The Way We Talk to Each Other
Leviticus 19:16, Ephesians 4:25-32
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Lord, make my words sweet and tender today, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.
Have you ever heard that saying, or one like it? These verses in Leviticus and Ephesians remind us that words are powerful. They can help or hinder, encourage or demoralize, build up or tear down. Whether spoken or written, our words have the ability to affect lives for the better or the worse. And once we speak or write them, we cannot retrieve them. As we all know, anything we share online is out there forever, but it doesn’t take the internet to ensure that our words are never forgotten. What people say to us, especially the negative words, stick in our minds and haunt us for the rest of our lives. Are our words sweet and tender or bitter and tough? How do we talk to each other in and outside the church?
In Leviticus, we are instructed not to slander one another. Not to spread lies and rumors about another person. In our modern times, deception, whether intentional or unintentional, is just part of the news cycle. Today’s rumor is tomorrow’s truth. Fact checking has been given up in favor of fast reporting, but the inaccuracies stick, and people make important decisions on the basis of those inaccuracies. That is simply the way of the world. But as followers of Jesus, we are called to be different. We need to guard our tongues, electing not to speak unless we can speak the truth. And not use that truth as a weapon but as loving correction and encouragement. The church, the body of Christ, is to lead the way in this, to be an example of truth telling for the purpose of building up, not tearing down.
We could simply choose to be silent. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, right? But Paul writes in Ephesians that it is not enough simply to refrain from doing wrong: we must do right if we want to make a difference in the church and then out in the world. Even the thief, ordered to give up stealing, is urged to find honest work so he has something to contribute to the community. We are to set aside bitterness, rage, and anger and all other forms of malice and instead treat one another with kindness and compassion, forgiving one another as Jesus forgave us. Does this mean that Christians are to press the mute button on our emotions? No. We are still human beings, after all. But instead of allowing our emotions to rule over us, we are to exercise discipline over them. There is good anger and bad anger, and we are not to let bad anger drive us to do bad things; rather, we can channel the good anger, the righteous anger, into good works, thereby making positive changes in the church and in our communities.
Where we see an opportunity to encourage and build up a fellow believer, we can and should take that opportunity. If we are critical and divisive in the church, how are we any different from the world? Why would anybody want to be part of the community of faith if it offers nothing that the world cannot also offer? Just like us, Jesus also lived in the world—and what a challenging world it was, with the Roman occupation, exorbitant taxes, blatant discrimination, and more—but he did not allow the world’s negativity to keep him from fulfilling his earthly mission of loving, forgiving, healing, feeding, and teaching. We can get bogged down by the world’s negativity and distracted from our mission of bringing light to the world, but an encouraging word from a fellow Christian can be the fresh wind we need to keep going. Such positive talk emboldens the Holy Spirit within us and empowers us to be the church, a living symbol of the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ, to a world so desperate for hope and peace.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery are available) followed by Discovery Hour classes for preschool through high school.