Ephesians 4:29 - Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
About three weeks ago, I had an old high-school classmate call me up and ask, "Klaus, how is your German vocabulary?" Before I could answer, he asked, "Do you remember what the definition of schadenfroh is?"
I was in luck. That word was one of about a half-dozen words whose meaning has stayed with me over the years. He seemed somewhat disappointed when I shared the definition: "Schadenfroh is a nasty rejoicing over another person's misfortune."
The example I hear most often is when you are driving down the highway, doing the posted speed limit, and maybe you're even doing a couple extra miles above the posted speed limit. You look in your rearview mirror, and you see a car in the far distance. When you look a second time, you note he has moved up considerably. A third look is unnecessary because he is on your bumper.
The man passes and, in a minute, has disappeared over the next hill.
You pretty much forget the speed demon. You forget until, 20 miles down the road, you see the flashing lights of a highway patrol car. The officer is writing the speeder a citation. Now tell me, what do you feel when you drive past the pair? What do you say to yourself?? In all likelihood you have a little smile on your face as you rejoice in the misfortune of the speeder.
If you say, "He's getting what's coming to him," that is schadenfroh.
My friend agreed, and then he told me about a new internet hero: Indiana State Trooper Sergeant Stephen Wheeles. It appears Sergeant Wheeles had done something unusual: Invoking the state's "slowpoke" laws, he had pulled someone over who was going slow -- so slow the driver was holding up somewhere around 20 vehicles. Thousands of folks were praising the officer and rejoicing over the woman who'd been pulled over.
That's when my friend asked, "Is rejoicing over someone's misfortune a sin?"
It was an interesting question. When I think of the Savior, He seems most concerned about the sinners of this world. The evangelists tell us Jesus has sympathy, compassion, care, and love for people. I never see Him laughing at the problems and pains of others.
The Bible holds no command which exactly says, "Thou shalt not schadenfroh!" On the other hand,
* when the bad thief on the cross was making fun of the Savior, he was reprimanded by the good thief.
* when a man came to David to report he had killed King Saul, David didn't commend the man for bragging about the dead king's misfortune. No, David doesn't reward the man; he has the man executed.
When it comes to schadenfroh, I guess Luther gave us some pretty good guidelines when he wrote the meaning to the Eighth Commandment. How did the Reformer say it? "We should befriend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything." There's just not much room in that passage for rejoicing in the problems of others.
THE PRAYER: Lord, may my heart, mind, and tongue come together to build people up and point them to the Savior. Help me avoid anything that will separate anyone from You. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
The above devotion was inspired by a number of sources, including one carried by Sunny Skyz on June 20, 2018. Those who wish to reference that article may do so at the following link, which was fully functional at the time this devotion was written: https://www.sunnyskyz.com/blog/2535/Cop-Pulls-Over-Car-Going-Slow-In-Fast-Lane-And-Becomes-Internet-s-New-Hero
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries
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