We were made for relationships. Period. How can that be said so confidently? Because deep down, we all desire close relationships. The majority of secular songs being written about relationships that are sweet or have gone wrong reveals the human heart’s desire for them. But more concrete than that, Genesis 1:27 says we’re made in God’s image and God is by his very nature, a relational being. Since before the creation of man and angels or any other created thing, God has always been existing in 3 Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – all existing in perfect fellowship, harmony, and community with one another. On top of that, as believers in Christ, we’re all interdependently connected to one another in Christ’s body (Eph. 4:16).
As image bearers and members of Christ’s body, we are to reflect that same Triune harmony and oneness of Christ’s body in our relationships. We are to put into practice the theology we believe about God and Christ. But how? Well, one of the ways given in the New Testament is through godly communication. Relationships require good communication. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul emphasizes unity, saying,
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
This is a critical word of wisdom as we don’t often think about how important godly communication is to a relationship. Without what Paul calls wholesome words, our relationships will suffer. Unwholesome is a word that is used in relation to fruit (Mt. 12:33; Heb. 13:15) and can mean rotten or harmful. Our unthoughtful, harsh, degrading, slanderous, and other heartless words cause relationships to rot and remain unhealthy. But without intentionality inthe use of our tongues, this tends to be our natural bent. We find it so much easier to criticize than to commend and to put down than to praise. A young lady once told John Wesley that she thought her talent was to speak her mind. Wesley replied, “I do not think God would mind if you buried that talent.”1 Sometimes it’s better to bite the tongue until it bleeds than ruin the relationship and the testimony of Christ you carry. Human relationships are difficult in a fallen world and require effort – thinking before we speak.1
Now in contrast to the word rotten is the word edification. It is a construction term that means to build up or to strengthen. Our minds can rightly think of construction workers who are framing a house. We can build others up, like a house being built up, by the use of our words. Words that build are words of grace. Another great passage for the tongue is Colossians 4:6. It says our speech should be seasoned with salt, meaning it should have a preservative effect on relationships, preventing them from rottenness and decay.
In 1994, Thomas Thurman, running back for the Buffalo Bills, sat with his face in his hands on the bench after his team had just lost its 4th straight Super Bowl loss. Thomas’ 3 fumbles had helped seal the loss. Suddenly coming up to Thomas was Emmitt Smith, the Dallas Cowboys running back who had been voted MVP. Smith turned to his goddaughter in his arms and said to her, “I want you to meet the greatest running back in the NFL, Mr. Thurman Thomas.”2 Don’t you love it when speech is gracious like that, intentionally aimed at building someone else up? It stands out in a world when there’s so many heartless comments are spoken or typed to tear others down?
I can remember an occasion in my life years ago when someone graced me with their speech. I was grilling some brats and hotdogs for friends & family, but let them cook a little too long! As everyone was filling their plates and scraping the char off, I started to apologize when someone interrupted me, saying gently with a smile, “They’re perfect. Thank you so much for cooking!” The food didn’t taste the best, but I never forgot that taste of grace!
How can you build someone up with gracious words? Think outside the box! People are used to happy birthday’s and congrats. How about thanking others for doing the simplest, taken-for-granted tasks like washing the dished or taking out the trash? Writing a note of encouragement or pointing something out about them that makes them a unique blessing? Speech that builds up like that honors Christ and the Triune nature of God (Jas. 3:9).
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