Some years ago I was at a small group meeting one Friday evening; I can’t remember the topic of discussion, but one thoughtful comment from a group member burned itself into my memory.
He said he once had a professor who made the bold assertion that “if you are able to destroy a person’s entire sense of worth with a single comment, then you have the gift of encouragement.”
Negativity, my friend explained, is not in need of discarding, but of renewal.
His comment revisited me recently while I read Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church; one of his many instructions in chapter four about living out of a renewed mindset says “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.”
Words that impart wholeness; words that assemble God’s grace in the heart of the hearer. Words that become bricks for “the building up of the body of Christ.”
Paul’s directive for speaking words that “give grace to those who hear” comes right after he has just charged his readers to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
This newly shaped way of speaking to people is specifically born out of the renewal effected by Christ in us. The language of our renewed way of speaking is directly shaped by “the new self”. Our renewed syntax reflects “the likeness of God.” Our renewed words communicate the “righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
It becomes a part of our renewed-nature to speak that which reflects Christ’s redemption. Paul also makes it our responsibility by conveying his message with imperative phrases of empowerment like “be renewed”, “put on the new self”, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.” That which is being renewed must reflect Christ’s renewal.
As Christ’s redemptive work renews how we see and speak to people, it won’t be long before we recognize that our new way of speaking is actually a participation in Christ’s redemptive work, shaping God’s grace in the lives of those to whom we are speaking. Instead of tearing someone down with just a few words, imagine what God could do through you if you submitted your words to His redemptive purposes.
If you think you tend to be a negative or disparaging person, or if others have suggested such a thing (I have been such a person), perhaps consider the possibility that you may actually be an encourager whose gift has been hijacked, distorted and twisted up.
And if you’re courageous enough to consider that, go one step further and prayerfully ask Christ to have his way with your words, asking that he make them wholesome, edifying, little bricks of holiness with which to build up the hearer into a reflection of Christ. What you say could very well be what brings God’s redemptive work into someone’s life; don’t waste your words.