Christians have always needed to think carefully about the way we use words. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not let any 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” (Ephesians 4:29). James also said, “The tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” James pled with the early Christians that “these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10).
In today’s climate — the “age of outrage”, as Ed Stetzer calls it — the way we use our words becomes ever more important as we seek to show the world the grace and truth of Jesus. The reason this topic is pertinent at this time is because we are entering into the final months of a presidential election in the US and lots of things will be spoken about the candidates, their policies, and their persons by us.
We will invariably talk about the candidates and their campaigns with one another, with our friends and families, with our neighbours, and even with complete strangers through social media. What will our words say about our character? What will our words say about our Lord?
One of the practical results of using careless and unkind words is that it does not work to persuade the person you are talking to. No matter how good your ideas are, people are not likely to embrace them if your words push them away. Mean words have killed many good arguments.
In today’s “age of outrage”, the way we use our words becomes ever more important as we seek to show the world the grace and truth of Jesus
At a political rally several years ago, Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said, “You don’t persuade people by insulting them.” He was talking about how using unnecessary vitriol in our words ends up turning people away from our message.
Unfortunately, even followers of Christ have adopted the world’s tactics instead of Jesus’s. When speaking about what kind of person the President should be, one pastor said, “I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary, I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find, and I believe that’s Biblical.” But is being mean the best way to persuade people? The Bible and our personal experience suggests that it’s not.
Jesus is our model and example for all of life, including how we speak. He spoke and interacted with people He disagreed with on a number of issues without ever being unfair or unkind. He met with tax collectors and prostitutes and Pharisees and high priests and Roman governors — and always told the truth in a way that was not demeaning or unkind. In Jesus, we find the brilliant combination of truth and love, a passion for right thinking and right living. He is full of truth and grace (John 1:14).
Jesus is our model for how we speak into situations, even hotly contested presidential elections. With the help of His Spirit, and guided by the principles of His Word, it is possible to speak truthfully and lovingly at the same time. It is possible to disagree with someone without being mean to them. It is possible to come to different conclusions without being suspicious of someone’s motives or character or faith. With God’s help, speaking with truth and grace, even about politics, is possible.
Jesus takes our words more seriously than we probably realise (see Matthew 12:36). So, may He help us to watch our words. May He give us grace and wisdom to represent Him well during this year’s presidential election. May He help us love people more than we love winning arguments or being on the winning side of an election. And may He reveal His grace and truth through our words to those who desperately need Him.
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