Freedom of speech is one of the landmark rights that US citizens hold dearly and will take to court to defend. While the court cases usually also involve other constitutional issues, much of our need for expression boils down to airing our opinions. Most of us probably don’t realize how strong that drive is until our opinions get squelched. That rude awakening came to me in a workplace situation where no one wanted to hear my opinion, even though I was trying to warn people they were headed into a problem. I felt marginalized, insignificant, misunderstood, and unworthy. Apparently, my opinions had become a way of defining who I was.
The fact that humans have opinions at all is a gift from God, conferred on us when He made us in His image. But like so many other good gifts, opinions can be used for harm without God’s careful guidance. Yet, we rarely consider the consequence of speaking our minds, and can easily trample on the hearts of others when God’s love is missing. Social Media has become a huge platform for opinions, from political, racial, and moral issues, to fashion and the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. Wherever we are conversing – homes, workplaces, and churches — the overarching question is whether we are honoring God with our words, or mindlessly exercising our right.
Jesus spoke of the two greatest commandments: love God, and love others (Matt 22:37-39). The presence or lack of love as the motivator behind our words and opinions should be a quick tell. Do our opinions honor and encourage others, or have they become a means for expressing anger and frustration? Are we demonstrating consideration for others’ viewpoints, or attempting to manipulate them into agreement with us? If any of us is completely honest, we give lip-service to love, and tend to perform poorly in practicing it. After all, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Cor 13:4-7) These are not only high standards for our actions and words, but they rule out retaliatory responses when we find ourselves on the receiving end of loveless opinions. Unfortunately, there is not one of us who practices love with consistency.
God anticipated our failing, and has already provided the Way. Jesus instructed His disciples and us saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In the book of Galatians, love is listed as one of nine fruit of the Spirit; we do not produce these fruit ourselves. Therefore, it is no surprise that a supernatural feat is required for my opinions to line up with the heart of God. Remaining in Him, saturated by His Word and His Presence is my very best chance. The Abiding Place holds an additional blessing: a personal makeover of my identity. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Neither my opinions, nor those of others, any longer define who I am. Freedom is my reality, not just a constitutional right.