By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
As Christians, we can agree that revenge and angry outbursts are not condoned by Scripture. But what about pettiness? Can we send that clap-back text? Can we make a mountain out of a molehill? Or does Scripture call us to do something different?
Pettiness's definition has evolved over the years. It used to only mean, making a big deal out of little things. For instance, if my cat stepped on my foot, and I cried for an hour and shut myself in my room, I'd be being petty. But in younger cultures, it has changed to also meaning getting revenge in petty ways. For instance, if an apartment roommate doesn't pay rent, spelling out "Rent Due" in ketchup packets on the couch would be considered being petty.
What has also evolved is society's perception of pettiness. For the longest time, society dissuaded people from getting upset at little slights. But now, youth especially, celebrate people who put snide comments on Facebook posts, send mean texts to exes, and overall soaking in the drama, drama, drama.
So let's analyze what pettiness means, what Scripture has to say about it, and why Christians need to avoid pettiness at all costs.
How Do We Define Pettiness?
It depends on the generation you ask. But we can pull it under a big umbrella and say pettiness is making a big deal out of little things. Petty people tend to blow perceived slights way out of proportion. They may slam themselves into their rooms and cry into their pillows at the smallest offenses.
One of the best examples I can think about in terms of pettiness happens with one of the kings of Israel, one of the worst ones, in fact. Let's take a look at what happens when King Ahab tries to take someone's land they rightfully own.
1 Kings 21:1-4: "Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat."
He exercises so much pettiness, that his wife takes charge and gets Naboth killed.
Small slight (if we can even call it that).
And although our pettiness doesn't often lead to the death of vineyard owners, it can cause a lot of division and strife within the Christian community. It also can give Christians a bad name if we exercise pettiness against those who do not believe in Christianity.
What Does the Bible Say about Pettiness?
The word "pettiness" itself doesn't appear in the Bible. But we have plenty of verses about causing division and stirring up unnecessary strife.
2 Timothy 2:23-24: "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil."
Often pettiness stems from getting snubbed or wronged. Or perhaps in the past, we'd gotten hurt in a huge way, so this small slight reminds us of those circumstances. In any case, we cannot resort to repaying wrong for wrong or acting like the end of the world has come upon us when something goes wrong.
Proverbs 29:11: "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back."
Wisdom marks a person who will not make a big deal out of every little thing. They show restraint. They know that God ultimately has a plan, and in the case of wrongs, God will ultimately mete out justice. For now, we forgive, we forget, and we live like Christ.
Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Ultimately, the world will tell us to be petty. To send that angry email to your boss who made you work overtime. To get offended when our children don't like the food we cook them and start to cry. These sound like small examples, but as Christians, we need to lead by example. The world cheers on examples of pettiness. They dedicate entire YouTube videos to it where they'll cheer on someone who acted out in a petty fashion. We need to do the opposite. Encourage forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and loving without condition.
Why Is Pettiness a Sin?
Pettiness takes our eyes off our calling. It makes us forget about the bigger picture of God's plan for us and causes us to act in non-biblical ways.
If we act petty against a fellow Christian, it will cause division within our community and within our church. Thus, we fulfill what Satan wants us to do, by dividing ourselves. The church has suffered enough division in the last two thousand years, and I imagine we will endure a lot more in years to come.
If we act petty against a non-Christian, we show them a poor picture of the Gospel. Instead of loving them through their flaws, as Jesus did, we choose to put our pride above how much we care about their salvation. And we risk turning them away from the faith through our hypocritical actions.
Friends, I struggle with pettiness too. It takes me a lot of restraint not to send a clap-back text or email to someone who has done something I don't appreciate. But I also need to remember that we live in a broken world where people are hurting. A friendly message or prayer sent their way may be what their spirits need for lifting.
So instead of creating mountains out of molehills, let's exercise our faith that can move mountains.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.