It’s dangerous to call a person “Fool.”

An Apology to Andrew Neil and to anyone who read what I said about him

Via YouTube

Jesus said:

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:22).

And yet, Paul called his brothers “you foolish Galatians” (Galatians 3:1).

They were his brothers. He loved them; he made it obvious to them. There is some difference in these examples—some way to understand Paul and Jesus as being in agreement despite the superficial appearance of contradiction.

The danger is not in the word, but in the motive.

Is the motive a murderous desire to destroy the person? Or is it a desire to help and save them, or at least to protect others and achieve justice?

For instance, see 2 Timothy 4:14:

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.

Jesus makes his warning clear by linking it to unrighteous anger and specifically the desire to murder:

Verse 5:21:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’

Why is murder wrong?

Not because people all deserve to live. Romans 6:23 rules out that idea. Rather, murder is wrong because a person’s life or death is God’s prerogative, not ours. They are made in God’s image, and God has commanded us not to murder his image-bearers.

Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind (Genesis 9:6).

I recently crossed the line and sinned.

On Facebook I called Andrew Neil of the BBC some dirty things. Scatological things. Also, I compared him to a Vogon.

It never crossed my mind that I would want to physically hurt the poor man. But his influence? His reputation? Yes.

I felt an intense desire to expose his wickedness (Ephesians 5:11). I let it turn to something sinful.

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26).

Anger is not itself a sin.

There is a way of holding onto anger or expressing anger that becomes sin.

I don’t know my own motives fully. I would want to see Andrew Neil’s career ended and his malevolent influence evaporated. As far as I can tell, that is a noble desire.

But the words I used were Lutherian. I don’t know that they were useful. More importantly, I don’t know that they accord with Ephesians 5:4:

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

It was not wrong that I desired for a wrong to be avenged.

It was wrong that I desired to be the one for the job I’m not.

This noble task belongs to God himself:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19).

Next time, I will leave out the scatological language. I have other resources.

I resolve to trust God — and to avoid words that would leave me second-guessing about God’s favor. God help me.

“Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

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Cody Libolt

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For the New Christian Intellectual

Ideas Matter - Help us restore the mind in Christian life