Thursday, June 12, 2014

Christian Communication

Speech is required to accomplish the work of Christ. But I truly wonder what work – if any – is being accomplished within the modern church, since true speech … honest speech … real spiritual communication … is almost non-existent.

Consider first the society in which we live. We are an aggressive people, prone to sarcasm, insults, argumentative rebuttal and fits of anger. Then consider today's church. A majority preach love and tolerance, yet the American spirit is much stronger within them than the Holy Spirit. Underneath a thin veneer of Christian love lies the real substance of their character … and it is not pretty.

How many times I have stood in a congregation's foyer listening to shallow conversations concerning weather, sports, politics, music, movies, travel, work and family. Supposedly such communication allows me to “get to know” a person, yet all I “know” after years of such discourse is that most people are interested primarily in themselves.

How often I have heard “church problems” discussed behind the closed doors of leadership meetings. Opinions flow freely, while the word of God remains closed. Polite discussion – when it does not get its way – often gives way to sarcastic insinuation, and sometimes even to angry debate.

Considering the Bible's reminder that “the tongue is a fire” (James 3:6), “a restless evil” and “full of deadly poison” (James 3:8) … and seeing much proof of that within both our society and our Christian congregations … one could wonder whether honest communication is even possible anymore.

How do I explain to a sinner the ramifications of his sin and his need for a Savior if his first instinct is to be insulted and angry? But wait! The same thing holds true if I want to discuss the Scriptures with a neighbor or co-worker, or teach a body of church members, or train a group of church leaders. For all the rhetoric that is spewed concerning love, tolerance and acceptance, the first instinct is still to become insulted and angry.

There is a simple two-fold answer … but it is difficult, because it flies in the face of the world in which we live. First, we must deny ourselves. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). This theme is then repeated within the apostles' doctrine. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; [4] do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

“Oh, our congregation is all about others!”
While I know you want that to be true, it's probably not. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. [21] For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:20-21).

If you want honest speech … genuine spiritual communication … then you must first fight against yourself and your own desires. Insults and sarcasm were never utilized by those filled with the Holy Spirit and “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). The Spirit insists, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [32] Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31).

“But it's so difficult ...”
Then work harder.

“But I can't ...”
Yes, you can.

“It's just the way I am.”
So in other words, you refuse to deny yourself? Even knowing what's at stake? After all, the Bible has made it clear that “those who practice such things … “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, [and] factions” … will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:20-21).

Self-denial, that's the number one prerequisite to real Christian communication. Then second, is “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). No Christian – or congregation – can “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,” without “speaking the truth in love.”

“Oh, but we do!”
No, I don't think you do. You see, Paul wasn't writing to pagans, but to Christians, saying, “laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).

In fact, isn't it interesting that the referenced epistle was written to the exact same people whose leaders were warned that “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; [30] and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30)?

“But our leaders would never do such a thing!”
Don't you think the Ephesian congregation said the same thing? Yet the apostle warned them not to be “carried about by every wind of doctrine.” He warned them about “the trickery of men” and of “craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). He preached to them of “laying aside falsehood” (Ephesians 4:25). He was inspired by the Spirit to write, “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, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Why would he write that, unless he knew it was a pressing need? Why would he warn them against “filthiness and silly talk, [and] coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:4)? Why would he say, “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (Ephesians 5:6)? Because these were real issues within a real congregation. And my guess is, these issues exist within your congregation … and your family … and you, as well. These are not words for the first century. These are words for every century.

If you want to see real change within yourself, then deny yourself. If you want honest communication within your congregation, then “SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.”

What does it mean to “speak truth”? Christ prayed to His Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Therefore, the word of God is our source for truth. Christian communication is not achieved by sharing our personal interests or opinions, but by “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19) … by “speaking the truth in love.”

The more we speak of God, the less we speak of ourselves. The more we consider His word, the less we consider those who are “speaking perverse things.” We cannot allow sarcasm, insults and anger to control us. If the Holy Spirit resides within us, then “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). And if such love controls us … if we remember that in Christ “we are members of one another” … then we will begin “speaking the truth in love,” which is exactly the kind of communication Christ wants within His kingdom.

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