I’ve had several conversations with people over the last few weeks around the topic of how we treat one another. Most of the conversations have centered around people not treating others appropriately. As I thought about this, two separate passages came to mind. The first one is Matthew – ‘But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’ (Matt. 12:36).
The second passage is found in Ephesians 4 – I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,”[e] for we are members of one another. 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:1-3, 15, 20-25, 29-32).
These two passages both focus on how we use our words. In Matthew, we are reminded that we are accountable for every word we speak. When I think about that word, I think of the definition of gossip. We often say things about people that are not uplifting or helpful; we like to see how bad others are because it can help us feel better about ourselves. I wonder just how much our conversation would change if we were truly thinking about the fact that we will give an account of our words one day. I know that it makes me reconsider what I have said (and may say down the road). A good rule of thumb to go by is Phil. 4:8, ‘Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things’.
The Ephesians passage describes how we ought to talk to one another. Paul uses phrases such as ‘walk worthy of the calling with which you were called’, ‘with…gentleness’, ‘bearing with one another in love’, ‘speaking the truth in love’, ‘speak truth’, ‘Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers’, and ‘be kind to one another’. I know I have been on the receiving end of phone calls (or emails) where parents have voiced their displeasure at what I had said or done (or what they thought I had said or done). The problem was that the call or email started off with accusations instead of questions. It is far easier to attack than to first inquire about what may or may not have happened. As every story has two sides (or more, depending on the number of participants), it is far wiser to find out the details of the event before reacting to it. Jumping to conclusions may be good exercise, but it is usually not helpful when trying to solve a problem.
Another problem when we speak is that we often do not think about who else can listen in when we speak. There is certainly a time and a place for having serious conversations. However, that does not mean that others who are not part of the conversation should be able to listen in. Parents, when talking to your child’s teacher, please make sure your children, unless they are a direct part of the conversation, cannot listen in. Please make sure that other parents or other children cannot listen in. It damages relationships to jump to conclusions and attack a person and have others standing around who witness the entire exchange. So often love, gentleness, kindness, graciousness, and edification are not adjectives that others would use about us when speak to or about them.
This is my appeal to all parents, students, board members, staff, and admin [me!]: we have a responsibility to watch our words when we talk to others and when we talk about others. May we be known for being gracious and kind, yet truthful, with our words.