Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)
“Let everything you say be good and helpful…” sets a really high bar for us, doesn’t it? We are not even to tease others in a way that might be misconstrued or hurtful. And I don’t think sarcasm falls under the “good and helpful” rule.
These past several months we’ve all heard language that fell far short of being “good and helpful.” In fact, much of the rhetoric has been abusive and destructive. We’ve been through a difficult election cycle, and now we are all picking up the pieces left behind from words. People are being assaulted and property damaged because of words.
Isn’t it interesting that in every generation, in every era, the words of Jesus continue to ring true. He said, “…I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Couldn’t that also apply to the person who’s spewing invectives? When someone is criticizing or lambasting or verbally abusing us, can we just turn the other cheek? “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare” (Prov. 15:1).
I don’t think Jesus is advocating “lying down and letting an enemy walk over you” (Isa. 51:23), but he’s telling us we don’t need to initiate destructive conversations, and we certainly don’t need to perpetuate them. One of the best ways to terminate negative discussion is to politely excuse oneself saying, This is not good for either one of us. That’s a positive way of turning the other cheek. (Not very macho, but you can’t easily argue with someone’s backside.)
When we engage or get sucked into destructive conversation, we move out of God’s peace and blessing (I Pet. 3:9-11, Lk. 6:45, Eph. 5:4). We open ourselves up to fiery attacks and can easily be wounded in the process.
It is said that during World War II enemy soldiers would taunt GI’s in their foxholes. As long as the GI’s stayed in place, they couldn’t be touched, but if they stuck their heads out to respond, they were easily picked off. Isn’t the same true of us? When we stay in God’s protective grace, shielded by his love, we are safe. When we are tempted to respond in kind to provocation, we become an easy target.
It’s time to use our words to bring peace and love rather than stirring up strife or stoking the fires of resentment. Just one word “fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” This is a good time to bite our tongues, overrule our egos, and instead “let our words be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
Father, our tongues really can be set on fire by hell. Help us to, as much as lies within us, live at peace with all people. Move us beyond our egocentric attitudes, our need to be right, and our desire to strike back. We want to be more like Jesus and that includes bridling our tongues. Fill us with your love so that what comes forth really does bless and encourage our hearers. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.