Most of my regrets in life were either about something I said … or started with something I said that made things worse. If I had always been able to speak from where Jesus lives in my heart, my life would have been very different! I had this section in my Doctor of Ministry project on Communicating Spiritually at the end of the first seminar. The principles form a checklist that help us to communicate as Christians – not always easy given the temptations that surround us.
A. It is important to evaluate our behavior, particularly with regard to how we communicate with each other, so that the least harm and the greatest good might occur. Communication reveals our emotions and the state of our spirituality. (James 1:26, James 3:5-10, and Matthew 12:33-37).
B. Use this eight point checklist to evaluate what you say: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity (James 3:17).
C. Use this nine point checklist to evaluate how you say it: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
D. Be concerned about an adversarial spirit. Turning people against each other to form groups in opposition is a sign of gross spiritual immaturity, according to 1 Corinthians 1:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. When different sides appear and conflict develops, spiritual immaturity is always present.
E. Address anger before people lose their temper. As the “anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20), be aware of the presence of anger in yourself and others during discussion. Insist on a cooling off period if anger persists. People who are angry cannot hear what others are saying, so stop until calmness returns. Anger vented upon another person to control what they do or what they say is abusive and a sin against the commandment to love one another (John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7-8, and 1 Corinthians 13).
These four characteristics – what you say, how you say it, adversarial divisions, tempers lost – form an acronym that might make them easier to remember: WHAT.
Like John Wesley’s “going on to perfection” this may be more of a goal for us than an achievement. But it’s useful to remember James 3:2 on this subject: For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. I like the image that if you can control what you say, the rest is easy. Easy to say, harder to do, but a good place to begin!
Sources: thanks to Eric Wittman for the photo “Gossip Bench” courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons license – from http://www.flickr.com/photos/78693739@N00/38351363/