August 17, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:29 (NRSV)
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
We have no shortage of examples in our day of people using words to tear down others, to put them down, to disparage them, to disrespect them. This sort of thing is all over social media, of course. But, increasingly, it’s common in face-to-face conversations as well. If we’re going to do what Scripture teaches and use words for building up, we need positive examples to encourage us.
In yesterday’s devotion, we began looking at Ephesians 4:29. This verse teaches us not to let evil talk come out of our mouths. Instead, we should use our words to build up others, to share a bit of God’s grace with them.
These days, it would not be hard to find lots of examples of people doing the opposite of what Ephesians 4:29 urges. If you spend only a few minutes on any major social media platform, you’ll find plenty of rotten language, ample cases of people using words to tear down others. Increasingly, this sort of thing happens, not just in digital communication, but in face-to-face conversations as well. It can feel pretty discouraging, I must say.
But, every now and then, you’ll witness exactly what Ephesians 4:29 comments. I’d like to share with you an example of someone using words to build up others. This example made a strong impression on me and I want you to know about it.
You may be familiar with Dallas Willard. He was the author of some outstanding books on the Christian life. I became acquainted with Dallas in the 1980s, when I was Pastor of Education at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. I invited Dallas to give a series of lectures on the kingdom of God, lectures that were the basis for his influential book The Divine Conspiracy.
Dallas, a philosopher of note at the University of Southern California, spoke in a way that non-specialists could understand. One of the most learned men I ever knew, Dallas was able to benefit others through his speech even if they were not well educated. He had no need to show off his learning. He was committed to communicating clearly and kindly.
During one of his lectures at the church, Dallas asked if there were any questions. A man in the back raised his hand. I knew this man slightly. He was one of our homeless neighbors who lived near the church, someone who was surely mentally ill. He asked Dallas a question that embarrassed me because it was so inappropriate and, I felt, dishonoring to such a fine teacher as Dallas. But Dallas did not seem the least flustered. He looked squarely at the man and framed an answer that was utterly respectful, utterly kind, taking seriously what the man had tried to ask. I was stunned and ashamed. Whereas I had judged the homeless man, Dallas used his words to build up this man, to honor him and respect him.
As I reflected on how Dallas had treated the man with the awkward question, I thought two things. First, that is just like Jesus. Dallas isn’t just teaching us about Jesus. He’s acting like Jesus. Second, I thought, I want to be like that. I want to be like Jesus, too.
Have you known people who are especially good at using words to build up others? If so, what did you observe them doing?
Can you think of a time in your life when someone used words to build you up?
Can you think of a time when you used your words to build up another person?
Do it! Today, use your words to build up someone else according to his or her needs. In fact, you might do this even more than once today!
Gracious God, you have given us the power of words, the power to tear down or to build up, the power to express hate or to communicate love. Help me, Lord, to use the power you have given me for good. May my words be kind and encouraging. If I need to say something to someone that will be hard to hear, may I speak the truth in love. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: The Three Gatekeepers
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Dallas Willard “Life In The Spirit.”
Thank you for these thoughts, such a great reminder. Please let me ask this, when a mentally-healthy military drill instructor leans hard, verbally, on the people he/she has to transform from useless video game players to effective soldiers in a few weeks, are they sinning or being political correctness felons? I doubt it. In effect it’s God’s voice speaking to them to save their lives and their society. When Jesus showed the Jews what a real man must resort to sometimes in clearing Herod’s Temple, He was just as righteous and correct as ever. Finally, God, and even the wise among us, know what we are. Sometimes the knife is not only inserted, but also twisted, by mean, thoughtless, clueless individuals. At such times, our limbic systems, designed by God over 500,000,000 years ago, will function as designed. It’s essential that Christians forget themselves long enough to know and understand the people God has brought them together with, and “love them into the Kingdom” (Don Bennett), because the humans we are closest to in spirit are the ones that can really fire up our limbic systems.
Thanks, Brian, for your thoughtful comment. It shows how much context matters, doesn’t it? A drill instructor who was too “nice” would not be serving their people well at all. They could even be putting the lives of their people, and those with whom they would serve, at risk. The most loving thing a drill instructor can do is to be tough. Though, I would expect that Christian drill instructors might not say things others felt free to say. I’d love to get input from a Christian drill instructor on this. It would be fascinating.