What do you think of the power of speech? Do you think it has power to change our lives at all? We only need to think of some of the great speeches of the last century for this to be true. Millions have been won over by a word from people such as civil rights activist Martin Luther King, the 35th President of the United States of America John F. Kennedy, and Christian evangelist Billy Graham. I don’t even need to go into further detail about these people because you know what they are known for: great speeches they presented.
We can forget that our speech does have power, and power to change the course of history. Lives have been changed for good and for ill because of the power of the spoken word from our lips. This may sound a bit dramatic. But this cannot be closer to the truth. Our everyday relationships involve words. Some of our conversations are long, some of them are short. Some are meaningful, some are meaningless. Some thoughtful, some thoughtless. And it’s these last two things I would like to expand on here. This is because our speech comes under the idea of ‘holiness’. And our ‘holiness’ matters most to God.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul brings together this idea of ‘speech’ and ‘holiness’. In Ephesians 4:24, Paul urges the Ephesians to “…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” And it’s either side of this sentence that Paul describes what it’s like to ‘put on the new self’ in holiness. In the subsequent verses, Paul cites examples of holy action in response to the grace of God that are to be pursued day to day, and this includes things to do with speech. But it’s what comes earlier that also catch our attention.
In Ephesians 4:11, Paul teaches that God gives to the church people for certain roles. This is for the purpose of equipping the people of God for the work of ministry and building his church upward in maturity and outward in number. Maturity is earmarked as important, so that the people of God will be guarded against false doctrines and practices. And the process by which this all takes place is through speech. Paul continues by saying, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Eph. 4:15).
The above Scripture sentence gives me cause for joy, but also cause for trepidation. This is because I like the idea of ‘speaking the truth in love’ to others, but not receiving the truth in love myself, or put another way, some sort of correction about my life. To give you some kind of comparison, I find it difficult to receive feedback from anyone. I find it even more difficult when it comes to receiving correction about me. Have a think for the moment if you, like me, could find it difficult to receive correction about your life. If you’re anything like me, it would be difficult.
However, ‘speaking the truth in love’ is important. And it’s important to God and our relationship with him. This is because it’s a characteristic of people who have been washed and declared ‘holy’ by the blood of Jesus. It’s difficult to expose ourselves to correction, and to love others enough to correct them. And also to speak it in love, in a way that encourages others, not in a way that dissuades them from maturing in the knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I issue you a challenge today to expose yourself to correction and to love others enough to correct them – in a way that builds others up in Christ. The great thing about doing this with one another is that it is irresistibly good for those who embrace it. This is because when done rightly, we “…grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Eph. 4:15).
This can only be done with the power of God in us – by his Spirit, together with depending on God in prayer. What we pray to God for provides us with a glimpse of what matters most to us. I encourage you to pray to God about your holiness and our church’s holiness, specifically about what I’ve been writing to you about here. You may wish to pray to God now. Here is a prayer that may help you get started:
Dear Father. We thank you for showing us so clearly our need of holiness. And we praise you for providing it to us through the mercy of your son, and by the grace of your Holy Spirit. Please forgive us for valuing more highly lesser things than this. And please teach us to treasure holiness as you do, wanting it deeply for one another. Please make us a church that values truth and love, always together. For Christ’s sake, Amen.