Saturday, November 18, 2006

Imparting grace to those who hear it

BB: I heard Robin give this meditation today and thought it was not only timely - but very helpful. We can be direct in our speech, but also kind. Finding that balance is a challenge - and Robin offers an inspiring way to approach that challenge.

A Meditation by The Rev Robin T. Adams
given at Truro Church 11-18-2006

Ephesians 4:29 “Let no evil talk come our of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear it. RSV”

Several congregations in Northern Virginia and beyond have been working through a forty day of discernment process in the fall of 2006. During this time we have been trying to listen faithfully to the Lord and talking quietly to each other in order to know the mind of Christ. As discernment comes to a close we will have opportunity to speak to the wider public, including involved lay and clergy Episcopalians beyond our own parishes in the diocese at large and even perhaps local and national press.

It is imperative then that our words, whether spoken or written are offered in a genuine spirit of Christian charity. That the tone of these words, as well as their content, clearly reflect the Christ we say that we are trying to honor and imitate. Perhaps we will have many opportunities to speak words into the stress and chaos of the turmoil that is the Episcopal Church today. What kind of words will we offer? To answer this question, I share some thoughts on this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians from a chapter describing a high calling to a maturity of Christian character.

Ephesians 4:29 “Let no evil talk come our of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear it. RSV”

It is often said that one picture is worth a thousand words. In some cases that may be true. But are you aware that with one thousand words we can write the Lord's Prayer, the Hippocratic Oath, the Gettysburg address, the Boy Scout motto, the Twenty-third Psalm, a Shakespearean sonnet, and the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution? What picture do you think is worth more than those thousand words?

Words are important. They can do much good and much harm. A Greek philosopher asked his servant to prepare the best dish possible. The servant prepared a dish of tongue, saying, "It is the best of all dishes, because with it we may bless and communicate happiness, dispel sorrow, remove despair, cheer the faint-hearted, inspire the discouraged, and a say a hundred other things to uplift mankind."

Later the philosopher asked his servant to provide the worst dish he could. A dish of tongue again appeared on his table. The servant said, "It is the worst, because with it we may curse and break human hearts, destroy reputations, promote discord and strife, and set families, communities and nations at war with each other."

Replace corrupt speech with edifying speech.

Knowing the power of language to do both good and evil, Paul writes to the Ephesians a verse worth memorizing: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29 KJV).

Unwholesome or corrupt talk probably means foul language, but it also covers destructive, nasty, back biting, and even frivolous speech. Aim at speech that is helpful for building others up according to their needs. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to unite the fellowship of believers in love, so when we affront each other with destructive words, we "grieve" the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).

Be careful that you don't get caught in your own mouthtrap.
"Opened by mistake" applies more often to mouths than to mail.
It is not always easy to say the right thing on the spur of the moment. We can sympathize with the guy who met an old friend after many years.
"How is your wife?" he asked.
"She is in heaven," replied the friend.
"Oh, I sorry," he stammered. Then realizing that this was not the thing to say, he corrected himself: "I mean, I'm glad." That seemed even worse so he blurted, "Well, what I really mean is, I'm surprised." Many a loose tongue gets its owner in a tight place!

"If your lips would keep from slips,
Five things observe with care:
To whom you speak, of whom you speak
And how, and when, and where." W. E. Norris

Wisdom is knowing when to speak your mind and when to mind your speech. It is amazing that people will fight for the right to say what they think and then say so much without thinking.

All around us are people whose lives are in disrepair. To "edify them" is an old-fashioned way of saying to build them up. An encouraging word from you, spoken at the right moment, can mend a broken heart.

Eliphaz paid Job a great compliment when he said; "When someone stumbled, weak and tired, your words encouraged him to stand" (Job 4:4 TEV). Such words, the wise Solomon said, when fitly spoken are "like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).

Sometimes silence is golden, but sometimes it is plain yellow. Many people don't talk much about their faith because they don't have much to talk about. They say something by what they don't say. Peter denied the Lord by his silence at Christ's trial long before he denied him by cuss words to the servant girl (John 18:15-27). His silence spoke louder than words. "I don't care" was his message on that awful day.

Frances Havergal prayed, "Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for Thee." Yielded to the service of Christ, our lips can build something beautiful.

Commendable communication not only builds up the hearers, it ministers grace to them. Along with baptism and Holy Communion, words are a means of grace. When two or three are gathered in Christ's name and Christ himself is present (Mat. 18:20), conversation becomes communion, rather than mere communication.

"If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified and he confesses with his lips and so is saved" (Romans 10:9-10 RSV). The gospel is gospel not just when it is believed, but when it is confessed. The rock on which the church is built is not a confessing Peter, but Peter's confession. Where the gospel is believed and confessed, there is divine grace.

What is in the well of your heart must come up in the bucket of your mouth (Matthew 12:34). Your words will minister either grace or disgrace.

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians. 4:5 NIV).

Continuing on to verses 31 and 32 Paul now gives a list of things to get rid of: "Bitterness" - annoying pinpricking; "Rage and Anger" - outbursts of uncontrolled anger; "Brawling" - public quarreling; "Slander" - back biting, whispering; "Every form of malice" - maliciousness and ill-will. Instead of these evils, we should seek to be: "kind" - mutual kindness; "Compassionate"; "Forgiving". These qualities are exhibited by God and they express the Christ-like nature we have put on in him, and therefore we should seek to exhibit these positive characteristics in our words.

John Stott has the following helpful comments on this passage.

Don’t use your mouth for evil, but rather for good (verses 29-30).

Speech is a wonderful gift of God. It is one of our human capacities which reflect our likeness to God. For our God speaks, and like him we also speak. Speech distinguishes us from the animal creation. Cows can moo, dogs bark, donkeys bray, pigs grunt, lambs bleat, lions roar, monkeys squeal and birds sing, but only human beings can speak.

So *let no evil talk come out of your mouths*, Paul says. ‘Evil’ here is *sapros*, a word used of rotten trees and rotten fruit (Mt.7:17-18 and 12:33). When applied to rotten talk, whether this is dishonest, unkind or vulgar, we may be sure that in some way it hurts the hearers. Instead, we are to use our unique gift of speech constructively, for *edifying* that is to build people up and not damage or destroy them, *as fits the occasion*. Then our words will *impart grace to those who hear*.

Jesus taught the great significance of speech. Our words reveal what is in our hearts, he said, and we shall have to give an account on judgment day of every careless word we have uttered (Mt.12:33-37). So James was only echoing the teaching of his Master when he emphasized the immense power of the human tongue for good or evil (Jas.3:1-12). If we are truly a new creation of God, we shall undoubtedly develop new standards of conversation. Instead of seeking to hurting people with our words, we shall want to use them to help, encourage, cheer, comfort and stimulate them. I have myself often been challenged by the contrasting speech of the wise man and the fool in Proverbs 12:18: ‘There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing’.

It is not immediately clear why Paul now introduces the Holy Spirit: *Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption* (verse 30). But the apostle was constantly aware that behind the actions of human beings invisible personalities are present and active. He has just warned us to give no opportunity to the devil (verse 27); now he urges us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. It is evident from this that the Holy Spirit is fully personal, for *lypeo* is to cause sorrow, pain or distress, and only persons can feel these things. But what grieves him? Since he is the ‘holy spirit’, he is always grieved by unholiness, and since he is the ‘one spirit’ (2:18; 4:4), disunity will also cause him grief. In fact, anything incompatible with the purity or unity of the church is incompatible with his own nature and therefore hurts him. One might add that because he is also the ‘Spirit of truth’, through whom God has spoken, he is upset by all our misuse of speech, which has been Paul’s topic in the preceding verse.

An example of edifying speech that imparts grace – George Whitefield.

Baptist pastor and preacher W. A. Chriswell wrote this tribute to Anglican preacher George Whitefield. “The most moving, eloquent man who ever lived was George Whitefield. Benjamin Franklin said, “I want to hear him but I am going to leave all my money at home because he will get it all, they tell me, if I come with anything in my pockets.” So Benjamin Franklyn went to hear George Whitefield and left all his money at home. While George Whitfield was preaching, Benjamin Franklin turned to a neighbor and said, “Sir, will you loan me some money that I may give to George Whitefield?” Another man I read about said, “George Whitefield could pronounce the word “Mesopotamia” and bring a vast throng to tears, just by pronouncing the word.

George Whitefield all his life was an asthmatic. When he preached he gasped for breath. Yet he became God’s eloquent preacher. When he came to Newberryport in Connecticut the villagers came and knocked on the door in the middle of the night and said to the host, “Would you ask Mr. Whitefield to come and preach for us?” So he got George Whitefield out of bed. The preacher came down the stairway and stood on the bottom step. There he preached the message of Christ to the people in the hall, on the porch and out in the yard. George Whitefield had a candle in his hand and a little candle holder. When the candle burned down and went out, George Whitefield led a benedictory prayer, went back up to the room, lay down, and died in an attack of asthma. How could an asthmatic be such a preacher? It is God who does it.”

“Let no evil talk come our of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear it. Eph 4:29

Robin Adams, a native of Northern Ireland, is Rector of Church of the Word, Gainesville, VA.

No comments: