Today is week FIVE of a six week series on Encouragement. And one of the key verses is Eph 4:15. And it sums up the point of the series. It says we’re to be “SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, so we’ll, in all things, grow up into Christ.”
We’re not just to be speaking THE TRUTH. But speaking the truth IN LOVE. Which is what we’re focussing on TODAY. HOW to say what we say.
The REASON we speak, the MOTIVE, is because we LOVE the other person. We want their BEST. Which is, that they grow up in Christ. Whether they’re Christian or not. WHOEVER we talk to – our goal is to move them FURTHER ALONG THE ROAD TO CHRIST than they were before our conversation.
That’s WHY we speak.
But the WAY we speak also to be in love. Our MANNER is to be loving. We’re to treat people the way we want to be treated.
It’s all very well having the right things to SAY to encourage people. But if you don’t say them in THE RIGHT WAY, they’ll be useless. In fact, they’ll be WORSE than useless. They can DO DAMAGE.
Consider this example from the Bible study DVD. (Conversational blooper 3)
On the surface at least, everything he SAID was truth. Biblical. He was probably even WELL-MEANING. But he didn’t show much LOVE. At the very LEAST it was just a lack of WISDOM.
So how can we avoid that sort of conversation? Which is FAR from encouraging. Instead, how can we BUILD people up. Rather than TRIP them up?
The plan today is to bring together wisdom from A WHOLE RANGE of different Bible verses. Which we’ll move through fairly quickly. So, instead of Bible-flicking, we’ll have them on the screen.
We’ll look at some things to consider BEFORE you start speaking. And then some advice once you BEGIN to speak.
Before you speak
Pray for words and courage
First things first. BEFORE you speak. PRAY. VITAL. OBVIOUS. And yet we often FORGET it.
Paul was probably the best evangelist we’ve ever known, other than Jesus. But HE still wanted people to pray for him. Eph 6:19
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Paul wants prayer for WISDOM. That he’ll say the right words. More than that, he wants GOD’S words. Words that are POWERFUL TO CHANGE. Words that are right for the situation.
And he prays for COURAGE. He was ALREADY in chains. There were serious CONSEQUENCES for speaking up about Jesus. So he wanted COURAGE.
We can pray for the same sorts of things. For wisdom and courage. It doesn’t have to be a LONG prayer. It can just be a quick “arrow prayer” as you begin talking to someone. “Dear God, I want to show LOVE to this person. I want to build him up. Help me to be WISE. Give me the right WORDS. And give me COURAGE to speak.”
We’ll think more about praying NEXT week.
Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Second hint before we start speaking. James 1:19: Be quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s probably the best bit of advice I’ve learned. Us husbands learn a good lesson when we learn our wives often don’t need a SOLUTION to their problem. They need to be LISTENED to.
Lots of people I notice talk WAY too much. God gave you two ears and only one mouth FOR A REASON. To listen TWICE as much as you talk.
It’s too easy to jump in quickly and give advice before you’ve really understood where someone’s coming from. Listen WELL. Work HARD at it. Concentrate. Look at the person. Ask questions. Reflect back what they’re saying to make sure you’ve understood what they’re saying.
The more you know about the person, the better you know what to say. The more time you’ve got to think about how you’ll say it. The more time you’ve got to pray.
And when someone knows you’ve listened, they’re more likely to listen to what YOU’VE got to say.
Third piece of advice before you start talking. Romans 12:15. “Rejoice with those who rejoice. And weep with those who weep”.
Jesus partied when there was a party on. Life was worth CELEBRATING. God’s given us A WORLD full of good things to enjoy and give him thanks for. And we’re following Jesus when we enjoy people and food and experiences.
And when it comes to rejoicing with those who rejoice. Don’t be JEALOUS or ENVIOUS. Don’t be A WET BLANKET. Give hugs. Give congratulations at good news. Tell them how FANTASTIC the news is.
But Jesus also wept with those who wept. As Jesus saw the funeral mourners for his good friend Lazarus, Jn 11:35 tells us very simply “Jesus wept.” And he even knew how it would turn out. But love mourns with mourners.
A joy SHARED is a joy DOUBLED. And a problem SHARED is a problem HALVED. Show that you love the person by RECOGNISING the emotion they’re feeling. And feeling it too.
If someone shares bad news that knocks you for a six, and you don’t know what to say. Say THAT! “Oh no, that’s TERRIBLE news. I’m just knocked for a six. I don’t know WHAT to say!”
Mourn with those who mourn. Don’t dismiss it, or make light of it. Or give a quick, textbook answer. Often we do that because we feel uncomfortable.
And don’t COMPETE by sharing a BIGGER problem. That’s not EMPATHY, it’s THOUGHTLESSNESS. I’ve heard some SHOCKERS at hospital. Visitors sharing about gruesome operations they’ve heard of with the patient. Trying to make them feel better, but in reality they’re just not listening. And not mourning with the patient who’s mourning.
And show your weeping by offering PRACTICAL HELP. Share the load. Earn the right to speak. They won’t CARE what you KNOW until they KNOW that you CARE.
They’re all things to do before you even open your mouth. Pray. Listen. And weep with those who weep.
When you speak
Base everything you say on the gospel.
After you’ve DONE all those things. Only THEN should you speak. And the Bible’s got plenty of hints to give THEN, TOO.
Probably the BIG idea is to BASE EVERYTHING YOU SAY ON THE GOSPEL.
One passage that gets across that idea is Philippians 2:1-5. Everything – speaking, or doing, even our ATTITUDE – is done in RESPONSE to what Jesus has done for us. Based on the gospel.
2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
If WE’VE been shown grace, then we should RESPOND with a message of grace to OTHERS.
Basing what we say on the gospel means reminding people who’ve sinned that FORGIVENESS IS ALWAYS AVAILABLE. That no sin is too big. That no one can fall too far for God to lift him up.
It means reminding people who’re broken that Jesus came to HEAL broken people. That this world won’t ALWAYS be broken. That one day pain and mourning and tears will disappear. Defeated forever.
Basing what we say on the gospel means reminding people to be THANKFUL for what we have. That grace is never earned or deserved. That the Christian life is lived in RESPONSE to what Jesus has done, not to EARN his favour.
It means never writing someone off.
It means we’re never JUDGMENTAL or CONCEITED. Because we know WE’RE SINFUL AS WELL. It means serving unconditionally because that’s how Jesus treated US.
Christian really should be the LEAST judgmental of ALL people. Because we recognise we have a fundamental problem we can do nothing about. And yet, often, we’re the MOST judgmental.
If we’ve been shown GRACE, we should be GRACIOUS.
Base what we say on the gospel.
Next point is to keep the big things big, and the small things small. Matthew 6:33 says
33 But SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The context is that Jesus is teaching not to worry about food and drink and clothing. We could add not worrying about jobs, friends, parties, holidays, what colour curtains or doona covers to buy.
Sometimes as people talk about their worries, or about God’s guidance, the right thing will be to say, “Well the Bible doesn’t really talk about whether you should be a nurse or a gardener. It doesn’t talk about whether you should holiday in Australia or overseas. And it doesn’t talk about whether you should buy a red car or a green car. But it DOES talk about how God’s kingdom matters more than ANYTHING ELSE. Which job can you serve Jesus best in? Where can you build his kingdom on holidays? What’s the best KINGDOM use for your money?
I heard about a single lady who took an overseas holiday. Spent a lot of money. But she booked up half a dozen missionaries she knew in different countries to visit on the way. She spent a few days with each one, encouraging them. She had A GREAT time. And she encouraged friends who REALLY NEEDED it. She was about putting God’s kingdom FIRST.
Keep the big things BIG, and the small things SMALL.
Mt 18:15-20: Be considerate, firm, and transparent,
Third, if you HAVE to correct someone, be CONSIDERATE, FIRM, and TRANSPARENT.
I said earlier the best lesson I learned is to be quick to listen and slow to speak. That comes pretty EASILY for me. You don’t offend many people just by LISTENING. What’s HARDER is to CORRECT someone. To speak up and tell someone they’re continuing in unrepentant sin. And they need to CHANGE.
It’s difficult, I think, because I want to be LIKED by people. I don’t want to upset people, or for someone to be ANGRY with me. But that’s just plain selfishness and sin.
But if I genuinely LOVE someone. And I want them to grow in maturity. If I truly want to seek God’s kingdom FIRST. Then I’ll RISK it. Risk the abuse and the broken relationship. Because RESTORING someone is WORTH the risk.
Matthew 18:15 tells us how to go about it.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
FIRST UP, you go BY YOURSELF. That’s CONSIDERATE. It’s not making their sin a public thing. It’s giving them the chance to turn back IN A PRIVATE WAY. Hopefully, if you’ve done that prayerfully and lovingly and wisely – that will be the end of it.
But if there’s no change, you’re to be FIRM. Sin matters. Because you LOVE the person. It’s in THEIR BEST INTEREST to be corrected.
So this time, take one or two OTHERS along. Not gossips, or immature Christians. But people who are RESPECTED. People who can back you up, and make sure everything is done TRANSPARENTLY. That everything’s ABOVE BOARD.
And, especially if it’s a sin that been done TO YOU, they can be independent, and back up that you’re not just over-reacting. Or looking to get revenge.
Once again, hopefully, THAT will be the end of it. The person will respect the larger group. And come to his senses.
But if not, you need to step it up a notch. Make things PUBLIC. Take it to the WHOLE CHURCH. Which hardly sounds considerate. But you’re doing it because sin matters, and because you love the person.
And, once again, the hope is that THIS FINAL WARNING will do the trick. The person will recognise the love and the wisdom in numbers, and turn back.
But if the public announcement still has no effect, then you’re to treat him as a non-Christian. Which I don’t think means you ABANDON them. Write him off. It means you keep up CONTACT. Perhaps even make MORE contact. But you just don’t EXPECT Christian behaviour from them any more. Everything you’ve done has shown you this person isn’t LIVING like a Christian. And so your encouragement moves towards EVANGELISM instead. More important they recognise Jesus as Lord FIRST before they worry about BEHAVIOUR.
When we correct or rebuke people, be considerate, firm and transparent.
Galatians 6:1-5: Have soft hands, broad shoulders, and small heads.
Next, Galatians 6 adds a few extra points to this. We’re to have soft hands, broad shoulders, and small heads. Which would be a funny looking body. But it’s talking about attitudes and actions. Let me show you what I mean. V1. We’re to have SOFT HANDS.
6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should RESTORE HIM GENTLY.
The word for RESTORE is used for setting broken bones, or for mending nets. It’s about straightening up. About bringing back to full health. Turning them around to head in the right direction.
And we restore someone GENTLY. Being considerate for their feelings. Not harshly or publicly, or sarcastically or critically.
And don’t do it to GET EVEN either. If someone’s mentioned something about YOU, it’s not restoring gently to say. “Patience! Who are YOU to talk! You should have heard the way YOU talked to your kids last week!”
Have soft hands.
And have BROAD SHOULDERS. V2. Share their load. DON’T leave it between them and God. V2.
2 CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
It’s a BURDEN for that person to be walking in sin. You can HELP by ADDRESSING it. By taking responsibility for his godliness when perhaps he’s feeling too weak to do it himself.
It’s not EASY to do those things. To have broad shoulders and gentle hands. It takes an emotional commitment to KNOW someone well enough to address their sin, and to bear their burden.
And it takes TIME AND EFFORT to do that GENTLY. Easier just to flick off an email, or an SMS, or make a sharp comment. Much harder to take the time to LISTEN, and speak patiently. And then support and follow-up and pray.
Third, have a SMALL HEAD. Don’t be PROUD. The end of v1 says, “Watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”
Which COULD mean, when you point someone’s sin out to them, watch out or you may be tempted by the same sin they’re falling into. But I think the more LIKELY sin is the one of CONCEIT. Of JUDGING someone, and thinking you’re better than THEY are. Look at how it continues down in v3.
3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.
Sometimes it’s just BUSY-BODIES who point out people’s faults. Not because they want to restore people gently. But because it makes THEM feel better about themselves if they can point out the weaknesses of OTHERS.
There can be a finger-pointing LEGALISM about the way some Christians go about showing people their faults and mistakes.
But Paul says wise encouragers will test their own actions. They’ll have SMALL HEADS. They’ll take a good look at their MOTIVATIONS when it comes to correcting others. To make sure it’s out of LOVE, rather than PRIDE.
They’ll be concerned for their OWN responses and actions. Carry their OWN load when it comes to giving an account to God. And not try to improve God’s impression of them by comparison to anyone ELSE.
Don’t argue, trust God
And the FINAL point about how to say what we say to encourage is DON’T ARGUE, TRUST GOD.
Sometimes we can be SO SURE our opinion is right. SO SURE the person needs to take our advice. So committed. That we KEEP PUSHING. We PUSH and ARGUE and NAG.
The gospel is a message of GRACE. We drag it backwards if we’re UNGRACIOUS. No point winning the argument if you lose the friend.
Arguing and pushing the point forgets that it’s GOD’S words we’re communicating. They’ve got power to change people. God’s the one who does the work.
At SOME point, after all the prayer and grace and patience and love, and there’s STILL no change, we need to give up arguing, and give it over to God.
At SOME point, more arguing just becomes A LACK OF FAITH. Listen to the old man Paul’s wise counsel to the young Timothy. The fruit of a lifetime of experience. Some of Paul’s final words before he died. 2 Tim 2:24.
24 And the Lord’s servant MUST NOT QUARREL; instead, he must be KIND to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must GENTLY instruct, in the hope that GOD will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
It’s GOD who grants repentance. As he uses US, speaking his powerful words, to change people. To bring them to repentance. And grow them into Christ.
Go, and ENCOURAGE one another. Get off the bench. Get into the game. Take a risk.
SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE, so we’ll GROW UP in all things INTO HIM WHO IS THE HEAD, THAT IS, CHRIST. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, GROWS AND BUILDS itself up IN LOVE, as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.