Monday, August 20, 2012

A Bible Lesson About Words and Communication

The following was adapted from a Bible lesson I have given in a few different venues. It is about a topic that I find very interesting, and one that I personally struggle with greatly: words. 

Over the past few years, I have studied some of what the Bible has to say about communication, and, as I prepare for my communication-related studies this fall by reviewing materials from my Master's degree and reading new works recommended by my supervisor in Nottingham, I am fully convinced that the Bible is absolutely the best communication handbook. 

There is more about communication in the Bible than can be grasped in a lifetime. Here, I'll just set out some practical verses that have been important to me. It is worth mentioning that the following verses, while they speak of the tongue and lips and speech, can and should be applied to our digital communication as well as our oral communication. 

Proverbs 12:18 reads, 

"There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise promotes health." (NKJV)

Words are powerful - both for ill and good. They may seem small, but their repercussions can stretch on for years.

Words can, on the one hand, be wielded as a weapon, causing violence and harm and incredible damage. We all know the adage, "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." And we all know that that adage is not true. Words can hurt. They can cause profound distress, they can weaken and destroy relationships, and they can strike down a person. On the mass scale, they can even be used to propagate messages of destruction that can lead to profound evil.  

On the other hand, words can promote health. Words can give life, they can build up, and they can restore relationships. They can bind up wounds and minister strength to the weary. They can brighten days and improve lives. 

These, then, are the two potentials of the tongue: violence and health. We must embrace healthful, life-giving words, and completely eschew words of corruption and violence. James 3:10 reads, "Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so." (NKJV) 

Here are two strategies by which we can forgo words of harm and utilize words of health: (1) Speak sparingly and thoughtfully; and (2) embrace the power of kind words. 

First, speak sparingly and thoughtfully. 

Proverbs 10:19 reads, 

"In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,
But he who restrains his lips is wise." (NKJV)

When you rattle on unthinkingly, bad things are going to come out. Trust me, I know this one from much practical experience. Someone who is wise thinks before speaking, and does not say everything that occurs to him or her. 

Proverbs 15:28 reads,

"The heart of the righteous studies how to answer,
But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil." (NKJV)

I love the use of the word "studies." Not only should we think before we speak, but we should think carefully. Further, we have the opportunity to pray even in the midst of conversation: we can ask God to help us to be wise and righteous in our speech.

Paul, in Ephesians 4:29, gives us a great measure by which we can decide if something should or should not be said: "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." (NKJV)

When we have the impulse to communicate, here then are questions we can ask ourselves: Is what I want to convey corrupt in some way? Or, is what I want to communicate edifying - that is, is it going to build up? Will it minister grace? And these questions don't simply apply to heavy conversations about deep matters. On the contrary, even in daily, pleasant conversations, whether we are chatting about entertainment, or sharing funny stories, or anything else, we can choose to communicate in such a way so as to build up others. 

Point (2): embrace the power of kind words.

Proverbs 16:24 reads,

"Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones." (NKJV)

What a statement! Here we see that kind words have the power to minister to the soul and the body. They have a supernatural power as well as a physical power. And this verse can easily be applied to both the speaker and the hearer: it feels great to offer and receive pleasant words.

Blaise Pascal wrote, "Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much." The amount of work, or investment, that goes into kind words is completely disproportionate with the amount of good they can accomplish. Let's look at this very literally: kind words, on the metaphysical level, may cost a bit of pride and a bit of thought; on the physical level, they cost us a bit of air, and a fraction of a calorie. Their accomplishment, on the other hand, can be tremendous: they can minister joy and hope; they can even change lives for the better. 

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