Theme: Kind and Serious Words
This week’s lessons remind us that all who have received the grace of God in Jesus Christ therefore need to demonstrate that grace in our conversations.
Scripture: Colossians 4:6
This brings us back to Colossians, where I ask, “What should the Christian’s conversation be like? What does Colossians 4:6 teach about the way we should use words?” There are many things we could say about the way Christians should speak, but this text alone suggests at least five of them.
Our words should be kind. God is kind to us. Therefore, we should be kind when we speak to other people. God’s words are gracious words. Ours should be gracious also. This is the first thing Paul indicates when he says that our conversation should be “full of grace.”
Is this an apt description of your words? I know a leader in the evangelical church that has a problem at this point. He is a man of unusual gifts and is widely used of the Lord. But he has a way of making hurtful jokes or telling disparaging stories about other people. These stories are not intentionally malicious, as far as I can see. I would assume they arise from his own insecurities. He feels more in charge of things if he can humble someone else. But his words are still unkind and harmful. I have seen people visibly wounded by the things he says.
And they remember it too. When we were children and other children were making fun of us, as children will, we were taught to say:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
But it is not true. Words do hurt, and we can all remember harsh things that were said about us or to us, perhaps decades ago.
In his best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the self-taught human relations expert Dale Carnegie tells about something he did as a young man that was very foolish. He was preparing a magazine article about famous American authors and wrote to an author whose name was Richard Harding Davis, asking him about his method of work. A few weeks earlier he had received a letter from someone else. It had been typed by his secretary, and on the bottom there was the notation: “Dictated but not read.” Carnegie was impressed. It sounded important. So at the bottom of his letter to Davis, Carnegie added the same phrase: “Dictated but not read.”
Davis never even bothered to answer the letter. He simply returned it to Carnegie with these words scribbled across the bottom: “Your bad manners are exceeded only by your bad manners.” Carnegie admitted that he had blundered and deserved the rebuke. But he resented the retort and remembered it. He remembered it so vividly that ten years later, when he read in a paper about the death of Richard Harding Davis, the one thing that came to his mind was the hurt Davis had given him.
Words do hurt. Sometimes words kill. So do not harm by your words. “Let your conversation be always full of grace.” Speak kindly.
Our speech should be serious. I do not mean by this that Christians should be humorless or grim or always talking about the Bible or theology. We are never told that Jesus laughed, but we know he was witty and that he was an enjoyable person to be with. We do not have to be more serious than Jesus. Yet Jesus was not frivolous either, was he? He never engaged in stupid or mindless conversations. He could enjoy life and have a good time, as he did at the wedding at Cana. But he also knew that what we say is important and that spiritual matters are of the utmost importance. Therefore, when speaking, Jesus always seemed to have the spiritual well-being of other people uppermost in his mind.
I am sure Paul is recommending this in Colossians 4:6 because of the context in which the verse is set.
Verse 3: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.”
Verse 4: “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”
Verse 5: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”
There is a progression in those verses. First, Paul asks prayer for the missionary team that surrounds him: Tychicus (v. 7), Onesimus (v. 9), Aristarchus, Mark, and Barnabas (v. 10), Justus (v. 11), Epaphras (v. 12), Luke and Demas (v. 14). Second, he asks prayer for himself, that he might be a good witness. Third, he encourages the believers at Colosse to make the most of every opportunity, undoubtedly referring to their own opportunities to share the gospel. It is immediately after this that he says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace.”
In developing the previous point, I have assumed that “full of grace” means “gracious.” But in view of this context, it might equally well mean “full of the doctrines of the grace of God.” That is, “Let a lot of what you talk about be God’s grace.”
Is your conversation serious in this sense? Do you talk about spiritual things often? Are you considering the spiritual need of other people as you do? At the end of the Old Testament we are told that the godly in Malachi’s day did this: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.” They were talking about spiritual things. Then we are told, “A scroll of remembrance was written in [God’s] presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name” (Mal. 3:16).
Job wanted his words to count. He said, “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!” (Job 19:23, 24). And Paul wrote to Titus recommending “soundness of speech that cannot be condemned” (Tit. 2:8).
What are the first two guidelines Dr. Boice gives for the character of our speech?
Give some examples of serious speech. How does that compare with the kind of conversations you hear, perhaps even in the church?
Application: Is your speech characterized by biblical kindness and seriousness? What will you do this week to conform your speech to God’s intentions?
Key Point: Words do hurt. Sometimes words kill. So do not harm by your words. “Let your conversation be always full of grace.” Speak kindly.
Further Study: To learn more about Jesus’ response to harmful words, download the free audio message, “The Issue in Six Words”, by James Boice. (The discount will be applied at checkout.)