My culture tells me that my words are all about myself and that I have a right to express myself. But more is required of a Christian. We need to be aware of the power of our words to affect other people.The modest man is aware of the power of his words, so he chooses each one carefully, seeking to make each word an opportunity to bless and strengthen and build up. ~ Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel
Sometimes I wonder if my generation has lost the ability to discern what is appropriate in conversation. We often display a surprising lack of savvy concerning how to speak in a way that "fits the occasion" as it says in Ephesians 4:29. It's like our propriety radar was scrambled with the rise of facebook.
There are certain words that are private and other words that are public. I cringe to think of the times that I have said inappropriate things to a large number of people. These same things would have been appropriate if I was speaking with only one or two close friends, but they were not helpful or wise in the larger context. Private words in a public context are not modest. They are at best attention-getting and at worst injurious because others are almost always implicated in our personal lives.
I've always loved this observation by C.S. Lewis. He describes the demeanour and words of a humble person in his book Mere Christianity:
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
According to Lewis, humble people are aware of their flaws, but they do not constantly speak of them because they are not constantly thinking about themselves. They are content with their life and eager to take an interest in others.
Of course, we need people we can talk to when going through struggles and difficulty. People with whom we can be transparent and raw. Intimate friends, a pastor, a spouse or a counsellor can be helpful in these situations. But if the majority of our words are speaking of ourselves, we are missing the point of words. We are missing great opportunities to bless other people.
This craving for approval can only be satisfied in God's redeeming love for us. When we find our security and worth in Him our words cease to be controlled by other people's opinions, and we are freed to take a genuine interest in others.
Words affect other people. They have the power to build up or to tear down. They can burn down a forest or plant new seeds of hope.
I feel like I am still learning how to use my words. It takes time and effort to learn how to bless, strengthen and build others up. Thankfully, we don't need to be be charming and witty for God to use us. For those of us who often feel inadequate and "slow of speech" like Moses, we need to remember what God told him:
“Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”I am so thankful for treasured friends who have been gracious to me when I have spoken selfish and rash words. I am equally thankful for their generous, grace-giving words. I have often been blessed by the God-honouring words of brothers and sisters in Christ.