The Power in Our Words

As we all know, the words we use carry enormous power; for good or for evil.  And it is the topic of our next verse.  “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” Eph 4:29.

The word translated “unwholesome” here literally means “rotten”.  Speaking words that are rotten is speaking words that bring death, not life, to a given situation.  Rotten words bring discouragement, not joy to a spouse, child, or friend.  Speaking words that are rotten bring shame and insult instead of respect and appreciation to those under our influence.

Our five children are all grown and married.  Some of them now have children of their own.  They live all over the country from Colorado Springs to Boston to Houston to Dallas to Aledo, Texas.  I point this out because even at these great distances, they are a very loyal company of brothers and sisters.  And I trace that loyalty straight back to their mom.

When our children were growing up, Rhonda had – and still has – an incredible instinct for seeing the road ahead.  And one of the insights she zeroed in on was that sibling rivalry would be a killer to the family loyalty we sought to develop.  So we worked on a plan to minimize sibling rivalry.  Our goal was to go beyond just teaching our kids to “get along”.  We wanted to stretch them to the next level of actually enjoying and being an encouragement to each other.

At the heart of this effort were the words Rhonda taught our children to use in their everyday interactions with each other.  They simply were not allowed to use words of insult, words of hate, words that were dismissive, or words of oppression over each other.

The reward for this focus has been a loyal and connected family even into our kid’s adult years.  The brothers and sisters truly love each other.  Even with their new locations and varying family needs and situations, they miss each other when one is away from a gathering.  We humbly recognize that this loyalty, and unity, and love is a clear gift from God.  But as parents who lead, God uses our efforts to contribute to the outcome.

Now all of this focus and instruction on how our kids were allowed to talk to each other would have fallen on deaf ears if Rhonda and I did not practice what we preached.  We were careful in our own words to be affirming and life-giving.  Rhonda in particular as the one at home was such an influence  with her words.  And these words of edification did not go unnoticed by our kids.

Recently two of our children were at Annie’s house in Aledo for a random visit.  They sent their mom a selfie of the three of them with big smiles on their faces.  The accompanying text was a thank you for something specific that Rhonda had taught them growing up.  For them to take the time to acknowledge Rhonda’s gift to them from years ago was a beautiful reward for her earlier investment in them.

Now, there were times when Rhonda or I chose hurtful words in anger.  When we did, we admitted it and expressed apologies to each other or to our children.  The offense was talked about and forgiven.  Even this was part of teaching our kids that our words matter.

We have just scratched the surface of the power and joy hidden in the words of this verse about our speech.  We will explore some other aspects of words that edify next time.

Working to Share

“Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need” (Eph 4:28).  For quite some time, this verse has informed my approach to work.

Through our work, God has given us both the opportunity and the responsibility to redirect wealth from the world’s system to God’s kingdom.  That is, one of the purposes in earning money through our work is to reinvest our earnings into the needs of those around us.  Have you ever thought about work that way?  This is literally “laboring, performing what is good, in order to have something to share with the one who has a need.”

What does this look like in action?  On the work side, it behooves us to do our work with excellence.  Of course, we are not always promised higher pay for better work.  But generally speaking, excellence in our work will lead to greater income.  Likewise, as much as we have influence over it, we should not sell ourselves short; giving our services away for less than they are worth.  Again, we do not always have control over this, but there is no error in seeking our highest income potential.

Because, as the Bible makes clear in several passages and parables, we are not working to just accumulate for our own comfort.  Accumulating wealth for accumulating sake is never condoned.  Building bigger barns to hoard our wealth is a great foolishness to quote our Savior.  So aspiring to greater income only has value as we share the results generously.

This leads to the sharing side of the equation; a side that is just as important, or more so, than the earning side.  And this sharing side can take many forms.

It may be what is thought of as traditional philanthropic giving to church ministry or missions or meeting social needs.  But it may also be meeting practical needs for our family and friends.  Giving an extended family member a car.  Buying groceries for your neighbor who is between jobs.  Absorbing the cost of hospitality in your home.  Acts of kindness and generosity, large or small, all fit into this category of redirecting wealth from the world’s system to God’s kingdom.

And God’s kingdom is also right there in your immediate family.  It may be helping your adult child buy a car to allow them to get back and forth to their new job.  It may be paying for college or specialized training for your teenager.  It may even be remodeling your kitchen to raise the joy factor in your home.  There is so much variety available to us to reinvest in people with our work earnings.

I just want to emphasize again that “sharing with him who has need” is as variable as the people God has brought into our lives.  It is as creative as you can conceive it to be.  It is most of all an attitude of generosity.  And it is a great motivator to go to work and “labor so that we have something to share”.

Steal No Longer

The next topic that Paul addresses in what the new nature looks like is stealing, working, and sharing.  “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need” (Eph 4:28).

Paul is very blunt in his instruction here at the start of this verse.  If stealing has been a challenge for you, stop doing it.  Even though we know that spiritual growth is a process, it is interesting to me that Paul does not give a multi-step approach to stopping stealing.  Paul does not advocate a regimen of psychoanalysis to get at the root of your stealing problem.  Like lying (Eph 4:25) and anger (Eph 4:26) before it, he simply says to lay it aside.

Again, growing to spiritual maturity is a process.  But if we ignore all the “new” that changed inside us at our conversion, we can suppress some immediate help.  If we do not understand and acknowledge and tap into our “new creation”, the process becomes a slog, or a drudgery, or a self-effort exercise in sin management.  It is characterized by success and failure; pride and shame.

Yes, our human condition and frailty did not undergo a complete makeover at our salvation.  We still have our temptation and sin challenges.  But something inside you, something that accelerates your spiritual growth, DID CHANGE.  All these new accelerants:  Christ in you, the Holy Spirit inside, your new self with its new nature, the Word literally implanted in you, are available to help us “override” as it were our human condition and propensities.

I think Paul can be this direct about stopping these sins in their tracks because he is speaking in the context of putting on the new self with its new nature.  Paul is pointing out that stealing is foreign to who you now are.  Stealing does not fit who you are in Christ; it does not fit your new righteous nature.  Stealing is a sin.  Stealing is wrong.  So in keeping with your new identity in Christ, stop doing it.

Now Paul does not just leave us hanging with a call to stop stealing.  He adds a positive motivation to stop stealing.  He turns a positive corner and instructs us where to go instead of stealing.  Go to work.  Acquire the things you need and desire by earning it, not stealing it.

Work and the need to work to care for ourselves and our families is not a curse.  Work is a blessing.  It is a blessed opportunity not just to provide for our own needs, but as Paul continues in the verse, to provide for the needs of others as well.

Have you ever thought about this as a motivation to go to work?  Have you ever identified the ability to serve others through what you earn as a motivation to excel on your job?  This is something that is very personal to me and something I have considered often.  We will expand on this idea next post.

Quelling Our Anger

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph 4:26-27).  The next step in our new nature living is handling anger.  And right off the bat, these first two words, “Be angry”, can be confusing.  Is Paul saying, “Go ahead and get angry, just not to the point of sinning?”

No, a better translation would be, “When anger comes upon you, do not sin.”  The idea is that anger will come upon you; it’s inevitable to have angry feelings.  So the point here is that anger is a temptation, not a sin in and of itself.  When you feel your anger rising, you are being tempted.  The sin or not sin is related to what you do with your anger.

If you respond to the anger you feel with calm, with a measured response, with taking a step back to evaluate, you are overcoming the temptation.  But if we blow up, verbally attack, or strike our neighbor, our anger has pushed us into sin.  Even if we fail to attack, but are seething with hatred inside, we have fallen into sin.

Now an interesting point in verse 27 is that when we fall into sin with our anger, we give the devil an opportunity.  What opportunity have we given the devil?  The opportunity to do what he does best.  Satan is the accuser and our angry sin allows him to accuse away, “Is this really what a believer looks like?” becomes his mantra in our head.  When we fall into sin with our anger, we hear Satan’s accusing voice.  And we cower in shame.  And we lose faith that the new nature really has any power.

But resurrection power is just what the new nature has.  And by virtue of this power, your anger does not have to lead to sin.  Remember, anger comes about because of a blocked goal.  When our goals are blocked, we look for the “blocker”, the culprit who is thwarting our plans, our self-respect, our hopes and dreams.  And we are tempted to lash out at this person or situation that is causing our anger.

Faced with a blocked goal, we look for someone to blame.  Before Rhonda and I had a unified understanding of our radically different giftings and personalities, we often saw each other as goal blockers.  And it caused us to demonstrate angry reactions toward each other.  When we started to celebrate our differences and embrace the best of what we both brought to the table, not only did our anger lower, but our goals themselves came more into alignment.

Remember, feelings of anger are just a temptation.  Of course, Satan would like us to give into this temptation.  Because anger is one of the processes whereby Satan’s will, rather than God’s is accomplished.  Look at this powerful passage in the book of James, “But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:19-20).

The Bible again appeals to a motivation to do the right thing, and quell your anger.  Why?  First, “it does not accomplish the righteousness [the will] of God.”  And second, “It gives the devil an opportunity” to continue his effort to bury you under guilt and shame.  We defeat the enemy’s plans when we process our anger temptations properly.

And by the power of the new nature, we have the spiritual energy required to do just that.  To return a blessing for an insult; to dial down the angry response; to evaluate what goal exactly is being blocked, and what is God telling me in this.  It is all in front of us and just another snapshot of what living into the new nature looks like.

Truth-telling and the New Nature

Now that we are back in the saddle, let’s return to our series on “Ephesians and Your New Reality” in which we are examining how the new spiritual reality of our identity in Christ (Ephesians chapters 1-3) can become our physical reality; i.e. how can it become our daily experience (Ephesians chapters 4-6).  When we left the topic a few posts ago, the apostle Paul was just explaining how to leave our old self behind and put on the “new self, which in the likeness of God, has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

The rest of the book of Ephesians is focused on the specifics of living into our new selves.  Paul lays this out by reviewing what righteous behavior looks like informed by our new nature.  He starts in the very next verse with honesty.

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25).  While life will send us plenty of twists, turns, in-your-face complications, as well as subtle temptations, let’s start with this straightforward admonition.

When you face a fork in the road, a decision between lying and telling the truth, choose truth.  When a lie may be useful to smooth out a challenging situation, choose truth.  When your sales numbers are down and your boss is calling you for an update, choose truth.

Is it that simple?  Just choose truth?  No and yes.  No, we have enemies within (the flesh) and without (Satan and the world system) that can make “laying falsehood aside” a difficult path.  But there is also a yes; our new nature – empowered by the Christ within – that energizes our obedience.  Remember, our goal here is not to win a theological argument.  It is to find the power – not our willpower, but God’s resurrection power displayed in our new self – to make a thousand righteous choices.

And a beautiful piece of these New Testament admonitions is that they almost always come with a motivation.  We are to tell the truth, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because of lying’s detrimental effect on ourself and others.

First, Paul uses the motive of “lay aside the bad stuff and put on the good stuff” over and over in his letters to describe how we live into our new nature.  And he does that here with the instruction to “lay falsehood aside”.  We are to tell the truth because it is in our new nature to do so.  Lying does not fit your new identity, your new self, and needs to be laid aside.

Second, telling the truth builds up the body of Christ.  “We are members of each other” (Eph 4:25).  We are not islands where our personal sin and righteousness have no effect on those around us.  Truth telling and lying have tremendous consequence for how we connect as a body of believers.

If you cannot be trusted to tell the truth, you are going down a path of cutting off your chance to connect deeply with the body.  If you cry “wolf” too many times, you will not be believed.  If you lie about your accomplishments, any success of yours will be second-guessed.  If you are found to be a liar, your chance to influence others will disappear.  In short, you have burned the bridge of opportunity to connect and love and be loved in the body.  Truth telling is critical to maintaining a healthy and united community of faith.

Jesus is changing you from the inside out.  Lying is feeling more foreign to you as you mature in Him.  It is starting to feel as uncomfortable as that high school shirt that used to be your favorite, but that you have long since outgrown.  Lying gives you an uneasy, convicted feeling that something is not right, because it is foreign to your new identity in Christ.

Clothe yourself in honesty; in telling the truth.  It is not just for your own reputation, but a boost to your community of believers as well.  And by the Christ’s power, presence, and authority, you can do it; you can honor the Lord with your honesty.