And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them.
Ephesians‬ ‭4:29‬ ‭TPT‬‬

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
James‬ ‭3:9-10‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

The Passion Translation of our Ephesian verse today uses the phrase “ugly or hateful” to describe undesirable words. In other translations we have “unwholesome” and “foul or abusive“. They all build a picture that Paul was trying to get across to his readers, that the words we use are important and that we need to make sure we use the right words, both in what we say and what we mean. He wasn’t the only New Testament writer who picked up on this theme. James, one of Jesus’ half-brothers, said much the same in our second verses today.

I walked past a group of men the other day, and their discussion about the war in Ukraine was interlaced with so many swear words that I quickly walked by. Hateful words cursing human beings. Seemingly the exact opposite of what Paul and James were writing about in their letters. But we don’t have to be using profanities for the words we say to still tick the “ugly or hateful” box. What about the times when we have run someone down. Perhaps a political leader we don’t like? Or our boss at work? The next door neighbour? In the process using words that are far from the definition of “words of grace”. James was quite right when he said that words from our mouths can at times be used and uttered in worship and praise of God but at other times can be destructive and offensive. 

So how does a 21st Century pilgrim only say words that are “beautiful gifts“? Holding our tongues when we hit a thumb with a hammer? Praying for our enemies not curse them? Cleaning up the words that come out of our mouths in a worldly workplace full of profanities and hate speech? And it doesn’t just end with our spoken words. If social media had been around in Paul and James’ days they would have included trolling and other negative posts in their teachings. Because God clearly was speaking through them and wants our “words of grace” to penetrate into this dark world with laser-sharp illumination. Showing a better way. A counter-cultural way.

It all boils down to our choices. We have a choice over what we say. We can react in anger and say things we will later regret, or we can hold our tongues, letting the feelings inside of us subside. Paul in Romans 12 wrote this, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”. 

In the verses in Romans 12, Paul exposed the importance of our thoughts. Someone once said, “What consumes your mind, controls your life.” I would develop this to say, “What consumes your mind, controls what you say”. There is a key for pilgrims in this sentence from Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” We must turn our backs on the worldliness around us, instead allowing God to work in our minds, bringing to bear more of His presence, bringing sanctification to our “little grey cells”. Then our speech will become less and less problematic. A sanctified mind will make the right choices and the right speech will result. What we say to others will be gracious and “beautiful gifts“. But all of this won’t happen overnight. God is in no hurry. He is gracious, loving and gentle. And as we learn more and more to turn to Him in times of stress what comes out of our mouths will be the voice of God, helping those around us.

Mere Mortals

I praise God for what He has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?”
Psalms‬ ‭56:10-11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Who hasn’t been concerned about what others think of them? So much of our societal life revolves around being accepted by others. In our families, our communities, our work places – in fact any place where we interface with others. Schools are terrible places for any child who dares to be different, whether they want to be or not. Conformity in dress code is mandated in most schools and non-conformity can lead to peer ridicule. The overweight or behaviourally different child can be cruelly mocked. In my school years I was a very sensitive child and that exposed me to mild bullying and other difficulties. And in our workplaces, the appraisal system demands that a senior person exposes what he or she thinks about a more junior member of their staff. In our communities, who hasn’t fallen into the trap of saying what they think of “the man down the road” or the lady two doors away?

David, though, is in a bubble, impervious to the thoughts and opinions of others. A bubble of trust in his loving God. He knows that God has made promises to him and his faith is such that he believes them all 100%. And that faith leads him to the astonishing statement that because of his trust in God he has no reason to be afraid. Of anything? I believe David totally trusted God with His life. Time and time again he had experienced God coming through for him, saving him in one calamity or another. He had reached the place where he could honestly say that his fellow human beings could not touch him in anything, not by any thought, word or deed. And his backstop, his bottom line, was the expectation that he would transition from this world to the next should his enemies overcome him, to be in God’s presence for ever.

So back to our question. Are we concerned about what others think of us? The First Century Roman church was counter-cultural in its day and suffered greatly from persecution because the early Christians dared to be different in following their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, gave some sound advice. Romans‬ ‭12:14-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬, “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” And by following Paul’s advice we can stand secure, having done our best to be acceptable to those around us. We can’t change what others think of us as we stand firm in God’s truths. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus informed His followers that they were to be salt and light in their world. Being so will possibly give us hassles as we promote God’s counter-cultural truths. Regarding our standing in people’s thoughts, we must never lose sight of the reality that the only opinion that matters is what God thinks of us. Speaking of which, the Bible is packed full of wonderful truths. Here are two verses that never cease to bless me. Psalm 17:8, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings”. And Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…” Wow! God thinks so much of me that He has written my name on His hands. What love! What a Saviour!

So we trust in our God. We praise Him and thank Him at every opportunity. Like David, we each live in a bubble of His love,  where “mere mortals” cannot touch us.