Are we hearing only part of what
the Spirit has revealed about Christ?
A few years ago, it was rather popular for Christian youth to be wearing clothes and trinkets with the initials “WWJD”, meaning “What would Jesus do?” Like most modern fads, it was short-lived. Hopefully, it at least was used by God to get some people to think seriously about how authentic their relationship to Jesus actually was. “How can you call yourself a follower of Christ, if you fail to follow him?” is always a legitimate question.
When we focus on communicating like Jesus, it would be very easy to construct whatever model of “talking like Jesus” one desired by a selective citation of a few texts from the Gospels. Join that defective method with a couple emotionally charged illustrations, and you have a ready made heresy.
For example, we could turn to Matthew 15 and paint an anti-religious establishment Jesus. That would sound very appealing to “they like Jesus but not the church so we worship in nature” crowd.
Or we could read the last part of Luke 8 to emphasize the compassionate speech of Jesus. That approach would endear us to those who want a therapeutic Jesus.
Or John 6 would be an excellent introduction to Jesus the theologian, valiantly standing for truth as the crowds walk away. The folks in the institutional, confessional church model like that one.
Or perhaps we should open our Bibles to Mark 13 to hear the prophetic Jesus, since in troubled times people want to hear of escape from the turmoil of life. Many escapist Christians love to hear about prophecy above all other things.
But then what would we do with Matthew 23? Oh, have you never read it? Should we model our speech after the way he speaks there: “woe to you”? The “angry Jesus clearing out the temple” model appeals to people angry about how their preferred view of culture is being ruined.
My point is that we must always be cautious when we approach the subject of talking or acting like Jesus. Are we hearing only part of what the Spirit has revealed about Christ that is being presented as the whole of what Jesus is and what we should be? The text before us presents a model of communication for talking like Jesus. However, let us remember that it is not all of what an authentic Christ-focused model is. In order to communicate like Jesus, we must draw from his full story, and not merely our preferred passages. Obviously, this could be material for a book. With the preceding caution in mind, let’s consider this idea. To speak like Jesus means to speak in a constructive manner.
When we speak like Jesus, we will rid our conversation of words that are destructive. As a general principle, we will seek to eliminate “unwholesome” talk (Ephesians 4:29). The Lord Jesus never engaged in unwholesome words. The apostle chose a colorful word. Consider a couple literal usages in the New Testament Scriptures. It is used of “spoiled fish” (Matthew 13:48) and of “decayed trees” or “rotten fruit” (Matthew 12:33). From the immediate context in Ephesians, we can find specific examples of unwholesome talk: falsehood (4:25), bitterness (4:31), shouting (4:31), slander (4:31), foolish talk (5:4), and impure or coarse jokes (5:4). A helpful exercise might be to journal the type of words that you use during a week. Write examples of unwholesome words on a sheet of paper, and then put check marks next to them when you know that you have used such words. The goal is a simple reality check for you. Or in your small group (you are in a small group, right?) discuss the subject of unwholesome words together. In what area does most of the group struggle? How can you help each other?
According to this text, we must take charge of eliminating unwholesome talk from the way we talk. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” is about as blunt and directive a command as any in the Bible. We must accept the Holy Spirit’s authority to order us to speak like Jesus. This is not a suggestion, if you want to be “nice”. It is of the essence of new covenant life. We should not minimize these sins of the tongue. “I say that when there is any loose and filthy talk, or talk tending to give liberty to evil, it is just as if speech was being used to poison men’s souls” (Calvin).
There is a better way. Maximize what Christ can do in you by the Holy Spirit. How does this happen? Use wholesome words to strengthen others. Since all followers of Christ are members of his spiritual body, we have an opportunity with the help of the Holy Spirit to be part of significant changes in the lives of others. Effective communication can be very powerful. The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:23-24 NIV).
When we speak like Jesus, we will be pursuing the proper goal or purpose of building up others.
Gospel-focused communication will be spiritually constructive. This agrees with the purpose of discipleship, that is, of teaching disciples (Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 12:7). God wants us to build up the body of believers. Talking like Jesus in constructive speech is part of your function in the spiritual body of Christ. The head (Christ) is sending out beneficial messages to each of his members, and we are to spread those beneficial messages to other members. This means we seek the improvement of the people of a local assembly (church) by the way we speak and what we speak. No sane contractor would seek to harm the building he was under contract to construct. Yet how many Christians pull others down by gossip, slander, cutting comments, or a simple lack of gentleness or compassion? And how few deliberately intend to help others improve spiritually, which is the point at hand? Building up one another rarely happens in a quick conversation on a Sunday morning. Such words can be constructive, but they are limited by time. Every Christian needs to be in a small group.
Constructive speech aims to build up, especially where the brother or sister in Christ has a need. What are some needs that we all have from time to time?
Rebuke (Galatians 2:14; Titus 1:13b)
Instruction (Acts 18:26)
Encouragement (Acts 11:23)
When we speak like Jesus, we will keep our words within some wise guidelines. The entire life of Jesus shows his use of wise words at all times. Will the way I am about to talk build up this person like Jesus does, or will it provoke sinful attitudes or responses? Here are some examples:
Is my communication sexually suggestive?
Sex is a normal part of life. God created it! But improper words can arouse desires that should not be. Talk about sexual matters wisely.
Is my communication inducing the other person to anger?
The point is to use some common sense to avoid words that are pushing the other person’s buttons.
Is my communication causing fear or doubts?
Don’t spread despair amid the general gloom! TV newscasters are paid to spread doom and gloom, but wise words lead people to confident expectation (hope) in God.
What benefits does this conversation intend to seek in the heart and life my brother or sister in Christ?
Have I thought this through before I speak? Actually what good will it do? To talk about some subjects with some people is an exercise in futility, because they do not what to listen or change. Consider Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 7:6). Can I turn this conversation in a spiritually profitable direction? Some cannot be, or it is not the time nor the place. We must use discernment; this requires skill. To what degree does this conversation display “true righteousness and holiness” (4:24)? Jesus our Lord used his words to teach about God the Father and to make us think with an eternal perspective. How are your words doing that?