The Presence of the Kingdom (7)
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear… 1 Peter 3.15
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Colossians 4.6
… we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—… Ephesians 4.14, 15
Ready to speak
It’s surprising how many times the Bible speaks about the use of the tongue. God understands the rich potential of words—He sent His own Word for our salvation—and He wants those He has called to His Kingdom and glory to reflect the presence of His Kingdom in their speech.
The reason we remain in this world, after all, is that we might be agents of the grace of God, sowing, distributing, and spreading the Good News of His grace to everyone for all of life. Grace is that divine disposition of favor—of lovingkindness—which God communicates to His people so that they may have the will, strength, and presence of soul to share His grace with others. For when the grace of God is flowing fast and freely, people are blessed, worship results, and God is glorified (2 Cor. 4.15).
Just as it is important that everything we are and do communicate the grace of God, so it is also with our speech. As the rule of King Jesus pervades and transforms our soul, that Presence will manifest itself in our words. But we must work at it. We must give all diligence to make our Kingdom calling sure by bridling our tongue and directing it in the ways of grace (Jms. 3.1-12). Paul says that our words must always be “with grace, seasoned with salt,” that is, with the purposes of Christ and His Kingdom.
This is a tall order and a difficult challenge, as James acknowledged. Nevertheless, we must devote ourselves to making sure that the words we use are effective means of conveying Kingdom grace to the people with whom we speak.
Guidelines for the tongue
Here is not the place for a full-blown exposition of the Bible’s teaching about the tongue. We can, however, note some parameters within which we may begin shaping our speech—all our speaking—for the Kingdom of God and His glory.
We should use our tongues to gather information—about the world, people and their interests and needs, the Lord and His will, and much more. Typically, the way to do this is to ask questions, lots of questions, and to listen carefully. Strange as it may seem, the first rule of gracious speech is sincere listening: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jms. 1.19). Being an attentive and sincere listener is like cutting a swath through the jungle. It creates a path along which conversations can develop and people can journey together.
As we’re listening, we should use our tongues to affirm and edify (Eph. 4.29). Here we must guard against mere flattery. Flattery is a form of deceit (Ps. 5.8-10). People know when they’re being flattered, and they know that some ulterior motive is driving that flattery, something not intended for their good but to benefit the person with whom they’re talking. Flattery is insincere praise, given out of mere self-interest. Affirmation is honest and admiring appreciation, and edifying speech aims at strengthening and encouraging others. Let our speech always be for edification, for then we will “impart grace to the hearers.”
A third general guideline obligates us always to speak truth with others and to do so in love, to show the love of Jesus in our speech. True speech reflects the teaching of Scripture and the character of Jesus Christ. Loving speech is not only affirming and edifying, but also thoughtful, appropriate, and true to God’s Word. We all remember Bambi’s friend Thumper recalling his mother’s advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” But speaking the truth in love goes far beyond this. If we can’t speak truthfully to or about others, and if we can’t do so as representatives and agents of the love of Jesus, then we had best simply hold our tongue until God gives us just the grace we need to speak truth in love.
Other appropriate uses of the tongue will accomplish the communication of grace if we use them within this framework: careful listening, ready affirmation, words of edification and encouragement, and speaking the truth in love. Those other uses include teaching (Col. 3.16), stimulating others to love and good works (Heb. 10.25), informing and explaining (Acts 17.16-31), reasoning about and proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 28.23), relating our own experience of grace (Acts 26.4-23), comforting and consoling (2 Cor. 1.4), confronting (Gal. 2.11). We must guard against all speech that is scurrilous, vulgar, misleading, gossipy, or merely vain. Friends will often enjoy times of banter, raillery, friendly jesting, story-telling, and other forms of bon mot; and as long as these are engaged in within the framework we have outlined, they can accomplish one or more of the ends of gracious speech.
Prayer and the tongue
How can we prepare to help ensure that our tongue will only ever be used as an instrument of grace and edification? Prayer is the place to bridle the tongue; and if we use the psalms to guide our prayers, then we’ll have the Word of God shaping our speech to God Himself, and this will help to discipline our tongue to spread the grace of God throughout our Personal Mission Field.
Pray often. Pray out loud. Pray the very words of a psalm, or paraphrase a psalm as you pray it. Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Not only will these help to shape your speech, but they appeal to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5.18-21), Who is the power for making our speech and all things reflect the Kingdom presence of Jesus Christ.
Commit your tongue to the Lord first thing every morning, asking Him to season your speech with grace. Think about the opportunities you will have during the day to use your tongue for the grace and Kingdom of God, and call on the Lord to make His Presence known in all your speech.
We must not allow our tongue to become captive to the temper of the times—self-interested, crude, hateful, bitter, deceitful, complaining, and mean-spirited. Our speech can be a powerful source of grace and the Kingdom presence in this world, but only if we give all diligence to use our speech as God intends.
1. How can you tell when your speech is being shaped more by the world than by the Word of God?
2. What can you do to improve how you use your tongue for the grace and Kingdom of the Lord?
3. Share the studies in this series with a friend. Encourage your friend to subscribe to ReVision (click here) and seek a greater “Kingdom Presence” with you.
Next steps—Preparation: Be sure to spend time in prayer at the beginning of each day, getting your tongue ready to serve the Kingdom purposes of Christ.
T. M. Moore
A companion study to this installment is entitled, “We Would See Jesus.” The four installments in that series are available free of charge by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study.