Your words make an impact. Words can tear down or build up. Words can start a fire or bring peace. Words can distort the image of Christ or reveal his grace. Today, we see evidence of how words can so easily divide and bring hate, whether it’s online or face-to-face. Jesus declared speech a matter of the heart when he said in Matthew 15:18 (NIV), “… the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart …” As Christians, we have to ask ourselves, “What do my words reveal about the intentions of my heart?”
In his letter to the Phillipians (4:4-5 NIV), Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” How can you show gentleness with your words and actions? According to author and pastor Max Lucado, the word translated here as “gentleness” from the Greek describes a temperament that’s seasoned and mature, with an attitude fitting to the occasion, level headed and tempered. This counter-cultural attitude ought to be “evident to all” — your friends, neighbors, family members and social media connections. As Lucado puts it, “the contagiously calm person is the one who reminds others [that] ‘God is in control.’”
In your choice of words, is gentleness evident? Or is your heart revealing something else? The idea of being contagiously calm brings to mind another passage of scripture, James 1:19b-20 (NIV).
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Being quick to listen and slow to speak means not responding in anger, but taking the moment to compose yourself and your thoughts. Christians receive similar instruction in Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV).
“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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
For Christians, we can live in light of the forgiveness that Christ extends to us through his triumph over sin by his death on the cross. When we remember this sacrifice, how does it change our interactions with those around us? It empowers us to build others up with our speech and actions. We are forgiven. We have new life. This new life in Christ reveals the grace of God to others.
In one of the final times together with his disciples, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet (John 13). In doing so, he shows them a new form of leadership — servant leadership that puts others first. After washing their feet, Jesus tells them, and us today, how to live.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)
Christians should be recognized by love for others. God loved the world so much that he sent his son to die in our place for our sins (John 3:16). By recognizing that gift, our life changes. Our heart changes, which causes our words to change. We get rid of “all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Instead, we put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12 NIV).
Theologian John Piper describes how we choose our words in this way …
“Am I building the faith of others by what I say? Is my mouth a means of grace? Am I frightened and anxious and angry about my life, or am I filled and overflowing with hope that the Spirit of God will keep me safe for the day of redemption?”
Christ calls us to a life that follows his example — servant leadership and loving others. If we do this, our words will reflect this change in our heart. As a popular song puts it, “in a world full of hate, be a light.”