September 19, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4.29)
You never know who all is listening but you ought to know that God is always listening. With that, this teaching from the letter written to the community of faith in Ephesus ought to strike at the very heart, soul and mind of our discipleship. We do not think of “building up God” as something that we do or that God needs. And God doesn’t need building up since God is God. But, God is worthy and deserving of our praise. In our witness of words and deeds we are “building up the God experience” as in promoting the value and worth of the gospel which reveals the true love of God for all people. So, are there times when our “witness” isn’t “building up” God as in praising Him, loving Him and putting into practice the promotion of the gospel which may benefit those who are listening? We never know, sometimes, who is listening and what they hear in us and through us.
Matthew records the following from one of the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 18. 6-7), “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone hung around his/her neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world for the causes of sin. These stumbling blocks must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” One of those stumbling blocks is the unwholesome talk which is mentioned in Ephesians 4. We may pass off our talk as inconsequential and our vocabulary as harmless. But, even if we are the only person who is listening (God is always listening, remember), we are training ourselves by repetition to a default way of expressing ourselves that becomes a rote behavior. In that moment, when we are not being as intentional about our speaking (verbally or non-verbally), what we say we may not have intended to say. Someone who heard us may not understand what we said and interpreted it falsely. Worse, they may have interpreted it correctly and find affirmation in their weakness, or sin-state, of the flesh and thus of their spiritual understanding of being clothed in righteousness. We might think of the strategy best served in playing the game of Chess. The Chess masters do not consider their next move only but two or three or six moves in advance. They are strategic in what they do because they keep the goal in sight. What is their goal? Is it not to win the match even if it is a tie? But, for sure, they never play to lose. Why should we, mighty ones of God as disciples of Jesus the Christ? Are we thinking ahead as to what would be “heard” in our “unwholesome” talk? Are we anticipating the years down the road when even our children, having been trained up in the way we go, will find themselves at some critical juncture and need to respond appropriately?
I would go back to the word Paul uses for sin which, in Greek, is hamartia. It means “missing the mark.” The image that most easily describes it is that of an archer. As they pull the bow and bring back the arrow, they are also eyeing the target. They are not merely looking at the target as a general direction to shoot the arrow. They are not eyeing the target to hit somewhere on it (as many of us would be consider a great personal accomplishment). They are centering their sight on the bullseye, the heart of the target. But, if their aim is just a degree off then the arrow will land further away from the center depending on the distance from the target. For every degree off becomes a more significant distance from the original aim. No wonder we hear the legendary advice “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” You have to be in close proximity to do that and that miss would not be as good as a mile. But, if our unwholesome talk, which may seem harmless to us (but is it really), is heard by someone whose aim in life is further down the road than that parenthetical “mile,” how far from center will their arrow land? And what would be their possible response? I have a feeling it would be something like what we hear today such as: “No big deal, I meant to do that;” or “Oops, sorry, guess I wasn’t thinking;” or “It was just an accident;” or “What difference does it make anyway.”
And while I would love to spend some time reflecting on such “unwholesome talk,” my reflection on this presented passage of scripture is focused on that of yesterday’s consideration of “reasons to be thankful.” Yes, I am speaking of that “wholesome talk” which offers thanksgiving to God for the blessings we have received in our decision to be a disciple and follower of Jesus: the gospel of forgiveness, the gospel of chosen-ness, the gospel of purpose, the gospel of strengthening, the gospel of building up, the gospel of Jesus’ name, the gospel of right worship, the gospel of being clothed in righteousness. It is the gospel of true accountability which then is effective communication of the “way, truth and life” which Jesus makes possible for each of us. We need to be expert in making “love our aim.” Our words and actions ought to express our love for God and for one another in light of how we ourselves are loved by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Woe to those who grieve the Spirit and who wittingly and unwittingly (because they were not focused on the prize to begin with) put stumbling blocks in front of one of the “little” ones, the believers in Jesus as the Christ. Jesus did not limit the application of that teaching in Matthew 18 to chronologically-defined children. He was speaking in the spiritual terms of “children of God” of any age, at any moment, in any place for whatever reason. I suggest that if we spend our time practicing and producing wholesome talk, the presence of unwholesome talk will diminish and fade away. It will overshadow the unwholesome talk and thoughts of the world with the glory of God’s mercy, grace and love. It is something to consider as we take aim on our day to build up one another and honor God in all we say and do. And that is what we intend to do each day, right?
Father, may the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts and the works of our hands be acceptable in Your sight and good for the benefit of others. AMEN.