Our tongues can be difficult to control at times. We need God’s help to speak the truth in love.
We live in contentious times. Blistering politics, social ills, political upheavals, racism, terrorism, all kinds of violence, and anger surround us on every side.
In the middle of all the arguing we find the often awkward idea of “political correctness.” A very general definition could be “behavior aimed at not offending others, usually verbally.” Depending on who you ask, political correctness is just common courtesy, necessary to maintain respect in public discourse, a way to punish people who don’t conform, the method by which politicians get reelected or other famous people keep up a good public image, an out-and-out lie, or some variation of those definitions.
Most people would agree that it’s impossible never to offend anyone. But like many impossible things, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Think before you speak
Whether applying the concept of political correctness to politicians and other celebrities or using it in our daily conversations with friends, coworkers, and passing acquaintances, it’s good to remember that people say things without thinking. At one time or another, we’ve all been offended by something someone said. Words spoken in haste can come out poorly no matter who you are, but that doesn’t mean the person meant to offend. As my mom would say, we owe others the benefit of the doubt, to take their words in the best possible way. In that way, we treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated.
Our sinful nature moves us to speak carelessly and without considering that the words might do real damage, to lash out because someone else hurt us, and to express opinions just to impress or accomplish one’s own ends instead of trying to help others. The speaker is only thinking of him or herself and not about what God wants. Reluctantly, I have to admit that this is a common sin with me. Whether I’m just trying to make sure people know where I stand on an issue or I wrongly assume my listener will agree, I speak without thinking and end up making things worse rather than better.
It’s not easy to stop. Then I wonder if I’m just trying to get along, swallowing my words, and being dishonest about what I think and believe.
The term “viral” is amazingly on the nose when it comes to mean and insulting words. Words really do hurt, no matter how much we try to ignore them. They may not cause physical harm, but they often affect us emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. They sometimes inflict injuries we aren’t even aware of until it’s too late. Words can dig into people’s minds like a virus and never truly go away.
Speak only with love
In Galatians, Paul states that our sinful nature gives into “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (5:20). Besides this laundry list of sins, our sinful nature also causes us to ignore our faults and see the faults in others first. We try to justify our behavior by focusing on how others behave worse than we do. So many people speak without caring about my feelings, why should I watch myself so carefully when they don’t? Won’t they see me as weak and try to take advantage? What if they don’t understand me if I don’t use the same strong language they use?
It’s a human response, but not what God wants. God asks us to keep our tongues from evil speech no matter the reason. Paul writes, “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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).
God wants us to forgive each other when we speak thoughtlessly or in anger, but he also wants us to avoid speaking thoughtlessly or in anger period. He wants us to live in harmony with each other, to love each other, to be an example of God’s love. As a Christian, I sometimes take forgiveness for granted if I verbally step over the line. I was taught to forgive others when they offend me. But not everyone out there has been taught the same thing. I should be showing them a good example, not expecting them to forgive my bad one. Many small insults develop into large injuries, and just because God wants people to forgive doesn’t mean I get to say whatever I want. Forgiveness is not a license to say or do whatever I want. It changes me to live as God wants.
Paul says, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. . . . May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:2-7). We should make the aim of our speech to help others, not to harm them—and not just with Christian friends, but with all people, whether they agree with us or not. As Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, our neighbors are more than just those who live next to us or believe the same as us. Our neighbors include even those we may see as enemies or political rivals.
Thinking before we speak and speaking only with love are not easy. But God will give us the strength and the encouragement to keep trying. We must continually ask, “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). When we accidently step over the line, we shouldn’t be afraid to apologize. And when someone offends us, we should forgive rather than retaliate and turn the other cheek rather than hold a grudge. It’s what God wants from us. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10,11).
Praise the Lord for the love he has shown us! May we continually strive to show it to others.
Victoria Rahn is a member at Good Shepherd, Holmen, Wisconsin,
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Author: Victoria Rahn
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017
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