Friday, July 26, 2013

Graceful Speech: More than "Not Cussing"

When I was in graduate school, my mouth got me into trouble.  We had multiple group projects,  and at times, our professors would choose the groups.  I hated that because there always seemed to be one person in the group that didn't work well with the others. On one particular project, we had what I thought was a great group, except for one guy. He wasn't lazy, and he tried to pull his weight, but he just didn't understand what the rest of us were trying to do in the project.  I'm ashamed to admit that my mouth was a much bigger problem than his misunderstanding.  When our group got together without him, we would all "vent" about it, and I joined right in.  Eventually, as so often happens, word got back to him that people were talking about him.  Not only that, but he knew I was one doing it.  My words were twisted, and he believed I said things I hadn't, but the fact remains that my speech was totally lacking in grace.

Remember when I was in junior high, and I quoted Ephesians 4:29 at my poor friend? Ten years later, I should have taken the time to read that verse again.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 

It turns out that this verse has much less to do with cussing and much more about how our speech should share God's grace.  

How can we give grace through our words? The verse tells us a few ways. One is to speak words that build up.  Gossip and "venting" obviously don't fit here, and the Bible actually has a lot more to say about keeping our mouths shut than what we should say when we open them.  It doesn't take much, though, to determine if my words are going to edify or tear down.  Building someone up involves helping them grow.  I can do that through praising their good traits so that they abound even more.  Paul did that when he encouraged the Corinthians in their giving (2 Corinthians 8&9) I can encourage good works in those around me (Hebrews 10:24).  Sometimes reproving someone can be appropriate way to build them up, if it is done right (Proverbs 25:12). (See our post on gentleness for ideas on how to reprove with the right spirit).

Ephesians also says that graceful speech is "according to the need of the moment." Sometimes, a true thing does not need to be said.  When my husband comes home from work after a bad day, I don't need to discuss all the ways I've thought about how our marriage can be better.  Improving our marriage has a place, but his need at that moment is for praise and encouragement.  The need of the moment also affects our tone of voice. If I'm yelling at my kids for every infraction, they are less likely to listen when I yell at them to get out of the path of an oncoming car.  

The Proverbs also have a lot more to say about what women shouldn't say, but the woman of chapter 31 is not silent.  "She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (Proverbs 31:26).  No, this woman just thinks before she speaks!  If I were to do as I instruct my son and "think two times" before I open my mouth, I would probably say fewer foolish things.  I need to judge if my words meet the standard of wisdom set forth in Proverbs.  Are they righteous?  Am I speaking the truth of God's word, or what people want to hear?  Are they just?  Am I being fair?  Do my words reflect my fear of God, the respect I hold for him and his teachings?  If I can answer no, I should keep my mouth shut.  

As a Mom, I do a lot of talking and teaching.  The woman of Proverbs has the teaching of kindness on her tongue.  We teach our kids kind speech in two ways.  I think the most important way is by modeling it.  Do my kids hear kind things coming from my mouth? Do they hear me praise their daddy, their teachers, the elders at church, and their extended family?  Or do they hear me running people down?  Just as they learned their first words from me, they will also learn the appropriate way to speak about others.  It had better be in kindness.  

I can also teach kindness by not tolerating ugly speech from them, and that means way more than discouraging the use of the word "butt."  If I hear my kids say something ugly about someone else, I have to stop what I'm doing and right then teach them that ungraceful speech is not okay for a child of God.  It wasn't okay when I did it, and it isn't okay for them.

Since I have used the example of my graceless speech twice now, I decided it was time to do what I should have done years ago.  I looked up that young man that I gossiped about (Facebook is great for finding people!), and I apologized to him.  Granted, a face to face apology would have been better, but we live in different states.  I made no excuses, and I told him what I did was wrong and that I'm sorry.   You know what?  He continued the cycle of grace and forgave me.  The love of God just keeps on giving.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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