"Let your speech always be gracious seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."
I was born with a very sensitive heart. As a result, harsh words had the tendency to deeply wound me. I still remember my mom trying to comfort me by telling me old sayings she thought would help me not be so sensitive. Two of the sayings that stick out in my mind are, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," and "I am rubber and you are glue, what you say bounces off me and sticks to you." Sadly, I can remember my siblings and I passionately shouting the latter to each other as we spewed cruel words during childish arguments. Though my mom was well intentioned, I drew the conclusion that either Mom was wrong or something was wrong with me as words continued to hurt this sensitive heart.
After I became a believer, I found the Bible had a lot to say about words. In his Epistle, James points out that man can control a wild horse with a small bridle and sailing ships with a tiny rudder, yet has little control over the small muscle we call tongue. If we're honest, we must admit James tells the truth when he says we have a tendency to bless God with our mouths while tearing down those He created.
Sometimes biting words are direct, harsh, and judgmental. At times they are hidden behind false masks of sweetness, sounding almost appropriate. However, they still carry a punch that tears at the heart and causes confusion, leaving one to wonder if she really heard what she heard. Some words are left unspoken, leaving stone-cold silences and tense body language to convey that we don't honor another enough to communicate with him or her.
Being believers didn't automatically solve the sin problem with the tongue. I've been verbally assaulted by just as many believers as nonbelievers and I've been guilty of verbally assaulting others. Sadly, the wounds of Christian brothers and sisters tend to be wounds that run deep and fester ugly. A part of the reason for this is that when people seek counsel at church for verbal wounds, they are shamed for having not forgiven. Yet forgiveness in itself doesn't erase the pain being caused by hurtful words. Forgiveness is often pushed because someone doesn't want to listen and validate another's pain, because someone doesn't like confrontation, or because someone doesn't like to teach a new believer about finding their worth in Christ. After all, dealing with patterns of sin is always painful and messy and convicting. So, it's easier to just rewound and silence the hurting.
As I've spent time doing research on the internet, I've looked at the comments following articles to see how people respond to what they read. When an article covers a Christian topic or a believer, the comments of many nonbelievers are brutal towards believers. I expected this. However, what I didn't expect was the hatefulness of comments left by people who claim to be believers. The Bible makes it clear that we should expect nonbelievers to be hostile towards us. It also makes it clear that right now we aren't living in a Christian Kingdom. We're ambassadors in a fallen world, representing God to people who have no premise to understand us. If God's word is true, then we must expect persecution for speaking truth, for stating godly opinions, and for openly living out faith in a world that lives from a fallen, "me" perspective.
I find myself wondering if we, as believers, have always been so harsh and unloving when we share our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs or have we become even more harsh and hateful in this electronic age. After all, with the internet we have a certain amount of anonymity that allows us to be brutal without accountability. On line we don't see the immediate impact of our words on another's face. It allows us to be more sarcastic, more harsh, and more judgmental towards people we don't know. It allows us to speak truth, without pulling the logs out of our own eyes and dealing with our own sin. I am afraid we believers often come across as pious, unloving people.
I have also noticed that many believers are expressing frustration and anger that we are being criticized for expressing our opinions. I know in our country freedom of speech is supposed to be protected and we expect to be able to speak without being harassed. But we have to remember that as ambassadors our views will not be readily understood. More and more believers are complaining about being persecuted, and some people are definitely being persecuted. However, after reading some of the comments believers leave, I'm afraid that what some are claiming to be persecution is merely a backlash for ungodly words impulsively type during heated debates.
Several years ago when I was a volunteer youth leader, I gave a young lady a ride home. She had moved to California from the Bible belt and was such a sweet girl. I asked her how her day had gone and she began to tell me about a class discussion and the cruel things a young man had said to her because of the stand she had taken. I noticed that as she spoke tears began to roll down her face. I gently said, "What the student said to you, must have really hurt." She gently shook her head no and said, "These tears aren't for me! They are for him. He's so lost and doesn't even know it." I can't tell you how much her statement convicted me. She loved the guy with a godly love and she lovingly shared her faith in the face of his skepticism and disrespectful mocking. She was proactive, rather than reactive. She chose intentional words, not defensive ones.
Every time I read Colossians 4:6, I am reminded of my young friend. She was a beautiful blend of grace and salt that day. Her grace was exhibited by how she treated the people in the debate. Her grace was exhibited by her desire to look past their behavior to the fact that they didn't know God. Her grace was exhibited by her desire for them to hear the good news and accept Christ. Her grace was exhibited when she didn't back down from the conversation at school, willingly engaging even though she knew she would be ridiculed for her beliefs. Her grace was also evident in that even when others mistreated her she remained calm and nonjudgmental in her stance. Her ability to show grace under pressure stemmed from realistic, Bible-based expectations and an intimate understanding of the love and grace she herself had received from God.
My young friend's speech was also definitely seasoned with salt. The words she used were an offering of truth, a soul cleansing antiseptic. They were a an offering of words that had the potential to preserve lives. In addition, she was wisely sensitive to just how much salt her friends could tolerate. Some people, like myself, salt anything, including apples, melons, and caramel. Others use salt sparingly. for them a little salt goes a long ways. She realized that was true of her friends. With some she could share a lot of "salt" at a time and with others, she had to give it in more sparing doses for it to be tolerated long enough to be accepted. My friend also didn't get upset because her classmates didn't agree with her, she knew it was the Holy Spirit's job to convict them and to change their hearts. Nor did she get angry or feel insecure when others didn't agree with her, she simply quietly grieved the hardness of their hearts and their rejection of the God she loved.
My friend only lived here for one year and I felt honored to have had her in my life. It was convicting to see someone half my age understand God's calling on her life. But it was even more convicting to see someone so young understand her role as a believer and understand the importance of speaking the truth in such a loving way that both grace and salt were evident. Her understanding of her classmates was proof she not only spoke the truth, but she gave them the respect due them as image bearers. She had also given them the respect of actively listening to their words, helping her to know how to respond in ways that had the potential to draw them to the Lord.
To be honest, after that conversation with my young friend, I did some self reflection and had to do some confessing for the lack of control I had over my own tongue. I also learned from my young friend that I didn't have to take offense when someone calls me and other Christians hypocrites, ignorant fools, or judgmental bigots. I am not defined by their words. I am defined by what Christ did for me on the cross and what He has said of me in His Word. He has called me things like chosen, beloved, gracious, accepted, and gifted. When I believe these things I act out of who He defines me to be instead of my fleshly defensiveness. I know for myself that responding to my world with godly speech can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit and it can only be done when my love for others is bigger than my human pride, bigger than my desire to win arguments, and bigger than my desire to have others tell I am right.
The way I look at it, as a child of the King of kings I am privileged! But, with that privilege comes great responsibility and one of those responsibilities is to relate and to communicate in loving ways no matter what the circumstances. Am I perfect at it? NO! But, I believe I am improving and it is truly my hearts desire. Oh, that the Lord would give me a bigger filter so that my words would always be gracious and seasoned with salt that I might know how to how to respond to each person God brings into my life.