THE ABIDING LIFE  



Think Before You Speak


By Gwen Sellers



Second Corinthians 10:3-5 says, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." Luke 6:45 says, "... out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." Recently I've realized just how true these words are. I've been especially reminded of the importance of taking my thoughts captive.

As seems to be a fairly regular occurrence for me, the reminder happened at small group. I commented on a kind act done for me by a co-worker, crediting his foreign nationality for his gentlemanly behavior. One of the men in my small group paused, looked at me, and asked me if I'd just said my co-worker was nice because he was foreign. Yes, indeed, that is what I'd implied. And it took me a little by surprise because it also implied that I think poorly of American men. But the thing is, I don't think that American men are unkind. In fact, the vast majority of men in my life seem to almost eagerly inconvenience themselves to serve others. Many times their example has challenged my own selfishness. When I've not wanted to go out of my way to serve a friend, I remind myself that any of the men in my small group would do it. And I want to rise to the occasion as well. So where was my comment coming from? If my experience of men is that they are kind and serving, why did I credit my co-worker's nationality for his kind act rather than his character? Why did I imply that he was an anomaly among men when my experience tells me otherwise?

I've also noticed the same thing in how I sometimes talk about "Christians" or "the church." It is no secret that the church and Christians blow it in a variety of ways on myriad things. One of the most obvious offenses is the way in which some of the church has historically handled issues of mental and emotional health. I bear some scars from this, but, again, it is not actually from my experience at my local church. The church I attend invites authenticity and, in my experience, responds well to need. So why do I sometimes continue to talk down about Christians?

I think several things are going on here. First, generalizations are largely unhelpful. Not every man is kind and self-sacrificing. Not every church functionally allows people to live unmasked. But not every man is unwilling to help. Not every church is concerned with a manufactured image. When I generalize, I do someone a disservice. When I talk as if American men are uncaring, I injure those who are not. When I talk as if all men are self-sacrificing, I injure those who have been abused or neglected. When I talk as if all churches communicate God's love perfectly, I injure those who have been deeply wounded by God's people. When I talk as if all churches are fake, I impede those that are not and possibly hinder someone from receiving the help they could.

It's the impeding thing that strikes me most. Perpetuating negative images means now not only do the men in my life have to fight against the usual things of our fallen natures to live as godly men, they also have to fight against my unwarranted negativity. Similarly the church not only has to fight against the traps of legalism or image management, it has to overcome my unnecessarily maintained negative stereotype. The sneaky thing about all this is the way it happens so naturally; I hadn't even noticed what I said and what it meant until someone called me on it. And it's not just that I'm clueless, though I admit sometimes that is the case; I think what's really going on is spiritual warfare. I pick up messages from culture (media, my friends, my family, things I read, etc.) — about the way men are, about the way Christians are, and the like. And, without even realizing it, I adopt them into my thoughts. Those messages then come out in my speech. That just causes the cycle to continue. Now not only am I believing the messages fed to me without actively examining them, I'm disseminating those same messages. The problem lies in that many of the messages are not true, and many are not edifying. So rather than speaking truth and encouraging people, as God calls me to, I end up spreading falsehoods
Spreading generalized stereotypes makes others have to fight to be known for who they aretweet
This is why it is important to take our thoughts captive. Rather than laugh at commercials that imply men are selfish or stupid or what have you, I should examine what the commercial is saying. I should compare it to the biblical standard for men and also to the men I experience in my own life. That way I can stand against false messages and support the men in my life. I can give them praise where it is due. When men are being godly, I should recognize it and thank them for it. Not pass it off as an anomaly. When I perpetuate the negative stereotypes, I cripple the men who are living well. The same with the church. I understand that Christians get it wrong a lot and I want to be compassionate and empathetic to those who have been deeply wounded when the church gets it wrong. The pain is so deep when other Christians hurt us because it is often wrapped up in our view of God. It feels like betrayal, like God has failed. But the truth of the matter is that He has not. He is loving, even when His people aren't. So rather than talk down about the church, I want to give praise where it is due. I want to point out when God's people act in line with His character. And when they don't, I want to remind us of who God really is.

Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." I want to learn to take my thoughts captive so I can make sure that what I am thinking is actually in line with truth. Then I want to focus on those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. When those things are in my heart, they will also flow out of my mouth. And, hopefully, my interactions will be in line with Ephesians 4:29: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."



Image Credit: Alain Bachellier; "suprise"; Creative Commons



TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Personal-Life  | Personal-Relationships



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Published 4-6-15