Someone has appropriately written,
- Soft words sung in a lullaby will put a babe to sleep. Excited words will stir a mob to violence. Eloquent words will send armies marching into the face of death. Encouraging words will fan to flame the genius of a Rembrandt or a Lincoln. Powerful words will mold the public mind as the sculptor molds his clay. Words, spoken or written, are a dynamic force.Words are the swords we use in our battle for success and happiness. How others react toward us depends, in a large measure, upon the words we speak to them. Life is a great whispering gallery that sends back echoes of the words we send out! Our words live beyond us. They go marching through the years in the lives of all those with whom we come in contact.
What we say and how we say it, makes a difference. Taking control of our conversation is so important that the Bible says,
- If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. (Jas. 1:26)
For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.” (1 Peter 3:10)
Obviously, the Bible contends that our conversations reveal our hearts. What we say shows who we are. And it’s in this context that Paul gives us his instruction in our text this morning,
- Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:6)
Paul’s words are clear: we are to be people who reach out to, minister to, and encourage others with our words. Before we look at some specific steps to move in this direction let’s look at the difference our words can make.
Words Make a Difference
Think about your own life. Think about how words have affected you,
- The person who said you were ugly or stupid
- The one who told you were incompetent and could never do anything right
- The person who told you that you had talent
- The person who called you a person of character
- The “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” from a parent or the lack of those words from someone you cared about.
Words are powerful. The Book of Proverbs reminds us of what words can do,
Words Can Diffuse a Conflict . . . or Escalate It
- PR 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Every person who has been married knows what it is like to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. One careless statement can provoke or escalate a conflict. But it’s not only in marriage. In any tense situation words either diffuse or pour gasoline on the fire of conflict.
Angry words, sharp words, aggressive words cause barriers and defenses to go up. Sarcasm, insults, accusations, inevitably cause a conflict to escalate. These kinds of words make us feel attacked and when we feel attacked we most often strike back.
On the other hand soft words, kind words, gentle and understanding words can diffuse even the most hostile situation. These words convey calm, peace, and maybe even concern and love. These words lead to productive conversation.
Words Can Destroy
- PR 11:9 With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous escape.
I wonder how many people have had their reputation tarnished or ruined by a lie. I wonder how many marriages have been put at risk by false accusations and innuendo. I wonder how many spirits have been crushed by a mean comment. I wonder how many people have stopped working hard because someone failed to encourage. We live in a small community. One word of gossip can move faster than a fire on Main street. Words can destroy a reputation, a person’s business, it can destroy their witness.
Perhaps you know the Karen Carpenter story. Karen was part of a duo called “The Carpenters”. They had many hit records that are still played often on some of the “oldie” stations. Karen died unexpectedly of heart failure at age 32 brought on by years of self abuse from the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. But what brought on Karen’s fatal obsession with weight control? USA TODAY reported that It all started when a reviewer once called her “Richard’s chubby sister”.
- Gary Inrig tells of some parents on the East Coast who got a telephone call from their son during the Korean War. They were thrilled, because they hadn’t heard from him for many month. He said he was in San Francisco on his way home.“Mom, I just wanted to let you know that I’m bringing a buddy home with me,” he said. “He got hurt pretty bad, and he only has one eye, one arm, and one leg. I’d sure like him to live with us.”
“Sure, son,” his mother replied. “He sounds like a brave man. We can find room for him for a while.”
“Mom, you don’t understand. I want him to come and live with us.”
“Well, OK,” she finally said. “We could try it for six months or so.”
“No, mom, I want him to stay always. He needs us. He’s only got one eye, one arm, and one leg. He’s really in bad shape.”
By now the mother had lost her patience. “Son, you’re being unrealistic about this. You’re emotional because you’ve been in a war. That boy will be a drag on you and a constant problem for all of us. Be reasonable.”
The phone clicked dead. The next day, the parents got a telegram: their son committed suicide. A week later the parents received the body. They looked down with unspeakable sorrow on the corpse of their son–who had one eye, one arm, and one leg. [Quality Friendship p. 52-53]
Why do we speak harshly to one another? Why do these words come so easily to our mouths. I don’t know what the reason is but I am guessing that strong, aggressive, harsh words are not the sign of a healthy and confident person . . . but just the opposite. And when we see these things in ourselves we must remember that Christ came to save us from sin such as this. He not only wants to cleanse us from our foolish words of the past . . . He wants to set us free from this kind of behavior in the future.
Words Can Also Bring Healing
- PR 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. PR 12:25 An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.
I’ll never forget a very special moment in my life. When I was at Seminary I enrolled in an advanced class on Liberal Theology (who I disagreed with). When I enrolled in the class I thought it would be good to read, hear and understand these men that I had heard about. What I didn’t realize was that the class had only six students. Five of those students were working on their Masters degree in Theology. And then there was me.
To say the class was a struggle would be an understatement. One day the Professor and I crossed on the sidewalk and we stopped to talk. I don’t remember the conversation but I do remember he was encouraging me to speak up more in class. Then he said the words I’ll never forget: “You have a sharp theological mind”.
He caught me off guard. Up to that point in my educational career I was always the one who sat in the back of the class and tried to stay out of the line of sight of the teacher. I was convinced that anything I would say in this academic setting would sound infantile and foolish.
But that simple conversation changed my life. Don’t get me wrong, I still had trouble reading those original works of those authors. But the difference now was that I believed I COULD read them and understand. I didn’t talk allot in class but I spoke up more. That one sentence gave me confidence. It spurred me to go deeper and extend myself further.
Do you know what is the most commented on aspect of my ministry here . . . .the one thing that people go out of their way to comment on? It’s the birthday and anniversary cards I send. Doesn’t that seem odd?
I think I know why this is so. In every birthday card I try to spotlight a few of the positive and praiseworthy characteristics I see in another person. It’s not fluff or exaggeration or even flattery. . . it’s the truth. The problem is that we don’t hear those kinds of things enough. We crave encouragement, a pat on the back, a “well done.” And do you know what? Every one of us can do this!
LEARNING TO SPEAK WITH GRACE
So how do we learn to speak with grace?
1. We must Let God Change Us
I don’t want you walking out of here today resolving that you are not going to swear any more or say bad things so that you can go to Heaven. That resolve will end in frustration and a sense of defeat. We don’t go to Heaven because of what we say or don’t say. Our residence in Heaven is determined by who we trust.
So the first thing we need to do to be people who speak with grace is to experience God’s transforming grace ourselves. God must change us from the inside out. A growing relationship with the Lord is a key factor in our new relationship with others.
2. Listen More
- JAS. 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
James tells us that we should listen more than we speak. And he’s right. If we want to speak words that are “appropriate for every situation” we need to understand what the situation really is.
Have you ever been in one of those conversations (I know you have), where one person was doing all the talking and wouldn’t let the other person say anything? Usually in these settings the one person may venture a comment now and again but be completely “run over” by the other. Unfortunately, we would have to admit that we have been on both sides of that conversation.
Have you ever had someone talking to you and just tuned them out? You didn’t care. You didn’t want to listen. (Are you doing that now?) If we want to speak with grace we must listen.
I remember someone telling me that I should listen to my Grandmother even though she told the same story again and again. This Professor stated that every time my Grandmother told the story it was for a different reason. I may have heard the story many time . . . but I needed to listen also to WHY she was telling me the story. Was it a desire to be affirmed or admired? Was she seeking significance? Was she seeking to pass some wisdom on to me?
If we take time to listen,
- we will learn from others
- we will understand
- we will see another’s pain
- we will be less likely to overreact and jump to conclusions
- we will grow
If we want to grow . . . we must listen. If we want to speak words that are appropriate to every situation we need to listen so we know what the situation really is.
3. Control Your Anger
- PR 16:32 Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.
More hurtful words are spoken when we are angry than at any other time. In times of anger we want to strike out at another. Unfortunately . . . those words can never be taken back. They sink deep inside of the other and leave scars that will not be quick to heal. Here’s some ways to control anger:
- wait. Let yourself cool off before you speak. This will give you time to think rather than react. We must remember that we will most often react with words that are from our old nature than our new life in Christ.
- speak softly. Anger is fed by an increase in volume. When someone shouts at you it is natural to shout back. This escalates the situation rather than resolves it. Speak softly and take down barriers.
- Attack problems, not people. When we are angry this line becomes blurry.
- Ask God to help us when the temperature begins to rise. We dare not trust ourselves when we are angry. That old vicious person is not buried as deep as we think.
4. Pick your Words Carefully
PR 21:23 He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.
Consider this: The Lord’s Prayer contains 56 words; the Gettysburg Address, 266; the Ten Commandments, 297; the Declaration of Independence, 300; and a recent U.S. government order setting the price of cabbage, 26,911. It’s not how long we talk, it’s what we say that is so important.
You’ve probably heard that a good salesman knows how to say things so that they are flattering rather than alienating. The shoe salesman learns early on that a woman’s foot is not too big for the shoe . . . the shoe is too small for the woman’s foot.
Some call this “tact”. It is the fine art of saying truthful things in a way that is not offensive or abrasive. Chuck Swindoll says this about tact,
The classic example of tactless humanity, I’m ashamed to declare, is the abrasive Christian (so-called) who feels it his or her calling to fight for the truth with little or no regard for the other fella’s feelings. Of Course, this is supposedly done in the name of the Lord – “to do anything less would be compromise and counterfeit.” This individual plows through the feelings of people like a John Deere tractor, leaving them buried in the dirt and, worst of all, deeply offended.
5. Put the Spotlight on the Other Person
Let me be honest, I love talking about my own life, plans and activities. So does everyone. If you want to make an impact, choose to ask someone about their life . . . and then listen.
Think about how affirming it is when someone takes time to walk up to you and ask you how you are doing. Think about what it means when someone says they have been praying for you and wonder how a particular situation was going. Why does it mean something? Because it shows that the other person noticed you. And not only did they notice you . . . they cared for you.
We can learn allot from others. But we won’t learn anything until we give them a chance to speak.
Jonathan Edwards resolved that in his life he want there to be something of benevolence in all he said. What a worthwhile goal that is for all of us. You see, in every conversation we choose whether we are going to
- affirm the positive or dwell on the negative
- spotlight the growth or the weakness
- celebrate the victories or rehash the failures
- encourage (give courage to another) or discourage (take courage from another)
- think the worst or assume the best
- draw them to Christ or push them away
And what we choose will make a difference in someone’s life. . . . one way or another.
Here are seven specific things you can do this week:
- If you see that you have a problem with your speaking . . . look at your heart. Is it possible that your words are tipping you off to the fact that you need to evaluate your relationship with God? Is it possible that you are playing with God and have never seriously given your life and hope to Him? If that is the case, focus on step one – trusting Jesus Christ for your salvation. Check the Word of God, talk to Christian friends . . don’t continue living in futility any longer.
- Ask God to make you more sensitive to those around you. Pray that He would help you see others with His eyes.
- Think about a person that has encouraged you in the past: a teacher (maybe even way back in pre-school or kindergarten), a friend, a parent or someone else. Take the time to write them a note, give them a call, say thanks. Be as specific as you can. By doing so you will encourage them more than you could know.
- Set out each day to learn something knew about some of the people you see every day. Ask questions . . . show interest . . . pay attention. Listen to the old stories for the new meanings.
- Set out with the express purpose of catching people who are “doing it right”. Look for things to affirm in others. Unfortunately, we’ll see the failures with no problem . . . we’ve had years of training.
- Memorize Colossians 4:6 or James 1:19.
- Do a study of the book of Proverbs. Write down all the verses that relate to our conversation.
But before you do these things you need to know something. If you live this way you will have people around you all the time. They will tell you their problems, they will share their joys, they will open their hearts. It will be exhausting . . . . but it will also be exhilarating. You will need to stay close to the Lord, you will need His strength. But there’s a flip side also. You see, if you do these things, you will also share His joy.