Thursday, October 3, 2013

Words: Edifying, Discerning, Purposeful

Several months ago I listened to a sermon from CJ Mahaney called Every Word Matters. I've had the privilege of meeting CJ and hearing him speak live a handful of times, and he is one of my favorite pastors to listen to. His love and passion for the Lord pour out of him when he speaks.

Everyone talks...some more than others...but we all do it. My question is, do you think about the impact of your words? This is one area in my life that the Lord has really been convicting me of over the past few months, which is why I listened to the sermon. I struggle with my words, so keep me accountable to what I'm about to write. As a part of my Bible reading plan, I am continuously reading through Proverbs. I am always struck at how many mentions there are of the power of the tongue and the need to control it. Words are powerful, and God created it to be that way. In his book War of Words, Paul Tripp says,
"When we speak, it must be with the realization that God has given our words significance. He has ordained for them to be important. Words were significant at Creation and at the Fall. They are significant to redemption. God has given words value. So we must do all we can to assign words the importance Scripture gives them,”
The average person speaks 25,000 words a day. CJ asked a question that I've spent a lot of time reflecting on. In light of Ephesians 4:29 (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), are an increasing percentage of my words imparting grace to those whom I serve and love? Are my words building others up? Are my words encouraging? Or am I using my words to complain, to gossip, for worthless arguments, or to make myself look better?

CJ gave an analogy that made a lot of sense to me; he likened our words to choosing fruit at a grocery store. When you go to buy fruit, you don't just randomly pick up whatever you see, you examine it carefully to make sure it doesn't have any bad spots, to discern the ripeness and size, etc. He said it's amazing the attention and carefulness we can give to fruit, and the lack of attention and carefulness we give to our words.

Guilty. I'm a thorough fruit inspector - Lauren made fun of me in Hawaii because I was so carefully choosing the bananas I wanted, but I've been really convicted about how rarely I examine my potential words with the same attention and care. So then I had to ask myself, how do I change? If I'm putting off the sin of careless words, in what way can I put on righteousness in this area?
  • Speaking edifying words:  This doesn't mean words that are just kind, polite, and certainly not flattery.  Edifying words are theologically informed, they are informed by Scripture, they are gospel centered.  These words should bring attention to God himself, to His promises and commands, and to the activity of God in the lives of other christians.
  • Using discernment: The content of my communication must be appropriate to the occasion, as well as to the person I'm interacting with. If I’m trying to serve someone with my words (not just trying to impress them with my words) it requires discernment and knowledge of this individual.  We must be drawing them out and asking them questions, before choosing words that fit the occasion. I must know what the occasion is before I can choose words to build them up in that occasion, and it’s not enough to be well-meaning, we must be wise. When our speech fits the occasion we experience the Proverb that reads ‘an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is.”
  • Speaking purposeful words: Ephesians 4:29 says we speak “that it may give grace to those who hear”.  This captures the purpose of every conversation we have; God’s purpose for my words is to give grace. When our purpose is to impart grace, it makes all the difference in the recipients' experience of grace.  God promises that we will be able to be a means of grace when our words are meaningful, and edifying and appropriate. 
So you may be thinking, that's all great but what does this look like practically? CJ ended his sermon with some great insights into practical ways to grow in godliness in the area of our speech. Here are some suggestions he gives: 
  • Take this verse with you into the many conversations you will have this week. Memorize Ephesians 4:29, meditate on this passage, and apply it.  One way that I did this, is by putting a new wallpaper on my phone that has the verse written out.  Since I do a lot of communicating on my phone (talking, texting, emails, facebook, etc.), it's great reminder to evaluate the words I'll be using.
  • Invite others to evaluate your speech in light of this passage. Ask a spouse, friend, children, pastor, "When I'm with you, and I'm communicating a few thousand words, how many of those are formed by this passage? When you're with me, do you feel yourself built up, edified, reminded of the gospel, reminded of the grace of God and how God is at work in your life? Do you walk away from a brief time with me aware that there’s fresh grace in your heart that wasn't there prior to our interaction?"  This is to be the effect of the gospel in our lives. 
  • Pray that an increasing percentage of our words are soul edifying, grace imparting, God glorifying words of encouragement. So that our speech is distinctively encouraging, and explainable only by the Savior's sacrificial work on the cross, and the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives, for the glory of God. 
Think about and evaluate your words, they matter.

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