The Art of Christian Conversation
Good News Magazine
August 1984
Volume: VOL. XXXI, NO. 7
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The Art of Christian Conversation
Marc Segall  

Jesus Christ said, "By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:37). Just how will God judge your words?

   If someone were to describe the type of conversationalist you are, would he use the words tactful, kind and considerate?
   Or would he be inclined to say blunt, sarcastic and intimidating?
   "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," as Solomon so poignantly put it (Proverbs 18:21).
   Spoken with thought and care, our words can produce lasting, beneficial results. But spoken carelessly, they bring harmful consequences and tragic misunderstandings. We need to stop and evaluate the care we take in ordinary conversation.
   The dictionary defines conversation as "informal talk, often spontaneous in nature." How responsible are we for this everyday type of conversing?.
   Jesus Christ provides the answer: "For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). It obviously behooves us to be aware of what we say in our conversations.
   "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things" (verse 35). This implies that we should become skilled artisans in producing the verbal "good things" to which the Word of God refers.

"A word fitly spoken"

   The ability to say the right thing at the right time has great value. As Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." All of us have experienced that sense of satisfaction that comes when we respond in a mature and fitting manner (Proverbs 15:23).
   One way we can use words that are not "fitly spoken" is by using too many of them. If you tend to talk too much or are over-abundantly blessed with the "gift of gab," you should remember Proverbs 10:19: "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise."
   The more we "gab," the easier it is to say the wrong things. We all need to develop the habit of considering what we should say and how much we should say before we open our mouths.
   Another way we can converse in words that are not "fitly spoken" is by responding prematurely. Do we really listen to what other people say, or are we too busy trying to butt in with a response? Do we even let them finish?
   Consider soberly what the Bible says about this: "He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13).
   The old saying "look before you leap" could be modified to "listen and think carefully before you speak." How many misunderstandings and hurt feelings would be avoided if this principle were diligently practiced?

Avoid put-downs

   All of us have winced under the sting of barbed sarcasm or humiliating insults. Even so, many of us still think there is something really funny about sarcastically pointing out the faults of others.
   Some stage comedians revel in the sport of sardonic put-downs. Laughing at someone else's faults is a way of putting ourselves up. But there is really nothing funny about this kind of "humor."
   Some people make fun of themselves. It's good to be able to laugh at yourself, but constant self-deprecation can be dangerous. Jesus commanded, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Verbally belittling yourself or others is not fitting for any Christian.
   There's an old saying, "Charity begins at home." The place to begin practicing verbal love is with our families. Paul wrote, "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (I Timothy 5:8).
   What our families need as much as, if not more than, food and shelter, is love, a right self-image and an adequate diet of verbal support and praise. Communication that tears down, such as is described in Colossians 3:8, has no place in the Christian home.
   And, parents, the example of godly conversations must come from the top down, starting with you. If your children hear verbal courtesy and thoughtfulness, they will learn to speak respectfully, too. Verbal kindness is contagious, but, unfortunately, so is verbal cruelty.
   It is tragic to hear someone say to his mate, child or friend: "What a dumbbell you are! Don't you have any brains?"
   Children look to their parents as authorities, and if a trusted daddy or mommy says "Johnny is so clumsy — he's always spilling things!" or "Mary is so slow — it takes her forever to learn something!" Johnny and Mary will believe and accept that they were born clumsy or stupid and are doomed to remain that way.
   On the other hand, if a child happens to overhear a parent's praise ("Johnny is really a fast runner! He won a footrace at school today!"), the child really believes he has a strength and works all the harder to develop it. For better or worse, children's mental health arid self-image depend on their parents to a great extent.
   Cutting remarks only tear down the hearers. God's Word is clear on this point: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29).
   Simply by following the principle of refusing to humiliate others in our conversation, we can add hope and encouragement to the hungry ears of our listeners. Our conversations and off-the-cuff words can be opportunities to practice love (I Corinthians 13).

The Third Commandment and euphemisms

   So often today we hear the name of God used in empty, flippant ways. Whether in movie dialogue or casual exclamations, the holy names of the Father and Jesus Christ are tossed around with utter disregard.
   The Third Commandment tells us not to use the name of God in vain. Notice the warning that goes with this vital law: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7). Yet many well-meaning people, out of ignorance, use God's name in euphemisms.
   A euphemism is defined as an inoffensive term substituted for one considered offensively explicit or unpleasant.
   Many sincere people would never use Jesus' name to exclaim their disgust when they make a mistake. But they will instead say something like "gee-whiz" or just a shortened exclamation like "geez" or "gee," not understanding it as a euphemism for "Jesus."
   Similarly, many know that it is wrong to use the name of God in shock or anger, but they will quickly say "golly," or "gosh." Even though an "inoffensive" term is used, because it is used as a substitute to sound like the name of God, it should not be said.
   All too often, people in this society use the name of God along with a condemning verb that sounds horribly profane. Others wouldn't use that blasphemous epithet, yet are overheard saying "goldarnit" and similar phrases. Since this type of term is a euphemism of God's name and a wish that God would condemn, we should avoid using it.
   As Leviticus 19:12 says, "You shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord."
   Speaking of swearing, notice Jesus' instruction: "Do not swear at all: neither by heaven [expressions like "for heaven's sake" or "my heavens"], for it is God's throne; nor by the earth ["land's sake" or "my lands"], for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:34-37).
   Jesus made it clear: Swearing in any form, but especially using God's name or His creation, is wrong. It cheapens and detracts from the importance and the meaning of God and the works of His hands.
   When you are tempted to swear or use a euphemism for God's name, why not instead make an intelligent comment that does not blaspheme your Creator? Even in an official or public situation when asked to swear by God's name, or on the Bible, simply say, "I affirm this is the truth." Spoken by one with a reputation for honesty, a "yes" or "no" should be sufficient.

From the abundance of the heart

   Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34).
   The term heart refers to our inner thoughts and feelings. What we allow to enter our minds will eventually come out in some form of verbal expression. As Jesus asked the Pharisees, "How can you, being evil, speak good things?" (same verse).
   The books we read, the movies and television we watch and the music we listen to affect our daily thoughts and emotions. We need to be concerned about the thought-provoking, value-altering media we expose our minds to, because what we see and hear will affect our conversations.
   Our unprepared, spontaneous, idle words reveal aspects of our nature to our listeners (Philippians 4:7-8). They will affect our reputation, for better or for worse, and a good reputation is more precious than great wealth (Proverbs 22:1).
   We are told in I Corinthians 13:5 that love "thinks no evil." If our thoughts are tolerant, respectful and kind toward others, then our speech will reflect this. We do "say what we think," whether we mean to or not.
   Our words portray the real you and the real me. They express what type of self-control and character we have, and so will also affect our future: "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:37).
   The Bible teaches that we can qualify to rule under Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God (Luke 19:17, Matthew 25:21). One of the main ways we can begin to qualify is by learning to control our thoughts and the conversations those thoughts trigger.
   Proverbs 16:32 states, "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city."
   The art of conversation takes determined effort to develop. But the Bible, especially the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, is replete with instruction and examples of how we should and should not use our tongues.
   And mastering the art of Christian conversation is a vital ingredient in our quest to become mature Christians: "If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect ["mature," Rheims translation] man, able also to bridle the whole body" (James 3:2).

Words! Words! Words! by Jack R Elliott

   We have all grown up in a world that places little value on a person's word.
   People say things that aren't true, make promises they do not intend to keep, say cutting things designed to hurt and belittle.
   The attitude seems to be summed up in the expression, "Talk is cheap."
   But is it?
   When God spoke, mountains arose and the covering seas were pushed back from the land throughout the world. When God spoke, plant, fish, bird and animal life was created upon the earth. When God spoke, humanity came into existence.
   When God speaks in judgment, He speaks with a sharp, two-edged sword (Revelation 1:16, 2:12), clearly distinguishing between good and evil works. That sword is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
   Hebrews 4:12 explains: "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
   If words are so powerful and so important to God, should not they also be important to us?
   With words we give answer to our accusers, discover and reveal error, admonish relatives and friends to avoid evil, reward loved ones and praise our Creator.
   Those in positions of responsibility and authority make rules, reward achievers and punish the slothful — all with words.
   Also with words, God's Church proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Cutting words

   Our words can be sharp. They are capable of cutting to the heart of a matter. With God's guidance we can use words to promote good and avoid evil, but if we are malicious or careless in what we say, we err exceedingly and betray a trust our Creator places in everyone He calls.
   True Christians are often shocked by man's inhumanity to man, yet sometimes we speak words to one another that bear that same violent animosity.
   James asks: "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:1-2).
   In modern vernacular, people seek their own desires. Instead of turning to God for guidance as obedient children under His authority, people take matters into their own hands. When someone blocks their goals, they become frustrated and develop resentments and hatreds.
   David prayed, in Psalm 64:2-3: "Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked, from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity, who sharpen their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows - bitter words."
   Murder statistics from various nations reveal the shocking fact that most murders occur within the home.
   Certainly, most of us would not think of ourselves as capable of slashing our loved ones with a sharp sword or shooting them with arrows, but to chop someone up with bitter, hateful words is akin to assaulting him with a deadly weapon.
   Spiritual wounds, which may never heal, threaten the eternal lives of spiritual brothers and sisters just as certainly as fleshly wounds threaten their physical lives.
   Of course, if you're on the receiving end of these sharp swords and arrows, you cannot often change what others say about you. But the hurt that results from these stinging words may make you guard your own words more diligently.
   If you have been wounded by words, you must not risk your own salvation by allowing the wound to fester. If you even suspect that you harbor ill will toward anyone, pray that God will reveal it to you and grant you repentance in order to help you root out this contrary spirit. A root of bitterness can be spiritually fatal (Hebrews 12:15).

The spiritual mirror

   If you look into that mirror of righteousness, the Bible (James 1:23-25), and find yourself guilty of abusive words or irresponsibility with your tongue, what should you do?
   If you have been guilty of bitter words with your loved ones, or if you have indulged in gossip — that ugly practice of telling things about others that hurts their reputation or that keeps sins from being forgotten — or if you have used verbal knives against your competitors in business, what should you do?
   Ultimately all our sins are against God. Seek Him with a " broken and a contrite heart" as David did in the 51st Psalm, and He will forgive you: "Have mercy upon me, 0 God, according to Your loving-kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions" (Psalm 51:1, 17).

Repeated sins build habits

   Deeply established habits of gossip or misuse of the tongue cannot be broken with just a simple resolve to quit. You may need to fast and pray many times that God will not only forgive you but will help you to repent and to replace evil, destructive speech habits with wholesome, constructive ones.
   When God has answered your prayers and granted you repentance, you won't need reassurances; you will know by the change that has come over you. But you will need to keep vigilant. It is easy to slip back.
   You will also find yourself deeply concerned for those who might still be hurting from your actions — people who could be harboring ill feelings to their own detriment.
   Now you should follow the admonition Christ gave in Matthew 5:23-24: "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
   God will not accept your gift of prayer with this offense hanging over your head. It will affect your conscience until you do the right thing about it.
   But when you go, go to your brother solely to bind up that wound. Don't go to demonstrate what a good person you are or to try to justify what you did. Go with a pure, sincere, loving heart.
   Misused, our words can cut deep wounds, but spoken thoughtfully, sensitively and honestly, they can also go a long way toward healing those wounds and building better relationships.

Sabbath Talk by Marc Segall

   The whole subject of Christian conversation relates in no small way to God's holy Sabbath. A major aspect of keeping the Sabbath — an aspect we may seldom think of — concerns the type of conversation appropriate for this special time.
   If you are unsure of which day God has specifically set aside as His Sabbath or of exactly how He expects us to observe this day, read our free booklet, Which Day Is The Christian Sabbath?
   In Isaiah 58:13-14, God gives us special instruction on how to keep the Sabbath. Read these verses. They tell us not to t read our feet on the Sabbath day, which means that we aren't supposed to keep the Sabbath the way we choose to, but the way God says to.
   Part of God's instruction is that Christians should not be "speaking your own words" on that day. It becomes clear that there are some topics of conversation that are appropriate for the Sabbath day and others that are not.
   What topics are not appropriate? Remembering that the Sabbath day was created for humanity for rest, refreshing and drawing closer to the Creator (Mark 2:27, Exodus 20:10-11, 31:15-17) gives us direction.
   Conversations about all our problems on the job or other aspects of our work usually detract from the rest and peace of the seventh day. Dialogues about our investments, moneymaking projects or other business schemes are not fitting, either.
   What place does a discussion about the status of your favorite football team have on God's day of rest? These subjects can be discussed on the other six days of the week.
   Ask yourself, "Does this conversation have anything to do with the purpose or intent of the Sabbath?" If the answer is a clear "no," then it's time to steer the conversation toward topics more fitting for the day.
   What topics are these? The most obvious one is to discuss why you and your family appreciate the Sabbath.
   It's wonderful to be able to express your gratitude for the benefits of extra time to rest, pray, spend time with loved ones and be taught from God's Word.
   We can talk about God's plan and how thrilling it will be when all the earth is at rest during the coming reign of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God on earth (Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:6-9). It is beautiful in God's sight to see families speaking words of encouragement and gratitude to each other, especially on the Sabbath (Psalm 133:1).
   If we live with people who believe differently than we do, we at least can try to avoid stressful, argumentative subjects. We can speak positively (Philippians 4:8) and try to direct the conversation toward those areas that are mutually uplifting.
   When we are around people of like mind and faith, we can use the Sabbath as a prime time to talk about the exciting accomplishments of God's Church and the work it is doing. The conversation might naturally lead to a discussion of world events and how they relate to Bible prophecy (Luke 21:36, 12:37).
   What else can we talk about on the Sabbath day? How about the very subjects and topics covered in the pages of this magazine? Maybe we learned something that struck us as significant. If so, that would make a fine topic of Sabbath conversation. Various principles and tips on successful Christian living are often discussed in these articles. They can be woven into a lively discussion that will edify all who are listening (I Thessalonians 5:11).
   Malachi 3:16 states: "Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name."
   There is no better time for God-centered conversation than during the Sabbath. When God hears us not speaking our own words, but words fitting for a Holy Day, we are one big step closer to keeping the day the way God intended.

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Good News MagazineAugust 1984VOL. XXXI, NO. 7