Ephesians 4: 29
“Do not let an unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
It is difficult for me to listen to gossip. Paul’s words resonate with me when I hear the words of Christians attempting to tear down the character or perceived faults of others. I am certainly not perfect and occasionally fall into the old traps of gossip but I do try to be aware when talking turns to gossip.
I am also reminded of both my parents and wise teachers who would remind me in elementary school that “if I didn’t have anything nice to say to someone that I should bother saying it.” They were of course paraphrasing Paul in our scripture today.
As Christian’s who engage in the world around us we encounter people of all walks of life and of all stages of faith-from no faith to the super faithful. We have to be patient with all and watch how we speak about each other.
We are held to a high standard as Christians. God holds each of us up to a very high standard if we are to call ourselves Christians. Fellow Christians also hold ourselves up to a high standard because we all know that wide is the road that leads to destruction but narrow is the path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus tells us few will take the high road. It’s easy for us to connect with our tribes through gossip, slander, and tearing others down.
Fortunately for all of us there is another group holding us up to a high standard. The “nones “and “dones”. The people holding us up to a high standard are those who don’t have a faith identification any longer (the “nones”) or those who are finished with religion due to hurt, shame, frustration, or disappointment (the “dones”). They are watching us closely to see if we are true to our call as followers of Jesus Christ or if we are merely another so called Christian hypocrite. We have such a sacred possibility to witness to these groups and so often fail this simple test.
They are right. Paul tells the people of Ephesus to only let wholesome talk come out of their mouths. Only say those things that build people up and not tear them down. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, Paul tells them, you should be saying it.
Paul knows that words hurt. They can build people up or they can destroy. They can bridge differences or they can divide further. Words can be helpful to sharing the Gospel or they can be a hindrance to non-believers experiencing the risen Christ. Although words can be forgiven they can never be forgotten.
I invite us today to step back and examine how carefully we are using our words with each other. I invite us to be aware of when our conversations turn to gossip or worse to slander. Be aware of when our ideas or ideologies or theologies turn into words and have the ability to hurt or wound others.
I pray that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, think before we speak. I read advice once that said when we want to write an angry email we should read it over once or twice to make sure it says everything we want to say and then just delete it.
I wish we could do the same with our words but we can’t. We can’t unsay words that destroy but we can avoid saying them in the first place.
What a profound difference we could make if we were only able to do this one thing.
May it be so,
Rev. Lou Ward
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November 24, 2019
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