Here is a practice that keeps a minestrone from becoming burnt.
How do you talk about others — to others?
At Serenissima, we insist on talking positively about others — to others. We call this body-building. In this article, I’ve narrowed it down to 3 simple principles that make a big difference in the health of a church.
Watch What You Eat!
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:13-15 ESV)
In Galatians 5:15, Paul says to beware how we treat each other using three volatile verbs—biting, devouring, and consuming (destroying). The word devour literally means to eat down. And yes, you can chew somebody up and eat them down even when they are not present. It’s easy, “fast food” if you will.
The challenge of Paul comes from the two prior verses where Paul says, “…in love, serve one another.” (v.13b) And that’s the trouble, there’s no way that we can be lovingly serving one another and ungraciously gnawing on each other at the same time. The gnawing always wins and there’s very little to nothing left in the relationship. You know what I’m talking about if you’re picking something from the past out of your teeth right now. It takes more effort to resist taking the “occasion for our flesh” and serve others in love by what we say about them. I’ve been in church settings where the favorite pastime is cannibalism! And that, fratelli, is some unholy minestrone!
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)
Do you see that word, corrupting, there in verse 29? It literally means decay and rotting. It describes my chihuahua at home. She’s an old gal now with four, foul and ferocious teeth remaining. Those teeth are putting out a smell that is hundreds of times greater than her body size because of their decay. The speech used in this verse consists of similar, “stay-away” words because they deconstruct a person, a leader, or a group one small piece at a time. Talking negatively about other people cringes the nose of the Lord. Verse 30 says, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.” In the Old Testament, praise was offered to God through sweet-smelling incense that was savory to him. Today, we can offer praise to God through prayer, song, and the praise of his people around us.
If you’re not in Christian community with others, it might just be a sign that the breath of your heart is bad. A practice of Gospel community is both foot and mouth washing. True friends let you know when something stinks, and true believers don’t allow each other to spread it around. Therefore, Paul says the remedy is a fresh rinse of the heart that will produce words that build, and that are both fitting and gracious. We can be so radically simple and say — use words that are Christian. Here’s a description of the early Christians and their language:
The new language on the lips of Christians was the ‘language of love.’ But it was more than a language, it was a thing of power and action. The Christians really considered themselves brothers and sisters and their actions corresponded with this belief. – [A. Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, 1908, pg. 149]
Friendships and relationships in God’s family are qualitatively different from anywhere else. They are the work-out rooms and routines of redemption. In other words, in the King’s Gym no pain is good gain. God wants his words to be used — both toward and about others — to be worked-out in a redemptive way.
In their very good book on Relationships, Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp wrote richly about this principle:
Language is not a human invention to be used in whatever way serves our interests. If God is the first speaker, then language is his creation…Everything we will ever say belongs to him and should be used for his purposes… One of our greatest mistakes in communication is to take words as our own to use as we please… As sinners we want what we want when we want it, and we often see others as obstacles. We treat words as if they belong to us, to be used to get what we want… Instead, we are Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador does one thing only — represent. His job is to incarnate a king who is not present. Every word he speaks is directed by the king’s interests and will… What we say must be driven by what God is seeking to accomplish in us and in the other person… Here is the point: Your words are always in pursuit of some kind of kingdom. You are either speaking as a mini-king, seeking to establish your will in your relationships and circumstances; or you are speaking as an ambassador, seeking to be part of what the King is doing. There is no end to the battle of words when two mini-kings talk to each other! [excerpts from pages 71-74]