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
Last week, I read an article from 2014 reporting research showing that strong, successful marriages have one thing in common: both spouses speak kindly and respectfully to each other...even when they disagree. In unhappy marriages or marriages that ended in divorce, one or both spouses speak unkindly, and their bodies show stress when talking with their spouse even when they seem to be calm on the outside. Their heart rate and blood flow are elevated and their sweat glands activate in preparation for a "fight or flight" response. This sort of conditioned response to another person--especially one you've vowed to honor and cherish--is extraordinarily unhealthy.
Scripture tells us repeatedly to use our words carefully and kindly. The book of Proverbs offers up numerous nuggets such as these three:
- "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (15:1)
- "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." (16:24).
- "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." (18:21).
Given this, what possible advantage do we gain through unkindness?
Yet every single person speaks unkindly at some time. James 3:8 gives us a rather humbling condemnation of the tongue: "...no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." Convicted. How many times have I resorted to aggressive or passive-aggressive comments? How many times have I expressed dissatisfaction or disapproval of a family member who isn't behaving the way I think he or she should? How many times have I had to apologize for words spoken thoughtlessly or hurtfully?
Ugh. Too often.
Matthew tells us that after the Pharisees criticized Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat without washing their hands, Jesus "called the people to him and said to them, 'Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person'" (15:10-11).
What applies to spoken words also applies to written words. That's one reason I haven't posted much lately. I've felt far too much frustration and anger, and have been tempted to vent publicly. I've started a number of posts, only to delete them when I realized how negative, how potentially hurtful or insulting they were. There's enough poisonous negativity on the internet these days, and Christ calls His followers to behave better than that. In Luke 6:45, Jesus says, "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."
What does your heart produce abundantly: good or evil? My own heart has been slipping lately toward evil.
Last Sunday's sermon at my church was delivered by a wise layperson in our congregation, and his words were abundantly good. Kirby recalled that wonderful feeling of starting a new job...the excitement and enthusiasm and commitment to learning how to do our best work. Over time, the newness and enthusiasm wear off, and we can get burned out, tired, distracted, and negative. Our faith life, Kirby said, is like that job. When we burn out and let petty stuff distract us, we turn away from God.
God doesn't leave us...we shut Him out.
As Kirby spoke, I saw the to-do lists, the worries, and the frustrations of the past year or so pop into my mind's eye, scrolling like junk code on a computer screen. I realized how acutely those stressors have been distracting me from God. Kirby pointed out that we need to be born again in the spirit not just once, but over and over, and I remembered that repentance isn't a one-time act...nobody is that perfect.
By intentionally recommitting to God when we are tired and negative, we can push out the evil of self-pity or hatefulness or anger, and let the Holy Spirit fill us again with enthusiasm and joy.
Kirby's message fell on fertile ground.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians that our words should build others up, and as a writer, I have needed to remind myself of this. I am drained and diminished when I use words to tear others down, to express anger or frustration. When my words are kind, spirit-filled, loving, patient, full of grace and mercy...that's when I build up others and also when my own spirit lifts and feels healthy and harmonious.
Aware of what my exhaustion and distraction have done, I humbly commit (once again) to sharing words of grace with you here.
With God's help, may it be so.
Are you tired today? Have you been filling up with negativity and worry and anger and frustration? Have you slipped into self-service instead of God's service? How can you reconnect with God, grow in your relationship with Jesus, open yourself to the Holy Spirit?