What were we doing?
When I began following Jesus it was so easy to love people. Perhaps it was because I used to have a really good grasp on how screwed up I was at the time, it was easy to overlook flaws. Then I blinked and I have been a Christian for 14 years. In Christian years, I’m a moody and selfish teenager. Wouldn’t you know it, just like a lot of teenagers, I realized that I’m a little bit of a jerk.
Not publicly of course.
In church and in small group it’s all smiles and side-hugs. One lady even kisses me on the cheek. I don’t like it, but I let it go b/c she is just showing love. When people are around, I’m on. I have to be on. If I spoke in public the way I spoke in private there isn’t a person in our church who would trust me.
One day, about six months ago, I was in the kitchen venting. That’s what we call it. That way we can justify what is going on. After all, everyone needs to verbalize frustration in order to let it go and not internalize it. That would be unhealthy. So after a particularly venomous venting session full of stream of conscious word vomit and pacing around like an angry rhino, I finally sit down and breathe. I look up at my wife and it occurs to me, I have just spent 20 minutes just straight murdering someone in front of a person who God has called me lead by example.
Instead of grace and love and patience my wife watched her pastor husband respond in violence. A violence comprised only of words, but it was violence.
“With our tongue we bless the Lord our Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the image of God. From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. This ought not be so” – James 3:9-10
How can I expect my wife, my children, and my church to trust that I am running after God with such hypocrisy in my life?
“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” – Matthew 15:11
The way I speak of others, even in private, says something about me. It reveals a brokenness, an impurity that in the ways of defilement in the Old Testament, breaks my fellowship with other believers and compromises my ability to be “set-apart”. When I speak out in anger or frustration, or when I criticize a fellow believer for their actions, I have sacrificed my very identity as one who is “like Christ”. I am simply not behaving like Jesus.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” – Proverbs 18:21
So a decision was made. No more violence with my speech. No more cursing people who are made in the image of God. I chose to give life rather than to kill with the way I spoke to (and about) others.
In the last several months I’ve slipped a couple of times. People let you down. Some days, when I am physically tired or mentally distracted, I walk into a room and I can feel it…an actual desire to kill someone with the way I speak. I want to be a little harsh. It’s terrible, I know, but I doubt I’m alone.
Also, I feel ok admitting it. Over the last 6 months it has become incredibly easier to control the way I speak. Even in private conversations I am able to avoid criticizing others. A few times I’ve been in an unavoidable situation where someone else was falling into the same sin of speech I am working on. In those moments I have just stopped them and said, “Im really working on not being critical of people. Im bad about it.” and I excuse myself from the conversation. Every single person I’ve said that to has admitted they kind of struggle with it to.
We all do.
We all can choose to give life rather than death, to build up rather than destroy, and to move towards Christ-likeness in the way speak to those around us.
“Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” – Proverbs 16:24