One morning as I was getting ready for work, my oldest daughter slipped into my room uncharacteristically quiet and took a seat in my comfy chair. I’m not sure how long she was there, but it was evidently long enough to watch me groan about my outfit and scowl and shake my head as I inspected my face in the magnifying mirror. I was surprised when she suddenly said, “Mom, that outfit looks great and you don’t need any more makeup. You are beautiful without any of it!” The words left me speechless for a moment. I suppressed my natural urge to object or protest and just smiled and said, “Thank you, honey, that’s so sweet,” as I walked over to give her a big hug. I was so filled with gratitude in that moment and not because her comment appealed to my vanity—though it was nice to hear; hey, I’m only human (and aging)! But what parent doesn’t love to catch their kids, especially junior high aged kids, being kind? Most importantly, it swelled my heart to see that when she recognized someone (in this case me) was having a negative and critical inner dialogue, she chose to counteract that with loving, life-giving words. She had made a choice to try and build someone up when she could see they were tearing themselves down. It also had served as a stark reminder to me that I fail to make that same choice more often than I’d like to admit in spite of what God has called me to do.
This choice is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in Ephesians Chapter 4 when he writes to the Church there and says:
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 (NIV)
Now I know, when most of us hear “unwholesome talk” we likely think of bad language, profanity, insults or dirty jokes. In fact, I can remember as a kid being told to imagine Jesus is sitting next to me as I watched television or had a conversation, and that would help keep my language choices wholesome! However, in the original language Paul’s letter was written in, the word unwholesome has a much deeper and more profound meaning. It means to cause to decay or rot. Paul is saying that this type of speech causes rot and decay to those around you. And since rot is the gradual process of decomposition caused by bacteria and fungi, our unwholesome talk goes out like bacteria and fungi that we are carelessly spritzing on those around us and it takes hold and begins to break them down. Over time, it will destroy them. With this visualization in mind, we can rethink the scripture in Ephesians 4:29 to say, in effect: Do not say anything which will cause others to rot and decay, but only speak what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, so that it benefits everyone who hears it.
What a beautiful command, isn’t it? Imagine a world where everyone, before saying anything to anyone, stopped first to think, ‘Is what I am about to say helpful and beneficial to this person? Will it build him up?’ This would absolutely change the world! In fact, I wish we could make this a requirement on every social media platform! Being someone who consistently speaks positive, encouraging words to build those up around them is a goal we should all strive for. But, how do we get there? In this week’s sermon, our Pastor gave us three basic principles that we can employ in our everyday lives to move us toward this goal and I’ve laid them out with his message below:
Guard your heart.
Proverbs 4:23 (NIV): Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
As the scripture above tells us, it all starts in your heart. In the things we think about and give our time to. In the music you listen to; or in the TV shows and YouTube channels you watch. Let’s review our media influences and we’ll get a pretty good picture of who we are. If King Solomon, the wisest person who ever lived said the words, “above all else” do this, I think his suggestion is worth listening to!
And even Jesus said in Luke 6:45:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Let’s really think about that last line: The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. The heart is filled with what we intake. In order to be someone who speaks life into others and does not cause them to decay, you’ve got to be careful about what goes into your heart. The old adage “Garbage In; Garbage Out” holds true. So, fill your heart with things that are uplifting and edifying. Listen to worship music. Pray for others’ needs and get the focus off yourself. Read God’s Word on a daily basis. And if you’re someone who feels you don’t have time to read the Bible, then listen to it. There’s an App called Daily Audio Bible that you can download which will read the bible to you every day. In fact, there are multiple similar apps and resources that can help you be productive, Godly and wholesome.
I encourage you this week to evaluate what you’re taking in through your media channels and make changes as necessary. It may mean you stop watching a TV show you like, or that you stop listening to a singer or a particular song that isn’t wholesome. Whatever this looks like for you, I encourage you to evaluate it – then do it! The evil one will come up with all sorts of reasons you don’t need to eliminate it from your life…but don’t listen to him. Choose to guard your heart and you will see how the overflow of your heart begins to change.
Believe the best about others.
What I mean here, is that you choose to believe the best about others until you definitively know something different. Because we love a good scandal, don’t we? Our culture thrives on people falling and failing. We love a good juicy story when we can get our hands on it. And think about the rampant amounts of “Fake News” that you’ve read, seen, and heard; how quickly negativity goes viral, right? Somebody somewhere says something illicit was done or said, and then articles are written and stories aired. Fact checking is becoming a dying art, because scandals sell.
But if you want to be the type of person who speaks words that build others up, then you must commit to not hitch your wagon to gossip and slander. Don’t be one who spreads rot and decay on the people around you. Don’t be the one who spreads rumors or readily believes bad things said about others.
Around the office, we call this principle “Thinking Grey.” In the book, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample, he outlines the concept of “thinking grey” – which is basically choosing to believe the best about a coworker until you definitively know something different. So if someone comes to you and says, “Do you know what so-and-so did? He said blah-blah-blah-blah…” Thinking grey means that while you believe this person is sharing their perception of what happened, you also know there are two sides to every story. So you choose to believe the best about your coworker and understand that the situation looked different from his or her perspective and you show them the grace you would want to be shown to you if the situation was reversed. And instead of jumping to conclusions and joining in on the unwholesome talk, you don’t pass judgement until you are able to have more conversations and get a clearer picture of what transpired. This process will usually bring to light that what actually happened was not 100% how either person perceived it. It was neither black nor white, but grey.
In fact, when God was teaching the nation of Israel how to get along, way back in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, He warned them about believing solely what one person says:
Deuteronomy 19:15 (NIV) – One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Believe the best about others and think grey. And one last thing on this: even if you find out that something bad about someone is true; then keep it to yourself. Don’t share it with anyone outside of the immediate situation. Take it to God and pray for that person. Intercede for them in prayer, but if you’re not a part of the problem or part of the solution then you don’t need to be talking to others about it That is the very definition of gossip. In no way, shape, form, or fashion will it “build others up” or “benefit those who listen.” It’s unwholesome…so just participate.
Think before speaking.
Now this sounds like it should be a no-brainer, but for most of us—myself included—it proves to be a consistent challenge. Because sometimes things pop into my head that sound so funny internally, but once they come out of my mouth I realize that it was ONLY funny internally but rather hurtful or offensive out loud. And we are all guilty of doing that sometimes. You’ve got to really stop and think before you take action and speak. It may sound weird and impractical, but trust me, it works.
According to Sandra Felton there are two types of people: Messys and Cleanys. Well, one of my daughters is a Messy, and she is super-talented at trashing a room! She can enter a room and go from clean to earthquake in 5 minutes or less! Now for real, she’s one of those super-creative souls who is insanely gifted with creativity, but organization is a foreign concept. So, as a Cleany, I’ve been working with her on some intentional things she can do to keep her room clean. And I developed two easy questions she can ask herself that will solve 75% of her clutter issues… Question #1 – Before you go into your room, look at what’s in your hands and ask yourself, “Is this food?” And if the answer is yes, then turn around and go back to the kitchen. Question #2 – When you are in your room, look at what’s in your hand and ask, “Is this a shoe?” And if the answer is no, it does not belong on the floor.
Two simple questions/thoughts that can be handled in a nanosecond in your brain, but will change your life! Speaking to others functions the same way. Before you say something, ask yourself a couple quick questions: Is this helpful or hurtful? Is it funny just for me, or funny for the person I’m saying it about? Does this comment build others up or tear them down? Am I causing rot or growth?
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV) – We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
You can’t control what thoughts come into your head. What you can control, however, is what you do with them once they’re there. This scripture says to grab a hold of every thought, and then before you entertain it, make it obedient to Christ. And in many cases that means dismissing that thought and NOT saying it.
And while we’re on what goes on inside your head, let me take just a moment and address our Self-Talk. Some of you are really good about what you say to others, but not so good about what you say to yourself. Many of us have highly destructive internal monologues over mistakes you make, flaws you see in your body, things you wish you would have said, and the like. And young people, I hurt for you; because you guys are living your adolescence in a world of constant comparison on social media, with a built-in and very public measure of how well it seems that others like you. We older folks struggle with self-talk, don’t get me wrong; but I think you guys have it worse. And on a daily basis the words we say to ourselves cause rampant decay and rot in our souls. Those are lies directly from the evil one, but we choose to believe them instead of believing what God says about us. And if that’s you right now, if hurtful, disparaging words are a regular part of your internal monologue, then today I’m calling you out and saying stop it. It is not okay to keep telling yourself those things. Take every thought captive, and instead listen to God’s truth from Scripture.
God says that you are valuable. He says that He has a plan for your life; and He says that He has given you gifts and talents to accomplish His goals for you. Everything about you God planned from the beginning of time. Psalm 139 tells us that God knew you before you were ever born. He knows your loftiest goals, your deepest fears, and your darkest failures. He knows the good, the bad, and the ugly about you, and no matter what you think or what the evil one screams in your head, God says, “I love you.” He loves you no matter what. He loves you so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross as the penalty for everything you’ve ever done wrong, so that by choosing to receive His forgiveness, you can be restored to a right relationship with God and be guaranteed strength for living today, and security to spend eternity in Heaven with Him when you die. So, if you’ve never chosen receive the forgiveness of sin from Jesus Christ and chosen to follow Him, then I urge you to do that today with a simple prayer inviting God into your heart, or reach out to someone on staff at Parkway Fellowship who is happy to help you begin your new relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now, getting back to what Paul was saying to the Christ-followers at the church in the city of Ephesus, it is the responsibility of all of us who follow Christ – whether you’ve been following Jesus for thirty years, or if your journey begins today – it is our responsibility to live differently than the world around us. The things that are important to the world are not going to be the things that are important to us. The way the world acts is not going to be how we act. Everything about us should communicate to others around us that we have chosen to follow Jesus. Specifically, how we use our words must demonstrate to others who Jesus is, and how important He is to us. If we are set apart in our words, then others will take notice. The kindness and love that Jesus shows naturally draws people to Him. But we must commit to speak truthfully, in all situations. We must take hold of our anger and not lash out at others. And we must diligently seek to build others up with our words, and speak life into them so that they will hear how much Jesus loves them.
by Gary Chevalier