In Luke 10, Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He told the story of the good Samaritan. In short, a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. His own kinsmen did not help him, but a Samaritan passing by did. The Samaritan bandaged the injured man’s wounds and, even, paid for his continued care at a nearby inn. Jews did not associate with Samaritans because Samaritans were from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.

Yet, Jesus used a Samaritan as his example of a good neighbor. My initial thought when reading the above verse is to think of my neighbor as someone on my street or, perhaps, in my town. But Jesus describes a neighbor as someone who is not like you. Someone who is different in every way: racially, economically, politically.

This verse doesn’t just say to speak well of the person living next door. This verse declares it’s a sin to belittle or talk down about people who aren’t like us. A sin! It ranks up there with adultery and theft. It’s fitting that this is the last memory verse about words, because it states more plainly than the others that words need to be chosen carefully. This is true whether they are spoken or written online.

I think as Christians we tend to focus on actions, forgetting the importance of words. Yet words flow from inward thoughts and beliefs. As Christ said, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” (Mark 7:15)

Words form actions, because actions follow inward thoughts. The two phrases in this verse are a logical progression. If you are careful how you speak of people, you will be careful in how you treat them.

“It is a sin to belittle one’s neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor.” Proverbs 14:21