Healthy Relationships - Welcome to the community of the Trinity - Chapter 11, "How's your
Healthy Relationships – Welcome to the community of the Trinity - Chapter 11, “How’s your verbal filter?”
James 1:19, 20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
What were the most outrageous words you ever heard another individual speak in person? My experience goes back 45 years to my junior year in high school. So, you know it had to be memorable! A friend of mine, a fellow member of the golf team, and I were in English class. Our teacher was Jewish. And my friend didn’t have the best relationship with her (I guess he didn’t care much for learning English grammar??). She said something he didn’t appreciate or want to comply with, and he said, under his breath, but loud enough for everyone in class (including the teacher) to hear, “Hitler didn’t go far enough.” I was stunned. I thought, ‘Oh no, you didn’t just say something that hateful and stupid.’ But he did/had. Yes, the teacher was furious. Yes, my friend was sent to the principal. Yes, he was disciplined severely. And I hope he never said anything that ignorant again. I tend to think he didn’t. He went on the be a golf professional (teacher that is, not one of the big names on tour), so he must have developed some level of tact and restraint! Some people just don’t know when to keep their mouths shut!
Filters are helpful in life. A coffee filter keeps grounds out of your wake-up drink. An air filter helps to keep particles you could breathe out of the air and your lungs. An oil filter helps to keep contaminates from doing damage to your engine. And a verbal filter helps to keep foolish words from harming your communication and to protect and strengthen your personal relationships. In today’s chapter (again focusing on James 1:19, 20) we are going to consider the importance of a verbal filter in terms of developing healthy and satisfying relationships.
James put it so simply….we need to be ‘slow to speak.’ Proverbs 10:19 warns us, “Where words are many sin is not absent.” Jesus assured us in Matthew 12:36, 37 that on the day of judgment people will have to give an account for every idle word spoken. “For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.” Obviously, some words should never be allowed to cross our lips. Lies, slander, gossip, hurtful criticism, and inappropriate humor would be just a few examples of speech that needs to be filtered out of the lives/relationships of followers of Jesus. As Thumper’s, the cute little bunny in Disney’s ‘Bambi’, mom said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Jesus might rephrase that for his disciples, “If you can’t say something that glorifies God and/or benefits other people, just zip it!”
The best verbal filter I have been exposed to calls on us to ‘THINK' before we speak. Each letter in that acronym helps us to determine what we should say and what we should not say. The ‘T’ is for the word true. Before we speak we should ask ourselves, ‘Is what I’m about to say true?’ We shouldn’t say anything that is false or deceptive. Sometimes we repeat things we’ve been told, and we don’t know if the statements are true or not. So, it’s probably better not to repeat something if we can’t verify its veracity. What we absolutely know to be true is God’s Word. Jesus prayed to our Father, “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) So, it’s always appropriate and helpful to speak God’s Word to others. But if we don’t know something to be true, we would be better off not to say it.
The ‘H’ in THINK is for the word helpful. Ask yourself, ‘Is what I’m about to say going to be helpful to the one who hears it?’ One of my favorite verses of Scripture is Ephesians 4:29, “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.” That’s a great filtering message, isn’t it?! Is what I’m about to say going to help others to be better, to improve, or to be stronger in faith? Will these words help others to feel better or function better in this relationship? If what you want to say is helpful, say it! If not, zip it!
The ‘I’ in THINK is for the word inspiring. Before speaking ask, ‘Will these words inspire others to greatness? Will they inspire truer and healthier relationships?’ Hebrews 10:24 challenges us, “Therefore, let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” If the words longing to escape from my mouth will inspire other people to be more like Jesus and to be a more satisfying relational partner, then I should speak them. If not….well, you know the rest!
The ‘N’ in THINK is for the word necessary. Does anyone really need to hear what I am about to say? That was really James point, wasn’t it? Be ‘slow to speak.’ If the thoughts/words just aching to jump out of your mouth don’t need to be heard, keep them silent. Do the world/your friends and family a favor!
Finally, the ‘K’ in THINK is for the word kind. Ephesians 4:32 pleads with followers of Jesus, “Be kind and compassionate to one another.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 adds, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up.” Healthy and satisfying relationships thrive on words that are kind, compassionate, and encouraging. The more we speak Ephesians 4:32/1Thessalonians 5:11 words to each other, the more our relational world will resemble a garden in full bloom!
When we THINK before we speak, what we are really doing is allowing God to speak through us. We focused in chapter 8 about the importance of listening to God. He wants us to hear him so that we can help others listen to him as well. I relish the times God has spoken through me to others, but I, also, cherish the times when God has spoken to me through some of you! One time, in particular, involved Bill. Bill came into my office with an offer of some constructive criticism. At that time, I didn’t take criticism (constructive or otherwise) very well. He shared what was on his heart with me. As my defense shields started to go up, the Lord whispered to me, ‘Would it hurt to hear him out without arguing with him? Do you know how hard it can be for people to come to you (the minister) like this? Most members don’t, they just talk about you behind your back. Bill had the integrity to bring this to you face to face. At least, respect that kindness and courage on his part.’ So, that shut me up. I responded, ‘Bill, I don’t know if I agree with all your telling me, but I really appreciate you coming to me to share this. I promise to think about it, pray about it, and we’ll get together and talk again.’ We prayed together and both left feeling good about the exchange and our relationship. It was a real turning point in my life and ministry. God can do that through healthy relationships and helpful communication.
In the New Testament church, in Jerusalem, Barnabas was a leader who allowed God to communicate to him and through him like that. His name means ‘son of encouragement,’ and that’s just what he did. From his amazingly generous gift (Acts 4:36, 37) to his concern for Saul (who would be the Apostle Paul – Acts 9), to his mercy on John Mark (one of the gospel writers) in Acts 15 Barnabas was instrumental in helping people grow in faith and in their influence for Jesus. When we make use of the verbal filter God gives us and allow him to speak through us, then we develop healthier and more satisfying relationships.
That’s what this life is all about. Living in a healthy and satisfying relationship with God through faith in Jesus. Building healthy and satisfying relationships with others and using those relationships to help them come to Jesus and grow up in him. And that great mission and passion is aided by a simple rule….THINK before you speak!