Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Proverbs 29:20).
Biblical wisdom says there should be thought that proceeds words. Anytime we speak into a situation, careful consideration of what is said will lead to fitting words that give grace and refreshment to those who hear.
I have been studying in the book of Philemon which, among other things, is a God-inspired record of Paul speaking graciously into a potentially sticky situation. In looking at Paul’s introduction to his letter, we see three things we should remember when speaking to others.
Remember that Christ calls us to lay down our rights
Paul begins his letter by identifying himself as “a prisoner because of Christ Jesus.” He does this to remind Philemon that he is making his appeal as someone who has already laid down his rights and freedoms in order to be faithful to exalt Christ in his life.
The most fundamental calling of any Christian is to lay their lives aside in order give Jesus primacy (Luke 9:23). But often we speak toward one another based on personal right – what we think we have earned based on personal experience, accomplishment, position, and service.
How many times have we heard (or said) things like this? “I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning…” “I spent three hours cleaning this up and now you come…” “I have been coming to this church for 30 years…” All of those things are appeals to personal right, leaning on our own accolades to influence future behavior.
But our fundamental call is to make much of Christ. When we speak to others, the question is not, “What do I deserve? How should they treat me based on what I have earned?” The question is, “How do I speak and act in a way that points to Christ?”
Remember who a fellow Christian is
Paul then addresses Philemon and describes him with two words. The first is “beloved.” Paul expresses at the beginning of his appeal the deep affection he has for Philemon. If someone is a Christian brother or sister, our fundamental posture must be one of love. We may disagree sharply, but if someone is a brother or sister in Christ, we must disagree in love.
The second word Paul uses is “fellow-worker.” Christians are all fighting for the same side. We may not all agree but we are working toward the same end: to make disciples of all nations for the glory of God. We may disagree on how that should be done, even disagree strongly, but we must never forget that we are all heading in the same direction.
There is a big difference between being in a traffic jam and driving on the wrong side of the road. In a traffic jam, it can be frustrating and people seem to have different agendas and ways of getting where they need to go, but at the end of the day, we’re all trying to move in the same direction. Where we are really in trouble is if we are going somewhere and someone is coming at us full speed from the opposite way!
Remember the impact on the church as a whole
Though Paul’s letter is an appeal specifically to Philemon, in the introduction Paul lists two others, Apphia and Archippus, as well as the whole church that meets in Philemon’s house, as recipients as well. The decision that Philemon made concerning Paul’s appeal would be known and felt throughout the entire congregation.
We have to remember that sticky situations between believers very, very rarely affect just the people involved. There are always ripples that go out from every interaction. We cannot control whether or not there are ripples but we do have some measure of control over what kind of ripples are sent. Will we send ripples of cynicism, motive-assigning, accusation, second-guessing, and contention or will they be ripples of love, understanding, patience, hopeful, peace-making, and grace-filled unity? How we respond to a situation determines the ripples that go out.
Words spoken from thoughtful remembrance and consideration give grace to those who hear. May our words refresh the hearts others!