I’ve been thinking about our conversations—you know, the ones we have in person, over the fence with our neighbors and on our mornings commutes—as well as those we have over social media when we don’t have the benefit or reminder that there’s another real person “out there.”
The thoughts kept returning, so I wrote them down. Here they are for your consideration:
The last time I checked, those of us who acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives have not been given the “pick and choose” option for obedience or disobedience. That means the following passages from God’s Word about how we are supposed to speak to each other, are for us:
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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a resless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
The verses in Ephesians provide some specific instruction, governing our interaction with people and what ought to be the goal of our conversations—things that build up, things that show a tender heart toward others, things that reflect a forgiving spirit.
The 1 Timothy passage specifically speaks of those who are in authority and what is supposed to be the believer’s response to them—we’re to pray for those in high positions with thanksgiving, supplications, and intercessions. And I submit the following: if this is to be our posture and attitude in prayer, it is also to be our attitude and posture toward these same people in our daily conversations about them regardless as to whether or not we find that an easy thing to do or not. I’m not sure the Scripture gives us an option, here. We’re supposed to do it. Doing so is good and pleasing in the sight of God.
And what we read in James in pretty straightforward: Using our tongue to simultaneously bless God and curse those he made in his likeness is a blatant contradiction. Somehow, that just doesn’t make sense.
GOVERNING PRINCIPLES OR NOT?
These passages—among so many others in Scripture—should govern our conversations in all things: marriage, family, work, church, and politics. They should also govern our talk in all circumstances: when we are actually with a person, or when we are communicating virtually. Unfortunately, we have become an angry, caustic, condemning culture; it seems to me, however, that those of us who profess to follow Jesus should speak differently.
Our talk and our rhetoric is our witness.
If we are people of the Book, then our speech in face-to-face conversations as well as on social media, is to be marked by kindness, graciousness, and love.
I suggest that we cannot be ugly, condemning of people (who are made in God’s likeness), unkind and ungracious and still be pleasing to God. Can we disagree? Sure, we can! Will we have different perspectives? Yes, we will! But denigrating attacks, in my opinion, should not happen.
I have friends who would not define themselves as people of the Book, and they are often more kind and more gracious than my friends who do so define themselves. This gives me pause.
DOING BETTER WITH OUR DISCOURSE
If we claim to follow Jesus, then the teachings of his Word have authority in our lives. I am more and more convicted that when it comes to my own tongue, I am to submit to that authority.
What about you?
Here are a few ways we can:
Stay humble. We are finite, flawed beings, prone to making serious mistakes. We are not always right!
Be generous. Extend the benefit of the doubt and avoid prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes.
Listen. Listen first. Listen well, intent upon gaining understanding, then ask another question so that you can listen some more.
Build bridges, not fences. Choose your words wisely, avoiding those that polarize. Instead, use language that engages and draws others in.
Let your passion be for what you are for, not for what you are against. More times than not, this practice will reveal that most of us actually are after very similar things. Maybe even you’ll be surprised to discover that those with whom you disagree, might become the very people to help you create the best plan of action.
I recently retweeted Harriet Lerner as I was pondering all of this:
Everything that can be said can be said with kindness. Every tough position we have to take can be taken with kindness. No exceptions.
And just like all good truths, Scripture said it first:
Isn’t it also written? “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Let’s commit to better conversations. As believers, you and I should be better. God’s Word demands it.
Soli Deo gloria
~ John Strain
John Strain is a native Texan but a transplanted Jersey guy. He is married to Bobbie, and they have two children, five grandchildren, and one dog. His vocational ministry includes pastoring, Christian higher education, and chaplaincy. The Yankees, photography, books, and searching for good coffee occupy his free time.