Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4.29From David King
On Sunday, we saw that the word translated “unwholesome” in the verse above is better understood as “Rotten” or “Rancid”. It’s a pretty alarming verdict on how awful our speech can be and is further driven home by the next verse which sets out how our words can grieve the Holy Spirit.
I thought today that I would focus a little on one scenario in which this is a particular challenge: the group. As I was preparing the sermon, I remembered those moments in the changing room or out on a rugby social or in the staff room, when the conversation turned rancid. The topic might be: sexual – either recounting conquests or objectifying a woman; slander – weighing in to judge and criticise someone absent; or greed – bragging about some new purchase or some new holiday or some new promotion. And I felt awkward – I didn’t know what to do. Should I speak up? I often left feeling a failure.
Have you had that experience? If you have well done. You’ve got the first step right. As Christians we should feel awkward. I thought though, that it might be helpful to set out how I ended up trying to deal with it as three steps:
Step 1: Be silent. On a rugby or rowing social, I would be weighing in on the banter, but when it turned rancid, I would go quiet. This isn’t as weak as it first seems. Our job is not to tell others that they should live like disciples of Jesus, when they haven’t committed their life to him and received his Spirit to help them change. Sooner or later people will notice that we don’t join in.
Step 2: Walk away. On occasion, the conversation got sufficiently bad that I felt that my presence might be construed as taking part. At which point, I would simply quietly slip away. I wanted to be committed to them as individuals and a group, but I couldn’t be associated with what they were doing then.
Step 3: Speak up. More rarely still, it’s sometimes an opportunity to speak up. Even here though the aim is not to stand over them like a judge telling them that they are wrong, but rather to help them realise it for themselves. Take Jesus’ example with the rich young ruler. When the young man tells Jesus that he has kept all of the commands, Jesus could have told him that he was wrong. Instead, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and follow him. He shows the young man that he has an idol (breaking the second commandment).
Let me finish with a couple of examples: when everyone is denouncing someone for something they’ve done, you could say, “I know that I’ve been forgiven worse”; or when everyone is bragging about their new phones, be known as the person who loves their really old phone.