I am a broken record. And I am tired of hearing myself.
If it isn’t hard enough teaching my kids the same things over and over again, the reality is; I have to teach myself the same things over and over again too.
Last night as our family gathered around the supper table, I addressed the ongoing issue of how we speak to one another. I posed one of their favorite questions: Are we respecting and loving one another with our words?
In this crazy season tensions can run high. And our words to one another can get ugly. I know you’ve probably been living this reality too. Almost everyone has been stuck at home for weeks (or months). And if I had to guess, if you’re home with anyone else, no matter how much you may love them, you’ve probably had ugly words too.
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Well done is better than well said.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
These old adages have rolled around in my head for weeks. They are like an old broken record stuck on repeat. But in them, there is wisdom to be had-not just for this season at home, but in this next season as we reenter society, and gather as the church.
James 1:19-20 states, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
This is my natural defalt. Ok, maybe not. But it is an instruction I need to heed.
James goes on in verse 21, “humbly receive the implanted word.” Here, James is teasing out a larger biblical truth which is this: The Word of God should change us.
If we have received the mercy of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, we should be people of humility. And if we are people of humility, we will be generous with our listening, gracious with our words, and slow to anger. Especially with one another.
After all, as the children of God, we’re supposed to reflect His image. In Exodus 34 we read in verses 6-7 how God describes himself to Moses, “The LORD, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”
No doubt, as society restarts, and church gatherings slowly resume, within the body of Christ we’re not all going to see eye to eye on how this should be handled. However, there is a balance to be had between our personal convictions and caring for our brothers and sisters well. Some who may have differing convictions or even needs. Yet, as we move forward, we need to do so in unity.
And that is a choice.
In Romans 14:13 Paul explains our choice this way, “but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” We can start working now on preparing our hearts to be gracious and merciful with each other as we resume gathering in various ways. And we can pray for the strength to sacrifice our own preferences for the sake of our brothers’ and sisters’ needs. We can start the work now, and ask the Lord to help us as we “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).
So, to that end, what are a few things we can work on?
- Be A Good Listener.
Remind yourself to be quiet. Truly, not everything that comes into your head needs to be spoken. Listening to other people makes them feel valued and loved. So keep quiet, and listen well.
- Follow Up With Good Questions.
Active listening utilizes follow up questions. Are you saying ________? Am I right in hearing that you are feeling______? By that, did you mean ______?
- Choose Your Words Carefully.
Make your words few. The Word of God is filled with so many great verses on why we should be slow to speak, and limit what we say. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). And let’s not forget the gem of Proverbs 17:27-28, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
- Keep Your Head.
If our Lord can be slow to anger with us, by His power, through the Holy Spirit, we can be slow to anger too. Inevitably, we’re going to get our toes stepped on. We’re going to be offended. But we can choose to humble ourselves and pursue peace. We can look for right ways to lay our own preferences down and love our brothers and sisters well (to wear the mask, or not to wear the mask, anyone?). We don’t have to knee-jerk react.
- Love One Another.
John Piper has said “Christian unity includes affectionate love, not just sacrifice for those you don’t like.” Part of loving our brothers and sisters well is showing respect. We need to speak graciously to each other even when we disagree. And we need to guard our mouths from speaking ill of those we aren’t in agreement with. Respect shows love.
This could be a tough season for the church. Not everyone is recommended to reenter society at the same time even. Some are strongly encouraged to wait or take other precautions. The last thing we should want is to make any of our brothers and sisters feel left out-or uncomfortable.
How we treat each other in this moment matters. It matters because we have been called to unity in Christ. And we are called to “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). The Word is not just to be read or studied, but also applied. It should be transforming us into the likeness of Christ. And how we respond to each other should show that.
How we respond to each other also matters because the world is watching. This is why Paul wrote, “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Our relationship with each other is meant to be a reflection of the relationship between the Father and the Son. Our unity is meant to be a strong witness to the world that brings glory to God.
So, I’m praying the Lord would make James 1:19 play in my mind like a broken record. Because whether in this season at home, or in the coming season as I reenter society; it’s truth stands. Even when I’m tired by how many times I need to reteach it to myself. I pray by His Spirit I am found,
“Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”