Do you speak words that build up or tear down?
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote:
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 ESV
Sadly, whether on social media, texts, phone calls, emails, or in personal conversations, too many of us speak words that tear down rather than build up. Our conversations are not salted with the grace of the gospel (Colossians 4:6). We do not represent the love, patience, gentleness, humility, and long-suffering of Jesus when we are ungracious in our speech.
What are some tips for speaking words of grace that build people up? How can we share the grace of Christ in our interactions across the various media through which we communicate? Before we speak, write, post, or text something, we should ask the following questions:
Are My Words Reflecting Christ-Like Humility and Gentleness?
The Apostle Paul implored the Philippians to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). When we communicate, we must do so in the love and humility of Jesus. This involves humbling ourselves and considering the needs of others before our own. Such humility should be reflected in our words.
If we consistently use sarcasm or biting words that tear others down, we are not showing humility but an air of superiority that seeks to make others look smaller so that we can feel bigger. That’s not the mind of Christ.
Jesus was willing to become a man and a servant to humankind. He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross so that we could have life.
As Christ-followers, our speech and our actions should reflect that humility. When we interact with people on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, we should do so with gentleness and humility. When we talk with other people in our workplaces, we should show the gentleness and humility of Christ. Our listening to others should also show humility.
Are My Words Communicating the Love of Jesus?
There is a lack of love throughout our personal and virtual conversations throughout our culture. Paul told the church in Corinth,
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.1 Corinthians 13:4-6 ESV
It’s a very straightforward and helpful exercise to take Paul’s words and apply them to what we are about to speak or write. We should ask ourselves: Is what I’m about to say/write kind? Is it arrogant or rude? Is it resentful? Is it patient?
If we cannot answer these questions satisfactorily, then we do not need to say or write the words we’re considering. Instead, our communication should point people to the unconditional love of Christ. He showed His love for us by dying in our place on Calvary’s cross while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). By speaking or writing in a way that is unloving, we dishonor Christ and His sacrifice for sinners.
Are My Words Affirming the Inherent Value of the Individual With or About Whom I Am Communicating?
Words reflect the value we assess individuals have. If we do not think people have value, we speak with or about them in such a way. We devalue them in our conversations with them and with others about them.
Such behavior is an affront to everything Scripture teaches regarding the God-given value each human being possesses. The Bible states that every human being bears the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The Psalmist writes that individuals are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:14). Jesus loves humanity so much that He willingly sacrificed His life for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (John 3:16).
Consistently, the Bible teaches that each individual bears inherent value and should be treated as such. When we speak or write with someone or about someone in such a way that devalues them, we are unbiblical in our communication.
Are My Words Balancing Holding Out Truth In Love?
Again in his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul described a crucial balance related to our communication with believers and unbelievers in Jesus Christ. In a call for unity, Paul admonished the Ephesians to seek to build up the body of Christ rather than tear it down. The Apostle encouraged them to practice “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
For us to withhold the truth from individuals is not loving. We should speak the truth and be genuine in our interactions with them. In addition, to not communicate love as we hold out the truth is not loving. We must hold out both love and truth to show the love of Christ to them. Neither love nor truth can be missing from our conversations.
Time for Some Self Evaluation
So, when you use the above questions to evaluate your conversations and communication with and about people, can you say that they build others up or tear them down? Do they show the grace of God in Christ Jesus to others? Do your words bring life or death to others?
Our words are powerful tools to either point people to Jesus and encourage them in their faith or to point them away from Christ and discourage them in their faith.
How will you use your words?
Dr. Tim McKnight is Assistant Professor of Missions and Youth Ministry at Anderson University. He has over 21 years of experience in ministry, serving churches in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He served in youth ministry for 12 years and in the pastorate for 9 years. In addition, Dr. McKnight served as an infantry chaplain in the U.S. Army, deploying on Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom in 2001. He holds a BS in Criminal Justice from Bluefield College, and a M.Div. and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in evangelism, with additional studies in missions and church history. He has also co-founded Carolina Family Planning Centers and founded Twin Vision Consultants, a church consultation team that helps congregations become healthy and growing churches. He has also served as a disaster relief chaplain in multiple settings in recent years, including in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.