Sunday, September 14, 2014

Six Principles To Guide a Christian's Words



             In my previous blog post, I laid out a biblical way to formulate a Christian philosophy of speaking (see http://www.kevindibbley.com/2014/09/developing-christian-philosophy-for-all.html ). It is clear from the Scriptures that how we speak as Christians is no small matter to God. It is also no small matter to those upon whose ears our words fall. Words do much good and much harm.
            When we speak, we reflect the image of the Triune God who is eternally communicative within the communion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We have been created to share and to enjoy fellowship with God and with one another. Sin has made a royal mess of that. We all know that firsthand. Our words come out wrong intentionally and accidentally. Trying to express ourselves and to be understood has long been a major source of frustration for all people.
            That is why one of the big blessings of the great news that we call the "gospel" is that God has moved to restore our relationship with Himself by means of His forgiving grace in Jesus. Not only does God remove the alienation that sin has caused between humanity and Himself, but God has given His Holy Spirit to teach us how to speak in a manner that is both honouring to Him and loving to each other. There now exists the possibility of using our tongues for great good. Unity and community is opened up to us. The loving design of our heavenly Father is to bring us into satisfying fellowship with Himself and with one another. We get a sense of the joy of this from the apostle John when he explains why he and the apostles proclaim Jesus Christ. He writes: "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete."[1]
            Communication is crucial because we have been made for community. We are made to love God and our neighbour. Love is the great goal and without it, there is no true and abiding joy. 
            In my last post, I pointed out that the image in the New Testament letter to the Ephesians is that we are being built into a living temple. Consider for a moment that for all eternity, Jesus as the eternal Son of God has been enjoying fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. There has never been an argument or a disagreement. Every expression has been honouring to each other and filled with goodness, truth, and love. The joy of this eternal love overflows then to us as human beings. In the gospel, we have been invited by Christ and through Christ into the Holy Place where mutual delight and love has unfailingly and eternally expressed. Each of us when we become Christians are being built into this living house of worship in which God is glorified, Christ is at the center, and the Holy Spirit is leading, directing, teaching, empowering and correcting. The goal then of our speech is to join in this God-centred fellowship and to help one another become increasingly able to appreciate and to reflect the beauty of our Trinitarian God. It should thrill us to know that our God is by nature perpetually a community of love. This is what we long for when our conversations exasperate us. It is now granted to us.
            So, our philosophy of speaking is: to be the temple and to build the temple of God. What does that look like practically? The apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians is helpful for two reasons. First, if you read the letter, you can see that Paul's epistle itself is a great example of how to be the temple of God and to build the temple of God. Secondly, Paul gives plenty of clear exhortations about how we ought to talk as the temple of God to one another.
            In this post, let me just look at the first part: how does Paul model in the letter to the Ephesians how we ought to communicate to one another? What does it look like to talk so as to be the temple and to build the temple of God? What I want to do by looking at Paul's example is to show six principles that should guide us when we are thinking about the way that we talk to one another as Christians.
            Let me encourage you to just do a wide angled lens look at the letter to the Ephesians. If you want, just think for a moment about how Paul structured this epistle. If you were to do chapter headings for the six chapters of the letter of Ephesians how would it look as an example of Christian communication? Let me give you my overview of this letter, even though it is far too general for even my own liking:

            Ephesians 1 - Praise: Paul is clearly praising God for planning and securing our salvation from beginning to end through our Lord Jesus Christ. He begins "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." Paul is overjoyed and full of faith because of the determination of God to save us from sin through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. He prays at the end of the chapter that the Ephesian Christians might understand God's great purpose for them and God's great power available to them.

            Principle 1 - Praise to God should be my dominant voice: My speaking ought to show that I am full of joy and confidence in God's power and purpose to save and transform sinners into a people for His pleasure and praise. If my speaking is characterized by anger, frustration, discouragement, or complaining what does that say about where my faith is or isn't resting? My speaking must not be an attempt to play God and to force change in my timing and n my strength. This is a joy-killer for everyone. God has purposed to save by His grace and in His power to His praise.

            Ephesians 2 - Peace:  In this chapter, Paul explains that once we were enemies of God by virtue of our slavery to sin. We were alienated from God and unable to live for Him. However, now by grace alone, in Christ, God has made us alive. He has removed the barrier that existed between us and Himself. He has also removed the barrier that existed between all peoples and his people Israel, by making Jesus the Saviour and Lord of us all. Paul writes that Jesus "is our peace."[2]

            Principle 2 - The peace already established by Christ should be clearly acknowledged: Since God has made peace through the cross, my speech should communicate full acceptance to fellow Christians, even and especially when we disagree on other things.  Why would I in my speech rebuild the walls of sin and hostility which God by His grace has torn down in order to build something new - one people who live to worship and honour Him?

            Ephesians 3 - Prayer:  In Ephesians 3, Paul reemphasizes that his calling is only by the grace of God and solely for the purpose of revealing the gracious purpose of God in saving both Jews and Gentiles in and through Jesus Christ. Paul sees himself as their servant in his speaking and prays that they might know that just how high and wide and deep and broad is God's love for them in Christ.

            Principle 3 - Prayer for my brother or sister takes precedence over any other speech - We ought to be continually praying for each other's increased understanding of God's Fatherly love and acceptance  and let that shape how we talk to one another. Do I speak with the heartfelt  prayer that others might know the extent to which God loves them and is committed to their good? So often, our speaking is self-serving. It helps if we pray over our lives that our fellow Christians might know the radical depth of God's unfailing love for them by the way we treat them.

            Chapter Four - Preserve:  Paul urges these believers to embrace their calling and capacity to live as a new community united and empowered in Christ. He exhorts them to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This is the motivation for Paul exhorting them to put away the former alienating and hurtful habits of behaviour and speech and to put on the new self that looks and acts and talks like Jesus. It is our Christian calling to live in God-honouring, other centred oneness.

            Principle 4 - Preserving the unity of God's people is one of my primary callings.  The goal of our speech ought to preserve, to protect, and to promote  our God-given  unity in Christ. Any words that put at risk the increasing community and fellowship that God purposes for His people are unacceptable. Even when necessary disagreements arise, we must speak because of our ambition to build and to not tear down what God has joined together.

            Ephesians 5 - Pattern:  Paul begins the fifth chapter with these words:  "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."[3] The pattern for all our speech and actions is the sacrificial loving example of Jesus Christ. So much wickedness is simply selfishness It is mutual exploitation. Here, the apostle calls for a lifestyle of God-reflecting love in which love is pure, uncorrupted, and selfless - a community where our marriages and relationships reflect the love of God in the gospel of our Saviour who lived and died for us.

            Principle 5 - All my speech must be patterned after the sacrificial love of God in Christ. When I speak, I must strive to emulate God who in Christ pursues the good and purity of others at great cost to Himself. What will it be like one day when no one speaks in a selfish way that even slightly defiles or harms those who are listening?

            Ephesians 6 - Present Powers - Chapter six carries the warning that we are still at war with the Evil one and his minions. They are present. What Paul reminds us is that we are not fighting each other when the temptation to sin comes. He says "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Too often, when we get into arguments and harsh words begin to fly, we forget that this is the wish of our enemy. He hates to see unity and community. We need to put on the armour of the gospel and give ourselves seriously to this battle. We must be praying for each other that we would make inroads into the territory now under the destructive reign of evil and not have it happen the other way around! By our united purpose in the gospel, Christ's kingdom is advanced.

            Principle 6 - We must use our speech to fight the real Foe and not each other. I must speak with a conscious goal to resist evil and to unite and strengthen God's people in the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ and the advancement of the gospel. We must be prepared with the "gospel of peace" and not let the Evil One to get a foothold in the family of God.


From Paul's example, we see what "being" the temple looks like:
The temple is to be a place of praise.
The temple is to be a place of peace.
The temple is to be a house of prayer.
The  temple is to be a house united.
The temple is to be a place of sacrifice.
The temple is to be a safe haven against the enemy.


            Just think what can happen as our speech is dedicated to praise, to peace, to prayer, to protection, to God's pattern, and to defeating the powers of evil? This is possible in the power of the resurrected Christ to the praise of the glory of God's grace!
           
             


[1] 1 John 1:3-4
[2] Ephesians 2:14
[3] Ephesians 5:1,2




            


Just think what can happen as our speech is dedicated to praise, to peace, to prayer, to protection, to God's pattern, and to defeating the powers of evil? This is possible in the power of the resurrected Christ to the praise of the glory of God's grace!

           





[1] 1 John 1:3-4

[2] Ephesians 2:14

[3] Ephesians 2:10


[4] Ephesians 5:1,2

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