This has become the world standard for showing mercy. This was how Jesus defined neighbor; someone in need of mercy becomes your neighbor regardless of their address. They may be beaten and abandoned on the road, or mowing their grass next door. The one who shows mercy is a neighbor to a person in need of it. This makes a Christ follower a mobile movement of mercy to anyone who crosses their path.
One of the most destructive patterns of behavior in the world can be summed up by the phrase, "Just kidding." This is usually said after a particularly poisonous message has been delivered to friend, work associate, fellow church member, spouse, parent, child or anyone else who needs to be put in their place by a flame of sarcasm. It has become the secular substitute for "Bless your heart." Apparently, it is supposed to have the power to douse the flames that have erupted after a "firebrand" has landed in the lap of the one who needed a public burn.
My wife and I serve on a volunteer fire department of a small city. Due to the dry Texas weather and the high winds that blow across our county, it is not unusual for our department to impose a burn ban on our city. There is always someone who thinks it doesn't apply to them. They want to get rid of their trash so bad, that they are willing to risk burning the city down to "Git 'er done." One spark can do a great deal of damage. We have rushed to fires sweeping through homes, condos, and fields that all began with a tiny spark. The devastation of a runaway fire is a brutal reminder of the need to watch what we let fly into the air.
"Firebrands, arrows and death" have no word association with, "Just kidding." There is a reason for that lack of connection. They are dangerous and deadly. Firebrands thrown into a dry field will create havoc for cattlemen and city dwellers alike. Arrows shot into a crowd will hurt people at the very least, and kill them if they hit them in the heart. Words spoken with the intent to deceive a person, into believing you have their best interest at heart by publicly humiliating them, will bring about death every time they hit.
Proverbs warns the wise to remember their deceptive words are not wiped out of the memory banks of a person who has been wounded by them with the phrase, "Just kidding." This a coward's way of communicating. A cheap shot will never add more value to a relationship. This word of caution is usually stiff armed by stiff necked people who refuse to admit their real intent is to stab their victim in the back rather than "have their back." Spouses who wait for a public arena to expose a weakness in their mate that they don't have the courage to point out in private are sowing death into their marriage. Associates who have to "burn" someone in effigy in order for them to see the light are playing with fire that will scorch the life and suck the air out of the work place. BFF who make their friends a target of their pent up resentment, and embarrass them in public will find themselves hosting their next reunion in a phone booth. The wise will take these words to heart, before they let something fly out of their mouth that is going to give a neighbor heartburn.
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, Matt. 5:34
"Do not devise harm against you neighbor." Proverbs 3:29
"Better is a neighbor who is near, than a brother who is far away." Proverbs 27:10
Fire up the mercy mobile today and deliver two words to a neighbor that will make their day. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!