Thursday, June 29, 2006

Keeping the Mouth Clean

For the past couple months, I have been posting on the importance of good communication and exploring ways to increase the effectiveness of our communication in both the marketplace and in ministry.

The Bible clearly teaches that a mouth that a clean mouth is essential for a leader.

James 3:11-12 captures this idea: "Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?...No, and you can't draw fresh water from a salty pool."

I distinctly remember a time when God impressed upon me that my effectiveness as a leader would be directly proportional to the extent to which I controlled my tongue. It was one of those inaudible but unmistakable voice of God moments: "If you watch your mouth, I will use you."

Unfortunately, there was no magic wand to wave over my mouth to completely clean it up and bring it under control. It's a discipline.

James 1:26 says, "If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself and your religion is worthless." In a previous leadership lesson, we examined what the book of James said about controlling the tongue-- being slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger. Today, we are going to put up some road signs to warn of specific mouth sins.

I have a tendency to dislike women's prayer meetings because I often find them to be more of a gossip session than a prayer session. How many times have you heard someone share something juicy in order "that we might better pray for them?"

We also have a tendency to think that gossip is relating events that are not true. News flash. Gossip is passing along any information that makes another person look bad. Let that sink in. One form of gossip is simply saying bad things about another person.

Many bad situations could be shortened or avoided altogether simply by refusing to talk badly about it. As Proverbs 26:26 explains, "Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down."

In fact, the writer of Proverbs was so concerned about the danger of gossip that he was cautious about being around anyone who talked too much: "A gossip tells secrets, so don't hang around with someone who talks too much."

Sometimes the best communication skill is biting down on the tongue, clamping shut the lips, and not talking at all.

Let's hold ourselves accountable as follows:
  • Refusing to speak badly of someone without a meaningful, redemptive reason for doing so
  • Stopping gossip when we hear it happening in our circles of conversation

Unguarded Talk
Psalm 141:3 says, "Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips." The second area we need to watch out for is unguarded talk.

Unguarded talk includes rash statements, ungodly speech, foolish talk, and the general spewing of careless words that have not been processed thoughtfully.

First of all, keeping the mouth clean involves watching the language that we use. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I want to challenge us a little on this issue. I think sometimes we use certain words in the interest of being cool, relevant, or just funny, but we are poisoning our mouths and spirits by allowing that junk to be a part of our vocabulary. At a minimum, it's the result of laziness in speech.

I don't want to fall into the trap of measuring spiritual maturity by using a narrow litmus test of how many "bad words" are used per day. But I do want to challenge us to be careful about what comes out of our mouths.

Consider Ephesians 4:29, "Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."

Additionally, unguarded talk is much more than a stray cuss word here or there; it also includes careless speech.

Disclaimer-- some of us process out loud. We need to "talk through" decisions and uncertainties with trusted friends. That's not what I'm referring to here. I am talking here about speech that is potentially harmful to ourselves and others that we let spill out of our mouths without any thought. It's unguarded.

Many times, the words that are most hurtful to us were spoken in a careless manner. They were not premeditated or intentionally meant for evil. They were careless, hurtful words that slipped out of someone's mouth without their giving it any thought. In fact, I think sometimes the words that have hurt us the most would not even be remembered by the person who said them.

I shudder to think how many times I have unintentionally hurt people by careless words.

Consider the following:

Proverbs 13:3 “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”

Matthew 12:36-37 “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Integrity and Honesty
Working on Capitol Hill, I was confronted every single day with decisions regarding honesty and integrity. There were definitely times when telling a small, white lie would have been much easier than telling the raw truth. But that small decision can have disastrous impacts down the road.

I was faced with a very difficult situation once, and one of the people in my office advised, "Just tell them..." The dot-dot-dot there represented a small white lie that would not have affected the outcome at all. It was basically a statement of professing ignorance. That split-second of decision felt like an eternity until the person said, "Oh, you wouldn't do that, would you?" On one hand, I felt like that was the highest compliment I could have been given. On the other hand, I was scared to realize how easy it would have been to just take the easy way out.

Truth is-- there is never an easy way out when it comes to your integrity.

What may seem like an easy way out in the midst of a difficult situation is actually an eroding force that will eventually chip away at your entire character.

Say what you mean. And mean what you say.

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:33-37).

Finally, we should avoid complaining, grumbling, and negativity. Philippians 2:14 says, "Do all things without complaining and disputing."

I think we waste a ridiculous amount of time complaining about stuff that we have no control over or no desire to help solve. Churches often miss their entire mission and ministry because they are infected with a complaining problem. There is a right way to complain and a wrong way to complain. The right way is to complain in a way that is solution-oriented and often involves being proactive about offering solutions. The wrong way to complain is to talk with others about something that we have no desire to take personal responsibility for or we talk more with other people about it than we talk to God about it.

We want to stay on-target and on-mission at NCC, so we ask our leaders to commit to unity and thoughtfull-ness in speech and attitude. One piece of the Leadership Covenant states, "I will protect the unity of National Community refusing to gossip or grumble."

Gossiping and grumbling is complaining the wrong way-- by abdicating personal responsibility and not committing the issue to prayer.

We don't like to talk about the topic of holiness, but we must face it because that is what God calls us to be. In 1 Peter 1:16, God challenges us, "Be holy, for I am holy."

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes of holiness:

"The destined end of man is not happiness, nor health, but holiness...The one thing that matters is whether a man will accept the God Who will make him holy." He goes on to state, "Never tolerate through sympathy with yourself or with others any practice that is not in keeping with a holy God. Holiness means unsullied walking with the feet, unsullied talking with the tongue, unsullied thinking with the mind - every detail of the life under the scrutiny of God. Holiness is not only what God gives me, but what I manifest that God has given me."

Ultimately, this is a holiness issue.

Let's make the following our prayer: "Though you probe my heart and examine me at night though you test me, you will find nothing;I have resolved that my mouth will not sin." (Psalm 17:3)


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