by John Crotts, Faith Bible Church
My wife once gathered with other young women married to men training to be pastors.
She eagerly heard long-time pastor’s wife Carol Mack offer these profoundly simple words of instruction, “Be nice.” At the time, my wife didn’t appreciate the depth of the profundity of this simple advice.
Although Christians ought to be consistently joyful and loving, because of remaining sin, we regularly live inconsistently with the life and teaching of Jesus. Plus, we rub shoulders with a world of others who don’t care a thing about God and the Bible.
People are tempted to act and react sinfully all of the time. Whether from those having a bad day at work, or those discouraged with family members near death, to a person plunging into sin, or a mother overwhelmed with small kids at home, to running into a bitter, unjust critic, you can find yourself face to face with a challenging situation at almost any moment of the day.
Sometimes the sins are against you, and sometimes they are against those closest to you. How will you communicate in times of severe stress? Carol Mack’s advice has proven timeless, “Be nice.”
Long before Carol Mack, God spoke through King Solomon with equal clarity about the importance of graciousness in a person’s speech. He heightened the instruction by using contrasting parallelism, which defines Hebrew poetry. In this case the sweet fruit of graciousness contrasts the destruction of a harsh mouth.
A gracious woman gets honor,
and violent men get riches.
A man who is kind benefits himself,
but a cruel man hurts himself. — Proverbs 11:16, 17
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD,
but gracious words are pure. — Proverbs 15:26
The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body. — Proverbs 16:23, 24
He who loves purity of heart,
and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend. — Proverbs 22:11
What exactly is gracious speech? Gracious speech is words and tones marked by pleasantness, love, and kindness. It flows from a heart trying to help, strengthen and bless another person. Gracious speech is the opposite of being harsh, critical or judgmental.
The Lord Jesus described the pipeline that exists between a person’s heart and mouth. Jesus exposed the Pharisees, who spoke bad words in bad ways, because their hearts were bad.
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34, 35).
In another place, Jesus taught his disciples about outward actions and the rooted heart condition.
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:18-20). So, in addition to the words that can be gracious or harsh, tones of voice, facial expressions, or other non-verbal noises also originate from the heart of those communicating.
In the Bible, the heart is the center of a person’s inner self. It is where he or she thinks, feels, develops attitudes and makes decisions. It is the fountainhead of a person’s true self, which explains Solomon’s strong admonition, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Behind every outward manifestation of graciousness and harshness there is always a heart-level source.
When bad words come out of your mouth, what kinds of things are you thinking in your heart? When harsh tones texture your speech, what does that reveal about your heart? When your face gets contorted in reaction to someone’s nonsense, what kinds of heart attitudes are at work below the surface?
The Lord Jesus Christ was full of grace and truth. While he had to take strong stands sometimes, he never sinned in his heart, and therefore, never sinned in his words, tones, or facial expressions. He calls his followers to do the same.
One practical way to cultivate grace in your heart toward someone who is tempting you to react critically is to remember the Lord Jesus. He loved you even when you were his enemy. You didn’t deserve his compassion. You didn’t deserve his sweet invitation for forgiveness. But he has treated you so graciously, hasn’t he?
As you remember Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with the same kind of compassion for the one you are dealing with. As the Lord warms your heart with grace, no doubt, words of love, kindness and niceness will begin to follow.