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.
"Words are loaded pistols," wrote philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte in his book, What is Literature?. And in our contemporary, culture, we seem to thrive on using them as such. Bullying has become a national epidemic. Countless news reports have shown the tragic emotional and physical effects bullying has had on our nation's youth. CNN this week covered another story of a young woman who took her own life after being bullied by her peers. My husband and I have had to talk with our 6 year old son about how to deal with bullies. Being a little different, he is already a target in Kindergarten.
The worst part of it all is that bullying has become a seemingly acceptable part of our culture. Oh, we give good lip service about how terrible it is, but take a closer look at our media and you will see that it is a practice more condoned than condemned. Political adversaries use their words to rip each other apart. "News" programs splash the sordid tales and scandals of "celebrities" across both pages and screens, villifying or idolizing one star or another. Women are degraded and objectified in magazines, on television and in music. Hot topic issues become avenues of polarization rather than opportunities for growth and change. Our culture thrives on being mean. It's disgusting, and our kids are paying the price.
As Christians, we have an obligation to change the part we play in this society of verbal abuse. It is an obligation that many churches have forgotten. Sometimes, as Christians, we use the Word, and our words, as weapons instead of tools for spreading God's message of love and mercy. The author of the book of James refers to the tongue as "a restless evil, full of deadly poison." (James 3:8b) Rather, he counsels his readers to tame the tonuge and become "peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:17)
Likewise, Paul exhorts the Ephesians to use their words carefully. Paul recognized the power of words to harm and so instructed the Ephesians that whatever comes out of their mouths should be for the benefit of others, building them up rather than tearing them down. So let me ask you two questions today. And trust me, I am asking them of myself, as well.
1. Are the words which you speak throughout the course of the day building others up, or tearing them down? Remember that we can easily tear someone down without speaking to them face to face.
2. Are the messages being sent from your church--from your congregation-- seeking to build others up or to tear them down? For too long, many of our churches have been harbingers of hate, using words to tear down and to judge rather than to build up and love.
My words are not always kind. I do not always use them to build others up. I succumb to gossip at times, and do get testy and lash out with words at those I love. And yet, I try to use the wisdom God has given me to tame my tongue. And for those times when I fail, God reminds me of the love and encouragement I am supposed to be giving. I have to say, I'm getting pretty good at saying, "I'm sorry." I hope, as I continue to walk in faith over the years, that I will have less need for it.
Blessings and Peace,