When was the last time you talked with a friend?
I’m not sure how serious the conversation was, but one thing I am sure of is this: your words were not insignificant.
There’s an amazing proverb that Eugene Peterson translates: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.“ (Proverbs 18:21, The Message)
How do you use words to “give life“ to your friendship? Does it mean that you quote Scripture incessantly? Should you continuously point out the sin in others? Are you allowed to talk about sports or the weather?
There’s probably no better guide about how to talk with friends than Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (ESV)
This verse, and all of Scripture, doesn’t give us a pre-approved vocabulary list to use or avoid; instead, it teaches us how to speak with a biblical agenda. There are three aspects of that agenda:
Consider The Person
“…only such as is good for building up…”
Gospel-centered communication is always other-centered communication. The Apostle Paul says I should never say anything to a friend that is not helpful for them. My words must not be spoken from a self-centered agenda where I am seeking to establish my will in the friendship, but spoken from an ambassadorial agenda, where I seek to be part of what the King is doing in the life of my friend.
Consider The Problem
“…as fits the occasion…”
Before I speak, I must think about what my friend is struggling with and what they most need at the moment. Do they need encouragement, comfort, hope, direction, wisdom, courage, rebuke, warning, forgiveness, patience, teaching, correction, thanks, insight, a job description, or something else? My words must be shaped by an awareness of their need.
Consider The Process
…that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Gospel-centered communication is not just about the content of my words, but how they are spoken. Often I choose to say the right thing, but in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Confronting a teenager five minutes before they leave for school is not helpful, even if the content is accurate. Rebuking a friend for an offense in front of others is not beneficial, even if they need to be confronted. Asking your spouse to consider how they hurt you as they are trying to get to sleep might not be the best time, even if you do need to reconcile.
Here is what we all must remember: God has a bigger agenda for our friendships than we do. These relationships are designed to be workrooms for redemption, not shelters for human happiness.
What do your words reveal? Are you settling for your own definition of personal happiness when God’s purpose is nothing short of conforming us to the image of Christ?
If we are ever going to give grace when we talk, we need grace to free us from our bondage to ourselves so that our words may be liberated to be used by God.
1. When was the last time someone spoke poisonous words to you? How did that kill your spirits?
2. What did someone say to you recently that was the result of the fruit of the Spirit? How did those words give life to your soul?
Think of one of your relationships where the truth needs to be spoken in love. Consider:
3. The Person. What self-centered motives do you need to put aside before having this conversation?
4. The Problem. What are the needs of the other person, and how can you select words that are most appropriate for their need?
5. The Process. How can you deliver these words in a time and manner that is most helpful? Where do you need to hold your tongue?