Home secretary James Cleverly got himself into hot water recently. He allegedly insulted Stockton-on-Tees following a question about the constituency’s child poverty in PMQs. The embarrassing moment was apparently picked up by his microphone (though he claimed he levelled an expletive at Stockton’s MP, not the location itself). Either way, it’s a sorry state of events. But is there anything we can learn from this disappointing situation?
I have found this episode profoundly disturbing on a number of fronts, not least for how it highlights how little we’ve come to expect from our politicians, and what it has showcased of the culture and language of PMQs. Those who represent us in government wield enormous power, and I wish they were more aware of this and appropriately temperate in their language. I wish they used the totality of their positions of influence to seek the peace and prosperity of this nation. Rather than pronounce curses, I wish their lips pronounced blessing.
In Psalm 45, the psalmist describes how an ideal leader should behave: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.” But “anointed with grace” seems to be a long way off from how some of our leaders speak! With each new story around this fiasco, I have found myself more and more outraged and appalled, and yet as is often the case when I am in a position of settled judgement over someone else, I feel the Lord gently nudging me to consider the lengthy plank in my own eye.
How often do I speak from a place of derision and disdain, frustration and fury? How often are my responses to my environment and our world more influenced by my lack of vision than God’s heart for his creation? That there aren’t cameras and microphones around me to broadcast these moments does not change the fact that the Almighty sees them. It doesn’t change the fact that my words matter.
I may not have a high-profile ministerial portfolio, but I am a person of influence because I am a person made in the image of God. This is more than wishful, aspirational thinking. To believe in Jesus is to be drawn into the Bible’s definition of who we are – human beings endowed with dignity and honour by God our Creator, exercising influence and stewarding power with every breath, thought, action and word.
That there aren’t cameras and microphones around me to broadcast these moments does not change the fact that the Almighty sees them. It doesn’t change the fact that my words matter.
This is why Paul cautions us to be deliberate in what we think (Philippians 4:8), and James compels us to be people of integrity in what we say (James 3:10). What we say and how we think is meant to flow from who we are.
This is the most crucial point of all. The king in Psalm 45 speaks words of grace because he has been ‘blessed forever’ by God. The source of blessing is God Himself, and those who are most equipped to pass it on are those who have first received it from Him for themselves. Jesus is the ultimate subject of these verses, and I have known him to speak life and hope and peace to me every day. How could I not be one who extends the same to those around me?
As I continue to lament this situation, I believe the encouragement of the Spirit of Jesus to me is to be one who counteracts negative words of derision with faith-filled, shalom-seeking words of blessing. This won’t always come naturally, but in those moments, I believe He is inviting me to remember that I have received blessing, and it is from this place of receiving that I can most faithfully pass it on.
May His encouragement to me also be an encouragement to you, and may we together be those who, amidst the many dysfunctions of our world, stridently unleash blessing over our corner of the universe in Jesus’ name. May we steward our influence wisely, and may our words reflect the rule and reign of the King of kings.
I believe He is inviting me to remember that I have received blessing, and it is from this place of receiving that I can most faithfully pass it on.
In that fateful PMQs, the insult took focus away from the question: why do a third of children in Stockton live in poverty? Might we also take this moment as a reminder for the church to consider how words – and actions – affect the most vulnerable? Psalm 45 goes on to speak of Jesus riding out in the cause of justice – if you’re in a position to help others, why not consider some of the ways the church and Christian charities are helping those in need and what we could all do.
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