Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was a popular TV Game Show that attracted a huge audience back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The game show was played by contestants answering a series of multiple-choice questions that had a dollar value. For each question they got correct, that dollar value was added to their ‘bank’, and then they were elevated to a different level. The questions became increasingly difficult, and ultimately had a larger dollar value. If a question was answered incorrectly, they would lose the money in their ‘bank’. There were ‘safe haven’ marks going up the different levels. This meant if a contestant had reached a ‘safe haven’ level and answered a question incorrectly, they would still be able to retain the money in their ‘bank’ down to that level. That prevented the game to become all or nothing with every question. Another feature of the game was that each contestant would be given three ‘life-lines’ that they could use to help answer a question. They could 1) ask the audience, and those in the audience would yell out an answer that they believed was correct; 2) they could choose a 50/50 which means that one correct and one incorrect answer from the four multiple-choice answers would be removed from the board. The remaining 2 choices (one wrong answer and one right answer) would be left, thus giving the contestant a 50/50 chance of choosing the right answer. The 3rd lifeline was to be able to call a friend. If this was chosen, the game show host would call the contestant’s friend on the telephone and the contestant could speak with the friend and together come up with what they felt was the correct multiple choice answer. The question that was always asked as the contestant is to make their choice was ‘is that your final answer?’
I remember distinctly being in 5th grade on the fateful November day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was in the afternoon, and the teachers were all called out into the hallway for a minute. After a few minutes, Mrs. Hawk came back into the classroom, looking shocked and pale, and told us that the President was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. While we all didn’t fully grasp the full impact of that event, we instinctively knew that it was a terrible happening.
In the discussion with Mrs. Hawk and the class, she asked ‘does anyone know who will step in and be acting President?’ That was my question, immediately my hand went straight up in the air and waved wildly because I was certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what the correct answer was. ‘Pick me’, ‘pick me’ I waved. No sooner had Mrs. Hawk called upon me than what flowed from my mouth was a very confident, loud, and very certain ‘Jackie Kennedy’, the President’s wife, the First Lady of the United States…. I just knew that was the right answer; after all, everybody loved her, and I had just dressed up like Jackie Kennedy last month for Halloween! This was my final answer.
‘WRONG ANSWER’ – what?? Many of the kids in the class laughed out loud at my answer, and Mrs. Hawk confirmed it was the wrong answer! I was embarrassed because I was so perfectly certain that I was right. ‘No, you all are wrong because I’m sure I’m right’ I wanted to argue. I am very thankful that God, even at my young age, was able to put his arms around my shoulders and his hand over my mouth in that situation and held my tongue. I must have missed the day that we were taught that the First Lady would not take over the country if something happened to the President. Really? I wanted to crawl under my desk in shame. My family and I may have to leave town, and how would I break that news?
Have you ever had a ‘final answer’ that you were so utterly certain that you were right, then later found out that it was wrong? It’s embarrassing, humbling, and almost shameful when it’s discovered in a group of people. Have you ever been there?
There was a man that came to dine in a well-known, busy Italian restaurant near where we lived. He was always so certain about things. He believed everybody was entitled to his opinion and he was always right. Always. Right. Never would he be incorrect in ANYTHING. He was an expert in all areas. His turn came to place his dinner order, and the waitress stood by him with respect and addressed him by name. He said ‘I’ll have the linguine fettuccini’. Everyone looked at each other with side glances at the table as if to say ‘what??’ ‘There is no dish called linguine fettuccini, Sir – they are both noodles’ said the waitress, politely. He began to argue with the waitress that she was wrong, that he had ordered linguine fettuccini in the past, and that is what he came in for tonight. Period. End of Discussion. Final answer. Someone from the table whispered to the waitress that he wanted fettuccini alfredo, which was brought to him. He later boasted that was the best linguine fettuccini he ever had. From that time on, even the waitress staff of that restaurant knew that whatever he called it, it was to become fettuccini alfredo. Something that trivial should not be turned into an argument. Proverbs 3:30 (NLT) ‘Don’t get into needless fights’. The people at that dinner table were gracious to him by not arguing the point with him just to prove him wrong, and the waitress showed him respect and grace.
We all have hundreds of choices every day, whether to speak up or to hold our tongue, whether to insist on being right or admitting when we’re wrong, to snicker at others or to show them grace, to allow someone to feel shame or to feel accepted, to choose fear over faith, to go high when others go low, to accept advice when given with wisdom or take the road that we want, to view the long term effects or short term gratification, to say yes or no.
We’re constantly living in a battlefield of choices, one is always what we ‘should’ do, the other is what we ‘want’ to do. Paul talks about a solution to this natural struggle in Galatians 5 by living by the Holy Spirit’s power. Verse 17 tells us ‘For we naturally love to do evil things that are just the opposite from the things that the Holy Spirit tells us to do, and the good things we want to do when the Spirit has his way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces within us are constantly fighting each other to win control over us, and our wishes are never free from their pressures.’
All of us will come in contact with others in our life that are just plain difficult people that say things that hurt us to our very core or act in ways that are harmful. Their choice of words sometimes are critical of everything that is said and done, and they are very certain that they are right. We can’t un-hear some of the words once they are said, and it is hard for those words not to become a part of who we are as we journey through this life. These people can be seen on television, we read about them in the newspapers, or they can even be closer in our orbit by being friends on Facebook, or may even be in our church, or even in our families. In Moses’ time, people who had these tendencies were called stiff-necked people, who were stubborn, hard to control, and had to be ‘my way or the highway’. No room at all to give anyone a little grace or leeway.
When critical statements and hurtful words and opinions come flying toward us, it makes us want to get into our flee or fight mode. We want to fling back hurtful words, and to top the ones that have come toward us that hurt us into our very core.
If we are followers of Christ, we must turn our back on those urges to get ‘one-up’ on the other one. Paul tells us in Philippian 4 that we are to ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’
These are some very hard words to put into action when someone else’s final answer wounds us. Does he mean we are to forgive the person/people who have fired swords into our hearts? In Matthew 18, we hear Peter say ‘Lord, how many times am I to forgive the person who sins against me (or says terrible things that hurt us, fires critical opinions, and has no compassion for us or others)? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answers that by saying ‘I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times’. Jesus means that we’re not to go around with a spreadsheet and keep track of how many times we forgive people, and then that’s it, forgiveness no more. We are to always forgive, no matter how may times, just as God forgives us our trespasses. And the only way that God will forgive us, is if we pass that forward and forgive others. That, right there, my fellow friends, is the final answer.
In Proverbs, we learn from Solomon and his wisdom in Chapter 15:1 that ‘a gentle answer deflects anger, but a harsh word makes tempers flare’. He also tells us that ‘the tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of the fool belches out foolishness.’
What is your final answer today? My choice is that I’m going to try to listen to those who speak to me, even those who are difficult. My answer, with God’s help, will be words that build others up, not tear others down. I will try to listen to Proverbs 15:18 that says ‘a hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.’
What’s more important to you in most situations, to be right or effective? I would much rather be effective in my relationships with other people than have to be right or to insist on having my own way with linguine fettuccini. I’ve heard it said that the reason God made us with one mouth and two ears is that we’re to talk half as much as we listen. Someone once told me if we feel ourselves getting upset at someone, we’re to ask ourselves ‘will this matter in five years from now’? If your final answer is no, then drop it and move on. Don’t sweat and argue over the small stuff; and I’ve seen it written that most of it is small stuff.
Lord, as we go about our days, and are juggling many thoughts and tasks, let us never be so consumed with having to be right that it hurts others. Help us to say words to others that are pleasing to you. As your word tells us in Ephesians, direct us to ‘be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. And, Lord, please keep your arms over our shoulders and your hand over our mouths, when needed. Amen