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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Vallejo

To Tear Down or Build Up

Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

The Bible has a lot to say about how we speak to one another. Words are powerful, and that is never more evident than when they are used to build someone up or tear someone down. Each of us at one time or another have been on the receiving end of a verbal take down, or we have been close to someone who has. Some of us can shrug off the cruel words of others, some of us cannot.

Regardless of who is on the receiving end of our speech, God makes it clear we are to examine our words closely and take account of the verbal wounds we inflict. Because of this He cautions us to pick our words wisely, even going so far as to label those who do not choose their words well as fools.

Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” This is never clearer than when taking a glance through social media. The minds and mouths of our online selves often demonstrate the worst of us. I have heard others ponder why that is, “People say things online they would never say in person.” Or “We can hide online so we get into fights on social media that we would never allow to happen if we could see someone’s face.” These statements felt believable in the past. I’m not sure they are true anymore.

It seems some of the particularly poisonous parts of us on the internets have wormed their way into our in-person reality. We are quick to speak and slow to listen, we talk too much and are reluctant to listen as others explain their opinions, thoughts, hurts, sorrows, or experiences. We project our fear of change and our absolute certainty of our rightness into our conversations. This is not love and is not Christlike.

The online feedback for our words we receive through social media is now what we expect in person. When we take down someone verbally for a perceived wrong opinion, that is not considered rude or bullying, it is considered “standing up for what’s right.” Winning an argument becomes the name of the game, convincing others of their backward opinions is what we are about.

There is no love of Jesus in our desire to “win” an argument, someone always loses when another wins.

Proverbs 18:2 “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

When did walking in righteousness turn into self-righteousness? When did it become okay to belittle others who do not think like us, believe like us or feel like us simply because we believe we are “in the right?” And I’m talking to us, Christians, Believers who love Jesus – who died so we have the freedom to NOT be as the world. A sinful world will always turn to self-righteousness quickly, do not be surprised when they do. But we are not supposed to look like the world - how can we be different when we do not behave differently?

Jesus’ death not only provides grace for eternity, but also frees Christians from the need to be perfect, to be right, to control others or to make our lives here on earth fit our idea of heaven. It's our job to fight our tendency to walk in anger and personal rightness, and to instead use our supernatural resources of the Bible, Holy Spirit and God's church to walk in love and holiness.

James 1:19 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Choosing silence over voicing our displeasure is often a better path to take. Just taking a general temperature, and I may be off base here (not really :-)), but it seems we tend to move quickly to feelings of anger and distress when having conversations regarding systemic racism, sexuality, gender, politics, immigration, poverty, wealth, taxes, elections, vaccines, and the list goes on and on.

I'm not saying we do not have personal beliefs or opinions regarding these issues, let's face it, we have strong feelings about a great many things. What I am saying is we love others enough to both LISTEN and strive to UNDERSTAND their perspective because we care about them as a fellow image-bearer, a fellow human being. That has nothing to do with agreement and everything to do with our Biblical mandate to put others above ourselves. That will set us apart.

When we do not listen well, the temptation is to allow our emotions to become so involved in the conversation we run the risk of turning into the very bullies we are claiming to fight against. We seem to act on the assumption that a lack of sufficient passion indicates agreement. We beat ourselves up over not saying enough, when it is quite likely we are saying too much.

This need to speak our opinions loudly is not the gospel. This is not the identity of Christ's church. If we are not careful we find ourselves yelling more about what we are against rather than what we are for. Why?

Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I was talking with a group of counselors recently who said 80% of adolescents and college students now suffer from some form of a diagnosable anxiety. Pervasive fear and panic attacks are now a natural part of the existence of most teenagers. There are many reasons why this is the case, this blog cannot possibly do that topic justice. However, there is some work that can be done in the persons we have some control over - me, myself and I.

While we cannot control the world, we can lovingly influence those in our sphere. Having love and kindness as part of the rhythms of our conversation, even the hard ones, makes pointing others to a loving Savior who died for them a smaller leap. Asking someone to believe in a pure and good Savior while yelling at them about how much we can't stand the way they think is a much harder jump. I'm not saying it won't happen - God is God and can call anyone he wants - but He asks me to participate in bringing others to a loving faith in the one and only Savior. God asks me to chose His way, and not my own. This means putting aside anger and bitterness, and wrath and clamor and slander and malice (Ephesians 4:31).

Jesus died for me and he KNEW me before I was born, he knows the mess I am and the true depth of my need for him. Demonstrating that love to others ought always to be the purpose of my conversations (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29; 1 Timothy 4:12; Matthew 12:36)

Our kids are hearing us, listening to us (and yes, I’m including you and me in this, not just “the world”), and they are reading loud and clear the tone of our voice and our body language. Our expressions of anger, critique of our schools and our government, of our friends and our neighbors, go from us through the ears of our kids, and into their subconscious. I'm not saying there aren't things around us to raise our fears, our environment has always been and will always be worrisome and full of risks.

It is how we handle ourselves in the midst of trouble - that is our paramount concern. How do we explain and talk through the cares of this world with our children and friends?

Words hurt or heal, tear down or build up. God’s Word tells us where we ought to fall along that particular spectrum. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." For believers using words to build up rather that tear down is where God expects us to land. And he knows us, it is clearly some hard work he is asking us to do. But God gives us the tools we need, we just have to use them - the Bible, the Church and the Holy Spirit.

Just because it's hard, doesn't mean we don't push forward and intentionally work towards changing something about ourselves that keeps us from moving forward well as a Christ-follower. Here's to doing hard things!

Proverbs 14:9 “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”

Today's podcast is another Trends and Truth addition. We talk about some hard truths about the world we live in - this is a scary place. It's hard not to let our fear rule us. But we have hope and we have a Savior who died for us. Everything after that is just life. Let's live it well and start by loving others as Jesus first loved us. Thanks for reading and listening - we love y'all!

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