In Matthew 15 Jesus addresses the Jewish tradition of hand washing as a way to prevent defiling the food you eat. The idea being if you eat with dirty hands, you defile yourself on both a physical and spiritual level. Regarding that, Jesus explained, “…it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11). Jesus is saying that the words we speak are important. But, not only are they important, they hold the power to taint and corrupt us on deep levels. In doing so, they cause us to become something substantially less than God intends us to be.
I know Jesus was plainly speaking to the condition of our individual souls, but what if it is farther reaching than that? As I have thought on that verse, I think it easily applies to Christians corporately, as the body of Christ, as well as individually. Specifically, what if what we say, as Christians, could defile the body of Christ? And, what if in defiling it, we cause the body to become something less than God intends for it to be?
As I scroll through my news-feed, I see a lot of words and statements that easily fall into that category. And while it is bad to say something that defiles you individually, it is altogether worse for us to collectively defile the body of Christ. Lately, it seems as if many Christians are more concerned with their agenda than with what they say and how they say it.
Of course there is ample opportunity, especially in this season, to be angry and respond out of that anger. But, my biggest concern is that instead of looking to the Holy Spirit for how to respond, many look only to their own feelings, conveying them as the “Christian” viewpoint or stance. And because Christ has called us to be His witnesses, when we do that, and we do it in an angry and hurtful way, we defile the body of Christ. In doing so, we become poor witnesses for Jesus and push people away from Him.
Jesus was clear on the seriousness of our words and the impact they have on the fruit we produce. In Matthew 12:33-37 he said,
“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. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
And what is that fruit? This good fruit is the evidence of our connection to Christ and should always inform the way we relate to others. That means the way we interact with others, regardless of their differing views and how they express them, should always be seasoned with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It is these things there is no law against (Galatians 5:22). And, it is these things that elevate and bring honor to His body.
I’m not saying that you cannot have an opinion or take a stand on an issue. There is a difference between debate and sharing facts and intentionally being malicious. How then should we respond? The Apostle Paul tells us, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6) This passage shows us two ways that we are to respond to non-Christians.
1. With Wisdom
Paul telling us to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders,” covers numerous areas. While it can be difficult to know what wisdom looks like in our conversations, bible commenter, Matthew Henry makes some suggestions. His first point is to be careful not to be hurt by non-Christians. Our ability to not take on the pain of others’ words is grounded in our security in Christ. The more secure we are, the less impact their words should have on us. Henry also proposes that we should be careful to not speak the way that non-Christians do. He calls it taking care to not “pick up their customs.” If you are using the same hurtful words they are, you are not using wisdom. His last insight is something I already addressed. He said, a wise response will not hurt them or give them reason to be prejudice against Christ and His Church.
2. With Grace
Wisdom leads to grace-filled responses. Paul uses the example of salt to describe how grace should impact our conversations. Like salt, grace preserves the wisdom which leads to peace in our interactions with others. It should also flavor our conversations with a grace that can only come from Christ. In this way, we are prepared to give an answer to every person.
Sometimes wisdom and grace may suggest that you not respond or give an answer. But regardless, we ought to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)