Talk is…

Proverbs 10:19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.

Matthew 12:37

By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

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Several years ago I had the great blessing of connecting with a group of black pastors. The town in southeast Arkansas in which we lived had become a near powder keg of racial tension. The two ministerial alliance groups in town – one black and the other white – decided that we needed to meet together and work toward racial understanding and harmony. One particular conversation lives on in my mind all these years later.

One of the black pastors asked if he could listen to one of my sermons. I obliged, giving him one of what I thought to be my best. (The reader will know where this is going!). When he returned it, he said, “So that’s how you preach.” What he kindly didn’t say was, “That was really boring and flat.” If you have ever heard a black pastor preach, you’ll understand: they bring it! A good black pastor will engage you, challenge you, bless you, bring you to tears and make you shout “Amen!” Their cadence, tone, alliteration, and emotional gravitas makes the word come alive. That’s not how I preach.

On the other hand, some consider a more restrained style to be preferable. No fluff, spin, slick tricks, or silver tongues are necessary for them. In fact, sometimes too many words, too much rhetoric, emotions too strongly expressed belie a less strong truth or an ulterior motive.

Words matter to God. Too many words are all too often tools of obfuscation rather than communication. Wise people are often the least vocal. The fuller context of Jesus’ words above reveal a powerful warning and challenge:

Matthew 12:34b-37

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Talk may be cheap. But our words can show what is in our hearts and express a truth about the presence of Christ or his absence. My prayer: May the Holy Spirit fill your hearts so that Christ reigns there by his grace. And when you discover that you have cast him off his rightful throne, repent and believe the Good News: Jesus forgives and his reign is one of grace and goodness. Then speak words of grace and truth centered in Jesus Christ.

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