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I have not always spoken to people in the way that I should. In fact, one of my greatest sins and shortcomings as a man, a husband, a father, a friend, and a pastor is my sometimes harsh and ungentle use of my tongue. James writes, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. . . . No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6, 8).
God gives pastors and teachers the ability to communicate with their tongues, and, as is true of all God’s gifts, this gift can be used not only in positive ways but also in negative and sinful ways. Many pastors whom I know have admitted these same sins of the tongue. We pastors can encourage and edify, and we can also, to our own shame, discourage and tear down. We can be gentle and kind but sometimes harsh and hurtful. I have certainly met pastors who never seem to demonstrate the slightest harshness or unkindness. Usually they are older pastors who, from their own difficult experiences of unintentionally hurting others with their words, have learned to be gentler, kinder, and more gracious. It is certainly fitting that Paul in his Pastoral Epistles spoke of being gentle at least four times and called gentleness one of the qualifications for elders. Sadly, however, gentleness is often one of the most ignored and overlooked characteristics in the Christian life.
Elders, deacons, teachers, and all Christians are called to communicate with others in a charitable, gentle, and loving way. At the same time, we are called to speak the truth and to tell people hard things that they sometimes don’t want to hear. We are called to admonish, and we are commanded to go to our brother when he has sinned against us that he might have the opportunity to repent. Parents are called to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Pastors are called to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. We are all called to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Nevertheless, we must never forget that we are also called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, speak the truth in love, and rebuke with patience. As Christians, we engage with other Christians in all of life, and as we do, we must strive to be humble, gentle, honest, and gracious. When we fail, we must be quick to repent, and we must all be quick to forgive and restore as we live in light of the gracious truth of the gospel coram Deo, before the face of God.