Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
How important is encouragement? Winston Churchill understood its importance. It kept the morale of Great Britain high enough to not only survive the Blitzkrieg, but also link together as a country to defeat the Axis Powers. Hitler understood its importance – with it (by way of propaganda) he brought his country out of a decade or so long depression. Even the world’s worst people understood the value of encouragement.
In the church, it is no different. Only, instead of facing a corrupt and violent world power, we face the Father of Lies and his army. This is a much more daunting enemy – but that is not all. We face discouragement in the church, we face rivalries, bitter jealousy, division over doctrinal matters, personality clashes, etc.
Sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed when we face these things – and for good reason! But this is why encouragement is so vital. England faced incendiary bombs and widespread death of their fellow countrymen. Germany faced severe poverty. What did it take to help these countries succeed? Encouragement. What will it take for us to overcome the challenges of being a Christian? Encouragement.
In all of these cases, boosting morale did not magically happen. A respected individual got in front of the people and commended and encouraged them – this made all of the difference. Notice how Britain did during Churchill’s time as Prime Minister: they rallied themselves and helped defeat the Axis Powers in a short period of time.
As Christians, we have to be the voice of encouragement for our brothers and sisters. When the church is unified toward a single cause and stands together for truth, she is far more successful than one bogged down in discouragement and strife.
As we go about our lives, let us employ the mindset of encouragement, while seeking to create unity and high morale among our family. It may just make the difference in the eternal state of many people.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 These. 5:11).
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Yesterday Carl and I smelled something absolutely awful in his house. Bailey, his trouble-making Carolina dog, had just been let back in; she had evidently rolled around in the remains of an animal that recently reached putrefaction and it showed. We were gagging and gasping for air while attempting to find the source of the odor traumatizing our olfactory lobes. The deceased animal outside was found (kind of) and Bailey was forced into the bath. The sheer power of that stench was incredible.
Our words can have the same effect on a person’s ears that the decaying body of roadkill has on the nose. Ephesians 4.29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only words good for encouragement according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
I want to focus on the word “unwholesome” here. When we hear “unwholesome,” we might think of a dirty joke, curse word, or some other graphic form of speech. That can be included in this word, for sure, but we need to take a closer look at what it means in scripture.
The word is σαπρός (sapros) which means, “to be of such poor quality as to be of little or no value,” or, “bad or unwholesome to the extent of being harmful.” It generally described something that was rotten or decayed and completely useless. That really widens the range of words we can describe as being unwholesome. In modern Greek, σαπρός means “putrid” and is used to describe the same putrefaction process Bailey unfortunately rolled in. It was awful to smell, and putrid words are awful to hear.
The next time we speak to someone, let’s put our words through a simple filter. Let’s ask ourselves, “Is this rotten? Is it going to be beneficial to the person hearing this? Does it encourage?” If our words are closer to rotting flesh than graceful encouragement, we must rethink them before they escape our lips. It’s not just a good idea, it’s certainly imperative to godly living.
The Son of God gives specific instructions for what to do when a spiritual family member sins. Jesus clearly says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Notice the Divine pattern.
- Perpetration (15a)–“If you brother sins.” This is what initiates the situation.
- Presentation (15b)–“Go and show him his fault in private.” Paul would teach this later (Gal. 6:1). Notice that this is to be done privately.
- Aspiration (15c)–“If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Ideally, this is where the matter should end.
- Escalation (16-17)–Jesus tells one what to do if a sinner refuses to listen. Start by taking one or two. If that does not work, then tell it to the church.
- Repudiation (18)–If all three of these approaches fail to win the sinner, then you reject them.
Tragically, we very often disobey Jesus’ instructions about this and fail to understand that rebelling against His commandment then makes us a sinner, too. How often does it happen that a person, rather than dealing directly with the sinning brother, tells someone else? Then, that someone tells another. Soon, a whole group or even the whole church knows about the sin. Often, something that was private and even between just two people is made public by gossipers who continue to spread the matter. In some cases, those who hear and spread the matter never even speak to the offender. This prevents the sinner from being aware of who knows about it or being able to reconcile. It can even be the case that the sinner has repented and handled the matter with the original offender, but now others are brought into the matter after the fact. Those who have come to hear about the situation treat the sinner “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” without ever once speaking to them about it. Rifts form and relationships are affected.
When we fail to do things God’s way, we will make matters worse. May we consider passages like Mark 7:21-23, where Jesus places “big” sins like “fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness” alongside “little” sins like “deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.” Jesus’ analysis is that “all” these things are “evil” and “defile the man.”
Seven churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Each remembered for an overall characteristic. The same is true for individual Bible characters, isn’t it? Most remember Moses, Samson, David, Jeroboam, Jonah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Judas, Peter, Paul, and John for a particular attribute, whatever else could describe their lives. That’s more than fascinating. It’s sobering.
What about you and me? Is there a word others–those we attend school with, work with, live near, attend church with, or share family ties with–would use to describe us? Here are some possibilities:
Such attributes are the cumulative result of the attitude, words, and actions that we portray each day we live. Everybody has good days and bad days. But, there is an overall tenor and flavor to our lives that cause people to associate something with us. However, the word might be different:
That, too, is being built moment by moment, day by day.
With both groups of words, we can think of people who epitomize characteristic above. But I want to know, “Which one would best describe me?” Don’t you want to know that about you? The good news, if you don’t like the answer there’s time to change that. Dickens’ Christmastime novel about Ebenezer Scrooge is written to make that very point. Infinitely more importantly, the Bible is written to make that point. We can be transformed through the influence of Christ in our hearts and lives (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18). How will you be remembered?
The English language has done some changing in the 400-plus years since the King James Version was made available. Within its pages, you’ll find phrases like “straitened in your own bowels” (2 Cor. 6:12), “superfluity of naughtiness” (Jas. 1:21), “bloody flux” (Acts 28:8), “filthy lucre” (Ti. 1:7), and “the thick bosses of his bucklers” (Job 15:26). There is a beauty and picturesqueness to the Elizabethan English, though. One example of this is in 1 Timothy 1:6, which warns against “vain jangling.” To me, that’s a vivid way of translating a compound Greek word translated elsewhere as “fruitless discussions” (NASB), “idle talk” (NKJV), “vain discussion” (ESV), “meaningless talk” (NIV), and “empty talk” (MEV). Have you ever heard anyone jangling keys or coins in their pockets? It’s usually a nervous tic and mindless habit, but it can loud and annoying. In the 17th Century, the word meant to “talk excessively or noisily, squabbling” (Apple Dictionary, 2.2.2).
In context, Paul gives the culprits, the creed, the consequence, the contrast, and the cause of this “vain jangling.” The culprits are “certain men” (1:3) or “some men” (1:6). Their creed is “strange doctrines” (1:3), “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4), and this “fruitless discussion” (vain jangling). The consequences are dire, as such will “give rise to mere speculation” (1:4). The contrasts are “the administration of God which is by faith” (1:4) and “instruction (in) love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). The cause is revealed in verse 7, that “they want to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” Paul had a particular circumstance in mind, but is there an application to us today?
In 2018, there are numerous platforms and avenues to communicate. It can be easy to forget that James’ warnings about the tongue are not limited to words which are audibly heard, but whatever we speak. I need to be cautious about being a religious noisemaker, banging and clanging with reckless abandon. My words have meaning, and they hold the power of spiritual life or death within them (Prov. 18:21). Thus, great restraint, copious forethought, and thoughtful execution ought to permeate my speech, wherever it is “heard.” Otherwise, I may simply be declaring my thoughtless ignorance, both uninvited and unwelcome, and come off sounding like three dollars of pennies churning in the pocket of a champion fidgeter.
Paul speaks of Christians as “ambassadors” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We must represent Him righteously and accurately. We may be the first and only megaphone through which Christ is proclaimed, so let us speak accordingly. Let’s make Him proud, for His message is “words of sober truth” (Acts 26:25), not vain jangling.
It will happen, at least occasionally. A remark you make gets taken out of context, will not be correctly heard, or will be heard through the personal filters of the listener. Your facial expressions and body language may not accurately express your feelings or at least not tell the whole story. People may ignore the adage, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” While that truism may be naive and certainly not entirely true, we’ve all been on the receiving end of others’ misunderstandings of what we’ve written, said, or done. What do we do when we feel we’ve been unfairly treated by the misunderstandings of others? Consider the following:
- Try to understand others better. Everybody has been through the same thing. I need to make sure I’ve not misunderstood intonation, intention, motivation, emotion, or information. It’s easy to happen.
- Don’t obsess over the hurt. The world has enough victims, and the perpetual victim is exhausting. I cannot afford to fixate on the fracture. I am usually best served to let it g.
- Rejoice in the great company you are keeping. Jesus’ whole life and ministry was misunderstood by the religious leaders of His day. Their misunderstanding was certainly not the meat of His mission. His eyes focused on the bigger picture. He was perfectly sinless and still unjustly treated. I can rejoice when I’m in a similar position, sinful though I am.
- Turn to God, not gossip. This is hard! The urge to lash out and retaliate can seem irresistible, but it’s definitely possible. How much greater peace and harmony would come if we resolved to pray (even for the “misunderstander”) when misunderstood?
- Redouble your efforts to spread salt and light. I may be tempted to throw up my hands and say, “What’s the use? If this is what I get, I quit.” That doesn’t sound so good when I can read it in print. Instead, I need to strive harder to do good.
- If necessary, clarify but with utmost love and kindness. But, let me do some serious soul-searching and ask, “Is it really necessary?” Can I turn my cheek(s) and move on? If I truly cannot, I need to cleanse my heart of sinful anger and act in genuine love and kindness toward my “aggressor.”
- Remember that wisdom is justified of her children. Ultimately, the body of work that is your life will leave a clear impression. Most people who know us know more about us than we think. They see what side of the ledger our lives are lived on and they draw conclusions accordingly. I just need to be characterized by righteousness and good works.
- Be sure you are communicating clearly. Communication is a problem in every medium and relationship. Some do better than others, but all make mistakes. When I am misunderstood, I need the humility and honesty to step back and ask if I asked for a reaction through unclear meaning or veiled messages.
I hate to be misunderstood. But as with every other trial, I can often find blessings even in these distasteful situations. My prayer is that I will not be conformed to the world (or the worldly), but I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. That’s going to turn out for the best (Rom. 12:1-2).
G. Gordon Liddy once related a bazaar story about a man, jilted by his girlfriend. Apparently, he tried to commit suicide in front of his rival (the girl’s new boyfriend). He pointed the pistol at his chin, pulled the trigger, and fully intended to die. However, the bullet somehow ricocheted off his teeth and fatally struck the other fellow. Intending to “end it all,” the young man was charged with manslaughter, third-degree murder, kidnapping, and assault.
That was not in his script. He had not planned it to go like that. He was going to show his counterpart, his girlfriend, and the rest of the world that his emotional wounds were so great that he was going to engineer his final exit strategy. How remarkably foolish!
How often, though less dramatically, does this occur? In words or actions, we tell others, “I’ll show you! You’ll be sorry!” With such haste and waste, we rashly do something we live to regret. We put our souls in jeopardy to get even with actions or words we perceive offensive and injurious to us.
Solomon warned, “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding, but he that is hasty of spirit exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29). When we act without weighing the consequences, we rue the choice we make. Appropriately, the wise man again said, “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few” (Ecc. 5:2).
Spiteful actions are futile and sinful (Psa. 10:14; Luke 18:32). “Get even-ism” is a sickness and a symptom of worldliness. It disregards Christ’s mandate for God’s children to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). It is written, “If you have been foolish in exalting yourself
Or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth” (Prov. 30:32). If everyone practiced this sage advice, fewer would overreact and more would overcome.
Think before you speak. Consider the consequences of rash decisions (remember Jephthah?). Avoid the tragedy of thoughtlessness. The failure to control our lives results in a punishment far outweighing a jail sentence.
Consider the words of this poem, written anonymously.
“Boys, flying kites, haul in their white-winged birds,
But you can’t do that when you’re flying words.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes drop back dead,
But naught can kill them when they’ve once been said.”
It is one of the preacher or teacher’s public speaking nightmares. And it happened to me yesterday morning between Bible class and worship services. I had no clue until I began to be approached by multiple members. My wireless mic was “hot,” and I was visiting with several people and, true to form, I was having plenty to say. As far as I know, I said nothing personal or embarrassing, but after I was informed of my amplified voice I began thinking back to who I spoke to and what I said. My private conversations were being broadcast throughout the auditorium, foyer, nursery, and beyond.
The Bible gives us some insights into what the day of judgment will be like. How much is accommodative language and how much depicts what it will be like is something we must leave until we are there. Yet, there are some statements made that are not open to interpretation. Solomon writes, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). There is appointed a day when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16; cf. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10). Jesus taught, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat. 12:36-37). Clearly, the words we speak—even those which are not public—are subject to the universal judgment at the end of time.
With that in mind, I want to be more careful to control that hard-to-tame tongue (cf. Jas. 3:2ff). Lying, gossiping, complaining, bitter, slanderous, angry, malicious, backbiting, or jealous words can flow freely, especially in private conversations. I may think I am covered by the cloak of secrecy or privacy, but how would I speak if I knew that everything I said what being broadcast for everyone to hear? If I could think of my speech in that way, how much more positively would I speak of others, of my own circumstances, of the church, and of my God?
Yesterday was good for me! If all of us could experience an unplanned moment like that at least once, it might cause us to reflect on what we are saying when we think that those around us can’t (or won’t) hear. It might help us live soberly, righteously, and godly in view of the end.