Serving One Another With Words
Words have power. They can be used for good or evil. They are useful tools for building up, but can be destructive weapons for tearing down. Gospel partnership requires that we cultivate wisdom in our use of words.
This observation applies to all Christians, not just leaders. We need words to help believers and unbelievers around us make gospel connections. This is true as we communicate with family, friends, co-workers and people we meet in church. The Apostle Paul describes this responsibility to think about our words far better than I could, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6); “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Cultivating helpful speech is a life-long pursuit. We can all improve the way we use words, so I will suggest – in no particular order - a few ways to sharpen our word-working skills.
Ask questions and listen more than you talk. I have had experiences when I have walked away from conversations with a sense of regret because I didn't learn much about the person that I was talking with. Sometimes this was because the other person was persistent in asking questions of me, but, more often than not, it was because of my pride and desire to be heard.
Read. I know that not everyone is a reader, but if you want to influence others and increase your skill with words, devote time to reading (if you want to be convinced of this point, read John Piper's book Think). If you don't know what to read, go back to the first tip. Ask people for recommendations. Start small if you are not a reader, chip away at a few pages a day.
When you read your Bible, pay attention to figures of speech, satire, humour and word pictures. There are many illustrations, of course, but as an example, consider what Jesus said in Matthew 5 about tearing out our eye or cutting off our hand to avoid sins that will send us to Hell. It is literally true that going to heaven disfigured is better than going whole to Hell, but this a figure of speech that is designed to drive us to the truth of our sin. It certainly makes the point that our sin is worse than we think it is!
Pay attention to people who are gifted communicators. Seek out models who are effective at one-to-one communication and learn from them. Take note of how godly leaders function in different circumstances and tailor their words “as fits the occasion.”
Be real and be careful. We all have different gifts and various opportunities for applying wise words, but all Christians have the wisdom of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, words can be dangerous (James 3), but we all have a responsibility to use our words wisely for building up other believers and pointing unbelievers to Christ.
I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone this week and see if you can't prayerfully stretch a conversation a little farther than you might normally so that you can be an agent of God's grace to someone in your circle of influence.