Very few people doubt the power of words to do good or to do harm. Developing a strategic mindset that aims at making our words powerful for good rather than for harm is not optional. Proverbs 12:18 warns and encourages us with these words: "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Rash words are words that are spoken quickly, carelessly, and without thinking. They do a great deal of harm. The tongue of the wise, that is, the person who has thought about how to use his or her words for good, brings healing in a world of hurt.
A simple but not insignificant question that every Christian should ask himself or herself is this: Do I have a clear Christian philosophy of talking? Have I a mission statement that directs and governs each and every statement that comes out of my mouth? It seems to me that the Bible is pretty clear that this isn't optional. Jesus says that words matter so much that we will give an account one day for every careless word that we have ever spoken whether in private or in public. Just think of how much the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross was needed to atone for the hurtful, careless, and offensive words that we so easily let fly out of our mouths.
In my previous blog post and in the next few, my goal is to attempt to articulate a biblical framework and approach for all Christian speaking. This is how we ought to think about the words that we use to parent, to befriend, to reconcile, or to correct. My initial post went something like this: Our Christian walking and talking ought to reflect what we have learned from Jesus Christ. That may sound basic but that is where it starts. Christ is the model and Lord over all our speaking. We speak to please and to honour Jesus.
I, then, introduced the concept taken from the apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians that Christians are being built into a living temple. When we think about what it means to live Christianly, we are to keep in mind that God's design is that we are a temple that is dedicated to God, consecrated by Christ, and inhabited by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. All talk then must be temple talk. We must speak in a way that honours God, submits to Christ, and is led by and faithful to the Holy Spirit.
Of course, that begs the question, what does temple talk sound like? If we are to be a living temple dedicated to the glory of God, how does that shape the way that we speak to one another? The answer, at least in part, is that temple talk will reflect the passion and priority of the Lord of the temple, Jesus Christ. His vision must be our vision.
The question then is what is Jesus' vision for His temple? I want to suggest that Jesus' vision for the temple has two parts to it: being the temple and building the temple. Being the temple means that Christ's passion is to see God's people joined together in shared delight in and praise to God with Christ Himself at the centre and in their midst. We are to be a people who are experiencing and expressing together our heartfelt love and adoration of God. Building the temple means that we are all working together to increase the strength of the devotion and the delight of God's people towards God. You might say that we are called to delight and to deepen. We share our common desire for and delight in God. We mutually strengthen the depth of our knowledge and devotion to Him.
If this is, in fact, Christ's vision and passion, then we have two guiding principles for all our speech towards one another. The first has to do with being the temple. Do these words honour God and express our mutual appreciation for the Lord? The second has to do with building the temple? Do these words reveal and reflect the Lord and strengthen one another's understanding, love, devotion, and pursuit of God? Do you see how see that two primary kinds of speech then are blessing and building? Am I blessing the name of the Lord and I am building up my brother and sister with my words?
By now, you should be asking from what biblical passage am I getting this. While this is taught throughout the letter to the Ephesians, let me point you to one helpful text. In Ephesians 5:19-21, the apostle Paul encourages Christians with these words: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."
Do you see in those verses how we are called to both bless the Triune God and we are to use our words in worship to address one another? Singing to the Lord is serving one another. Speaking to one another is to be done with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Blessing and building go hand in hand.
What is also very helpful is to see that the phrase "singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart" is a direct reference to David's passionate desire expressed in Psalm 27:6. David anticipates a day when God defeats all his enemies and David can spend all his time and energy seeking the Lord and celebrating His salvation. He declares when that happens: "I will sing and make melody to the Lord." In Psalm 27:4, David expresses his singular longing with these words: "One thing have I asked of the Lord that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple."
David represents our Lord Jesus Christ who in the Bible is called the "Son of David". David was the great King who longed to build a temple for God. It was his life's passion but it went unfulfilled. God refused David's desire but told him that his son would build the temple. David's physical son, Solomon, built a great physical temple to the Lord. That temple is now gone. However, it was David's spiritual descendant, the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, who truly fulfilled David's desire. Jesus' singular desire and accomplishment was to build a living temple made up of redeemed and transformed sinners who together would be filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who would with free and glad hearts join together in heartfelt praise to God. This is Jesus' passion and vision and this is to be ours as well. When we encourage each other by "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your hearts, giving thanks always to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ...", we are embracing and fulfilling the vision of our Saviour.
Do you have this as your guiding philosophy of speech? Do the words of our mouths express our desire to be the living temple of God and to build the living temple of God with Christ at the center? May God encourage us to see this clearly. We will look at being and building more specifically in my next blog post.