Sunday, March 14, 2010

Seasoned with Salt — The Power of Words

Salt is a common seasoning, used almost daily by almost everyone. For some it is used too much, causing health problems. Unfortunately for many Christians, it is used too little and it has nothing to do with our food. It has to do with our speech.

Paul says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

Paul uses this metaphor for speech particularly in the realm of evangelism, and connects it with grace. But evangelism is not the only time when graceful, salty speech is needed. It should be the characteristic of all of our speech.

I confess that I too often speak wrongly. My words become instruments of hurt, usually unintended. It grieves me when I am misunderstood and I hurt people or give the wrong impression. It grieves me more when I am not misunderstood and I hurt people or give the wrong impression. By God’s grace, the latter happens far less than the former these days.

The blogosphere and email are particularly challenging venues of communication because of the lack of personal interaction and personal knowledge. The lack of voice tone and body language can be great inhibitors of communication, particularly for those predisposed to thinking the worst.

I am thinking tonight of the power of words, the ease of misunderstanding, and the necessity of godly speech.

I am reminded that personal attacks are hurtful, that ungracious speech is troublesome for the gospel, and that words are permanent. I am reminded that speaking without benefit of the facts often leads people to say things that aren’t true. I am reminded that the gospel is not furthered by people who insist on being disobedient to the biblical commands regarding speech. I am reminded that no amount of patient teaching, confrontation, assembling of facts, or genuine appeal will convince someone who is determined to be foolish in their speech.

I am also convinced that the most guilty are often completely unaware of what they are actually doing. They don’t even know it. They are right in their own eyes and completely justified.

I am reminded that accountability is a good thing, if you have the right people. I have routinely over the years asked for input on my own speech, particularly online where misunderstanding is so easy. Some of you, my readers, are among those people. (All of you are invited to be. If you think I have stepped over the line, feel free to say so … here, to me, either by email, or comment on this blog. Don’t say it on your blog since that won’t help.)

I am reminded that accountability is only as good as the integrity of the people to whom you are accountable. If you surround yourself with “yes men” (or “yes women”), you will rarely grow. If your friends never say you are wrong or unwise, you probably have the wrong friends.

So how can we be salty in a good way?

Let the gospel transform your attitude first and your speech later. We too often try to manage speech. We need to first be transformed in our attitude from which our speech comes. Only the gospel can bring such transformation. Sins of the tongue are dealt with just like all other sins—by the death of Jesus. Our participation in that death brings a new way to view the use of words.

Speak calmly. Agitated responses usually lack grace. They are often the fruit of sinfulness in the heart, the idol of unmet expectations.

Speak later. Rarely is something so important that it has to be said right now. Usually, I wish I had waited. Rarely do I wish I had said it earlier. Sometimes, I wish I had never said it at all.

Speak the truth, even about people you don’t like. Lies or misrepresentation of someone else never enhances credibility. A good point does not need dishonesty or misrepresentations to be a good point. A bad point will not be made better by dishonesty or misrepresentation.

Reply by assuming the best about someone’s speech or conduct. When responding to someone else, assume the best from them. Assume that you are the one misunderstanding.

Speak about issues not people. Personal attacks do not help solve issue problems. Focus your attention on the matter, not the person. Personal attacks won’t help a bad point, and a good point doesn’t need them.

1 comment:

Diane Heeney said...

"Speak Later" is a good one. I have often misspoken because I did not wait, sharing my "quick wit" (and thoughtlessly catching someone in the crossfire) or making a comment out of a knee jerk reaction when I ought to have checked my emotions first. These are good thoughts. Thank you.