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Ours is a loquacious age. Words travel toward us at warp speed, landing with such force and frequency as to dizzy us all.
Virtually every sector of society contributes to this surplus of words. News anchors breathlessly report the latest happenings, accompanied by their own spin on the facts. The internet has made everyone an expert, granting everyone a platform and a megaphone with which to speak. Social media is a never-ending stream of gossip, speculation, and shrill accusation.
In all this, there is precious little biblical influence, either in tone or content, on our public discourse. Yet, for the Christian, it’s hard to overstate the importance of our words or how we express them in our discourse.
In fact, Scripture speaks prophetically about the tongue, both prescriptively and descriptively, giving us words of counsel and words of warning. The Bible is replete with such references to the power of the tongue, both how it is to be used and what it reveals. We rightly conclude that every word is to be carefully weighed and cautiously spoken. Our discourse matters to God—it must matter to us too.
One of Scripture’s most salient passages on the believer’s discourse is Proverbs 27:5–6, which states: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” In short, verse 5 instructs us to speak words of biblical rebuke, whereas verse 6 encourages us to receive them. These two instructions are pointed, perhaps challenging your sensibilities or forcing you outside of your comfort zone.
Yet, for you to live a healthy Christian life and to enjoy healthy Christian community, you must practice both. To this end, consider four words of reflection from these verses to foster truly loving discourse.
First, speak the truth in love. The Apostle Paul issued these words of instruction to the church at Ephesus (Eph. 4:15). Yet, they are essential for us in modeling truly loving discourse. Note that there is peril in undercommunicating either truth or love. Truth without love may be harsh and will likely win no one. Love without truth is mush and will win them to nothing helpful. The goal of confrontation is restoration, not alienation. Truly loving discourse works toward that end. Moreover, you should ask yourself if you’re equipped to receive such counsel. Do your spouse, friends, minister, or colleagues sense such an openness from you? Cultivate it in yourself just as you desire it in others.
Second, root out passive-aggressive behavior. Passive aggressiveness imperils Christian communities. Families, churches, and Christian institutions collapse under its weight. Accumulated grievances and festering conflicts bring about a relational frigidness that will persist until an eruption occurs. Truly loving discourse actually engages in discourse, not insinuation or subtlety.
Third, be willing to confront sin. Proverbs 27:5–6 speaks precisely to this point, both in confronting and receiving confrontation. It is always right to warn the sinner of his ways—doubly so if he is a loved one. This is why Jesus instituted church discipline in Matthew 18. James 5:20 reminds us, “Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Fourth, learn to pronounce the word “no.” For many Christians, pronouncing the word no doesn’t come naturally. Whether out of fear of disappointing others or a reluctance to be perceived in a negative light, many Christians simply can’t utter this word. However, a sign of Christian maturity is developing this ability. Invariably, loved ones will embark on a hazardous path or contemplate a dangerous decision. Your ability to lovingly pronounce the word no might be their salvation.
Last, remember, as Jesus said, the tongue speaks from the overflow of the heart (Luke 6:45). These verses remind us that our discourse—even our willingness to lovingly confront—indicates deeper spiritual realities within us. Thus, to practice truly loving discourse, you don’t need a more polished or polite tongue; you need a redeemed one.