In my first two blog posts about how we are to talk to each other as Christians, I focused on building a philosophy of speaking and developing an understanding of the principles that set the parameters of our speaking as Christians. I have rooted this study in the book of Ephesians. So far, it has looked like this:
The Philosophy of Christian Speaking:
· Be the temple of God
· Build the temple of God
Six Principles That Guide our Christian Speaking:
- Praise - Our speech must first be to the glory and praise of God's grace.
- Peace - Our speech must recognize that in Christ, we have been united as one people.
- Prayer - Our speech must be the overflow of our prayer that all God's people might know the certainty and depth of His love for them in Christ.
- Preserve - Our speech must recognize that it is our calling to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
- Pattern - Our speech must flow out of our determination to love one another as God has sacrificially and graciously loved us in Christ.
- Protect - Our speech must take seriously that this is a spiritual battle and that we are not fighting one another. We must pray for each other and partner to advance God's kingdom and not give ground to the Enemy.
In this article, I want to take it further and consider the practical implementation of edifying Christian talk. What are the practices of Christian speaking that the apostle Paul exhorts us to be decisively and habitually exercising in our lives? Which practices do we need to be consciously and prayerfully seeking to implement as we seek to be a living united temple dedicated to God, cleansed by the Son, and indwelled and empowered by the Spirit?
Here are some of God's clear directives from Ephesians 4 and 5:
1. Speak with love as your singular and supreme ambition.
Since the goal is to be the temple and build the temple, we exist to love God supremely (be the temple) and to love one another as an expression and extension of our union with God (build the temple). The apostle Paul describes the process of growing up into Christ as happening as we are "speaking the truth in love." He adds that when each part of the body is working properly it "builds itself up in love." It is necessary to emphasize this. Truth is necessary. It is essential. It is, however, not the goal. Love is. So, we must speak in love for the sake of love. If love is not your motivation, speak not. If love is not your aim, be silent. If love is your ambition, don't be silent but be consistent. Your words and their tone and timing must be directed by genuine love.
2. Start speaking the truth. This is something that we must practise. First, it is remarkable how many Christians cannot talk to other Christians about the truth of God. Even many believers who are well-versed in the Scriptures spend more time chatting it up about the weather and sports and the news and not building one another up with reminders, and promises, and reflections upon God's Word. This is disobedience. There are many people who take courses in conversational English and conversational Spanish. Maybe we need a few courses in "conversational Christianity". When Paul writes that we are "to put away falsehood" and that we are to "speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members of one another...", he is making it clear that in order to love your neighbour, you have to intentionally seek to build him or her up by means of the truth. Falsehood is not merely the telling of bold-faced lies. Falsehood is talking about lesser things as if they are ultimate and ultimate things like they are insignificant. The silence of Christians in this regard is unloving and if I understand the apostle Paul right, sinful.
Secondly, this, of course, reminds us then that we need to be in God's Word and meditating on it, because our spouses, and children, and small group members, and a whole range of fellow believers need us to encourage them in the truth and we need them to do the same for us. This takes practice if you are accustomed to making small talk only. However, if your heart is filled with genuine love, then you will find ample opportunity to encourage, to comfort, to warn, and to testify to one another.
3. Make reconciliation an urgent priority. Jesus made it clear that God insists that if you and your brother or sister have something wrong between the two of you, He doesn't want your gifts. He wants you to leave your gift at the altar and go get it worked out. Christians are to forget the pattern of passive aggressive silence. Satan loves harsh words and frigid silence. As long as the house of God is divided, the Evil One has his toe in the door and a place to do his dirty work. Paul writes "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." This is a command because God is building one house and not many! God is advancing His kingdom and not ours! This is not an option. It forces us to go back to the cross and wrestle with our own hearts and the very areas of our lives in which we are in great need of cleansing and growth. It doesn't mean we are to go back and try to win an argument. We are to seek to win our brother or sister back for Jesus' sake. Silence is good if we are restraining ourselves from sin but it is evil, if we are refusing to love one another or to be reconciled.
4. Trash all trash talk. There is a lengthy section at the end of Ephesians 4 and well into Ephesians 5 which teaches that if it doesn't edify, it doesn't come out of your mouth. I encourage you to read from Ephesians 4:29 to Ephesians 5:17 and just think about what Paul means when he says things like "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths..." and "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking...". Paul says that we are not be walking away saying angry, combative, and threatening words like a couple of opposing football players trash talking each other at the end of a play. Paul says that we are not to take pleasure in speaking off coloured jokes just to shock or amuse one another. Unfortunately, there are even a few preachers out there who think that they ought to sound like Jerry Springer in order to wake people up. We need to realize that in our culture, God's Word is shocking enough. We need to trash all trash talk. Whether it is angry words or sexually suggestive or crude statements. We need to help each other clean up our minds and hearts.
5. Thanksgiving is a daily discipline. The apostle Paul tells us that instead of "foolish talk", "let there be thanksgiving." Sadly, if you really want to shock people, just be a consistently thankful person who sees and speaks about the daily gifts and blessings of God's grace to us in everything. This is a command and it is a legitimate one. We all find it easy to complain and gripe. However, that is the result of being "covetous" to use Paul's word in Ephesians 5:5. It is noteworthy that the apostle places thanksgiving as an alternative to filthy talk. Have you ever thought that the reason why people talk dirty is because they aren't being thankful? Do you ever wonder if foolish talk is really hiding the fact that someone may be compensating for a lack of satisfaction and joy in their lives? How many famous comedians die of drug overdoses revealing that hiding behind their gregarious laughter is a broken and empty heart? Too often, we try to lighten the moment with silliness rather than substance. It isn't wrong to laugh and to properly acknowledge that we can be silly little creatures. However, it is unhelpful to leave the longings of human hearts with merely a momentary hallucinogen instead of the solid soul-curing medicine of genuine joy in a generous and gracious God. Be thankful and tell others why you are.
6. Singing is speaking. We have to be incredibly dull not to recognize that music is a powerful tool of human communication. Even the Bible has one hundred and fifty songs right smack dab in the center. When our kids were little, we made up songs to Bible verses so that they could catch on, remember, and join in the enjoyment of God's truth. That doesn't die. In fact, I have shared in many worship services in long-term care facilities and witnessed firsthand the awakened eyes of lonely and deteriorating men and women when a great old hymn of the faith begins to be sung. It should instruct us that God commands us to sing to 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, serving one another out of reverence for Christ." We show reverence for Christ when we sing to His people. We obey Him when we do. We serve one another as we do.
The temple is a place where God is honoured and the people are built up as we speak the truth and sing of the grace and love of our God together. Find songs and hymns that both grip your soul and glorify God and hum them and play them in the car, and sing them out loud. The world sings its values and its corruptions nonstop to us. There are many that God is calling out of the world who want and need to sing a new song.
So, as King David once sung "Deliver me from guilt, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise."
I encourage you to meditate on these practices and begin to plan day by day to put them into practice. You will not regret it and neither will those with whom God has called you to live and to serve.