In our sermon series, “Postcards from Ephesus” we have encountered several admonitions about the way we speak. We are called to speak truthfully; we are cautioned not to speak out of anger; and we are reminded that words are powerful things that can both build up and tear down. In her devotional book JESUS CALLING, author Sarah Young offers these words for August 3 as they might have been said by Jesus.
“Watch your words diligently. Words have such great power to bless or to wound. When you speak carelessly or negatively, you damage others as well as yourself. This ability to verbalize is an awesome privilege, granted only to those I created in my image. You need help in wielding this mighty power responsibly.
“Though the world applauds quick-witted retorts, My instructions about communication are quite different: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Ask My Spirit to help you whenever you speak.”
Young challenges us to pray a simple prayer – “Help me, Holy Spirit” – before we speak with others. Before we respond to what others say, this split-second prayer puts your speech under the control of the Holy Spirit. As we begin to replace negative speech patterns with positive ones, our joy will be increased and our relationships with people will be enhanced.
We are already entering the political season leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election. Debates and campaigns are already underway and there will certainly be much more to come. We are also preparing for the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Controversial issues will be up for discussion and there is sure to be plenty of opinions coming from every side. These two events in the coming year, along with the normal rhetoric of everyday life, promise to become wars of words.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
As Christians we should form prayerful opinions on the issues that come before us, both in politics and in the church. We must take care, however, not to place our opinions ahead of the opinions of others. We must not allow our differences to boil over into rancor and we must avoid the name-calling that tends to leak into our political debates. Civil conversation involves listening more than we talk and respecting what we hear from other people.
There is a wonderful contemporary song called “Words” by Hawk Nelson. The lyrics of the chorus go like this:
Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or put it out
Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You.
May we listen more carefully and speak with more wisdom. Let everything we say point someone toward Jesus.