We have received grace!
Now we are called to be grace-bearers. Because we have received God’s grace, there are implications for our behaviour going forward. Many passages in the New Testament teach us and challenge us how we should live in the light of God’s grace. Ephesians 4:25-32 is one of them.
This is good stuff for a new year! Sitting at my desk wondering what would be good to talk about as this new year unfolds, I wrote down words like: “growing, encouraging, building, sharing, serving, vitality”. Certainly this Ephesians passage is a good starting point here … it takes us from a view of the ‘old life’, to a vastly different view of the ‘new life’.
We read here about many areas of interpersonal living:
· we should speak the truth (and never falsehoods), because we sense a brotherly and sisterly solidarity with other people;
· we should deal well with our anger, and not let it develop toward any negative or destructive outcomes;
· we should work productively, rather than presuming to take what belongs to others (and those who are able to earn an income should be prepared to share with the needy);
· we should be careful with our words, only using words that build others up (not tear them down); and,
· instead of being continually bitter, revengeful, argumentative or vindictive – we should rather be kind, compassionate and forgiving.
Remaining in those negative behaviour patterns is referred to here in terms of “grieving the Holy Spirit” (v.30). To be given such a gift as grace, and then to ignore it in terms of its transforming nature, is to “grieve” (i.e. disappoint, upset, hurt) the giver.
The verse I want to centre on … is verse 29.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
This is not just an endeavour to stop saying the wrong things, but more so to develop in saying helpful (and growthful) things … saying things that build others up and take them forward (especially in terms of God’s plans for their lives). My interest is continually grabbed by the last phrase – the notion of giving grace to people through our words (i.e. being grace-bearers in the way we communicate). It’s like saying … ‘this is what we do now’ – pass on to others a new experience of God’s grace. We’ll come back to this.
But first, how would you define “evil talk”??? The Greek word here means “rotten and decaying speech”.
· untruthful, obscene, as well as idle gossip
· uncaring, unfairly critical, harsh, negative, discouraging, aggravating, abusive, destructive (leading to psychological injury and emotional pain)
· rash (sometimes seen as funny) put-downs
Once spoken, any such “evil talk” takes on a life of its own – it can be forgiven, but it cannot ever be unspoken. Such “evil talk” can destroy relationships, turn neighbour against neighbour, even nation against nation.
There’s the old saying: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – NOT TRUE!
Then there’s Proverbs 15:4 – A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit – VERY TRUE!
Also Proverbs 12:18 – Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing – ALSO VERY TRUE.
We know that frustration easily builds, and often pours out the mouth. Things happen every day that draw angry responses. There are excuses, and there is forgiveness. Yet there is also a responsibility we bear to others, a cause – the Kingdom cause, our ‘set apartness’ for God’s purposes, the companionship of the Holy Spirit – the fact that we have received God’s grace. We need to think about expressing God’s grace in the same way as we are receiving it! This is what I was made for … this is what I’ve been redeemed for!
The book of James also famously warns us to be careful and consistent when it comes to our tongue. If we use our tongue as a tool through which to praise God, we should not use this same tool to curse others … that means to weigh others down (James 3:9-10). To “curse” others in this context means to depreciate their value. This takes in all those “who are made in the likeness of God” i.e. everyone. To praise and to curse with the same mouth is hypocrisy – the two things do not go together. So, this goes to the sincerity of our worship.
Okay, so all “evil talk” is eliminated. We now concentrate on encouragement, building others up, and speaking words of grace.
As a further reference, we go to 1 Thessalonians 5:11, which reads … Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
It is certainly worth noting Paul’s commendation of the church community at Thessalonica here. I can bring a commendation for the church community in Bright. However, anyone can drift and lose their focus or emphasis on something like encouragement, thus the need for Paul to keep mentioning it.
To “encourage” means: to give courage to. This is what the angel of Lord did for Joseph in explaining what God was up to in the birth of Jesus. To encourage is also to bring out and develop the good capacities that lie deep within a person. To “build someone up” is to stimulate their enthusiasm and growth, and to help lift them up towards their God-given potential.
Sometimes this encouragement may be difficult to bring and even more difficult to receive. Later in this Thessalonians chapter we read, “admonish the idlers” (5:14). Those who Paul calls “idlers” are likely to have been complacent and uncooperative. Thus, to encourage can also be to draw alongside and offer some hopefully honest and wise feedback. This level of encouragement is certainly loving, gentle and patient work.
And encouragement should also be seen as a mutual collective dynamic, something for us to do together; for Hebrews 10:24 reads: Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. Interesting word … “provoke” – normally used in a negative sense, but here aiming at a positive outcome. Other translations have ‘stimulate, spur, urge, or stir’; but as the original Greek word “paroxysmos” has elements of meaning like ‘irritate’ and ‘incite’, “provoke” seems most appropriate. To “provoke” is to act in a way that causes a reaction in others. So what would be a Christian way to “provoke”? Leading by example, would be one way. [I like to think of this in terms of “awakening” one another …”. If you want to see people living outside their comfort zones for Jesus’ sake, then … live out of your comfort zone!]
People need encouragement and building up as they take on new responsibilities, or try themselves out in new areas of endeavour. This is especially so as people take on new areas of ministry in the church. People also need encouragement as they struggle in various areas of daily living, or find it difficult when certain decisions need to be made. People on new and unfamiliar roads need building up. Good offers of encouragement will tend to build confidence and faith in others.
People also need encouragement if they are unwell or incapacitated, suffering or discouraged, depressed or just jaded in some way. In such cases, encouragement can take the form of practical and emotional support. We can stand in the gap [or sit in the void], where some of our positive experiences of God’s grace can offer some measure of comfort and hope to others. Through the process of encouragement stomachs can become untwisted, hunched shoulders are lifted, and people can regain an understanding of their intrinsic value.
As said earlier, Ephesians 4:29 lifts the bar on all this toward the concept of grace-bearing! The idea here is that we become channels through which God’s grace is reflected or revealed.
How can our words “give grace” i.e. God’s grace? How can our speech be grace-bearing i.e. represent God’s love and mercy?? These are important questions for us! After Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue and had attributed the fulfilment of that prophecy to himself, we read: All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth (Luke 4:22). As Jesus-followers and recipients of God’s grace, we are, by definition, grace-bearers. How can this become part of our everyday conversational patterns???
Now this would include conversations with those people who already know and follow Jesus … so that they might grow, but also all our conversations with people who are yet to know Jesus. We are grace-bearers in both these situations. If there are any barriers to us being grace-bearers, we better deal with these before they become an impediment to others experiencing God’s grace through us.
Some steps to “Grace-bearing” are:
1. An Emphasis on GOOD LISTENING
Good listening helps us understand how a person is feeling about a particular situation. Good listening begins the process through which we may be able to offer appropriate and targeted encouragement. Also, good physical attentiveness and eye-contact help the other person feel valued and safe.
There are barriers to good listening. You cannot listen while you are talking (or otherwise distracted). And to interrupt someone (or change the subject) is often to destroy the moment (a moment that might never be regained). You cannot really listen while you think you already have the answer. You cannot listen while tuned into your own agenda.
2. Showing EMPATHY
Good listening and attending leads to developing an empathy with a person, such that we begin to enter their level of need and understand where they are coming from. This is a compassion based on understanding. A foundation of trust can then start to build. Empathy also involves accepting that God loves this other person just as much as he loves you, and that God wants to love this person through you. Remembering just how much God has had to forgive us, humbles us sufficiently for us to be open to help others. We may need to visualise Jesus loving this other person from the cross.
Sometimes empathy will mean just sitting with another person, or come down to the statement of Romans 12:15 … Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Silence – a mutual state of being ‘lost-for-words’ can also be relationship building.
There are barriers to empathy developing … like jumping to conclusions, judgemental attitudes, denying the right of someone to their feelings, and offering ‘black-and-white’ solutions to ‘grey’ problems.
3. An acute GOD AWARENESS
As we listen to another person, we can also reflect on God’s presence with us and seek God’s special insight … ‘O Lord, how can I respond wisely to this’? Again, this may centre on seeing the person as God sees them – developing positives about this person and what they can become with Jesus on their side. God sees this person as valuable … ‘So how can I assist this person to feel that way’? God’s Spirit is available to us as an ‘inner voice’ (as we successfully clear our mind of other thoughts); and this will help us understand with more clarity and respond with more wisdom. We need to rehearse the reality of God’s presence being with us! In this way our sharing becomes a deeply prayerful experience.
Is there any barrier to having God awareness? Having lost touch with God ourselves!
Through listening well, showing empathy and thereby developing trust, and having a God awareness, we now might (cautiously) be in a position to offer some insight and fresh perspectives that bring some new hope. We can also offer feedback concerning the strengths we see in another person and what we know of their successes in the past. As trust between ourselves and another continues to build, there comes a more natural and honest sharing of life’s issues, and conversations develop toward a mutual giving and receiving of feedback and support.
Proverbs 15:23 – To make an apt answer is a joy to anyone, and a word in season, how good it is!
Ultimately ‘grace-bearing’ is determined by whether another person, the one you are communicating with, has been enabled to move closer to God, and become more open to the work of God’s Spirit in their lives!