"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
The third principle for connecting with people is to be constructive with your words.
Use your words to build people up. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (NIV). God wants us to take these words and use them to build people.
Did you know that the words that come out of our mouths are like a tool? Sometimes they're like a sledgehammer. We swing away without thinking and end up with a pile of relational rubble. Sometimes they're like a saw, cutting people down. If we keep using these tools, inevitably our relationships are going to suffer.
One reason we aren't constructive with our words is we don't realize how powerful they are; yet, I bet you can still remember things people said to you in a thoughtless way as far back as grade school or college. That's how powerful words are. They leave a lasting impact. So when it comes to your mouth, think of it as a power tool and be very careful with it.
Here's how to build instead of destroying with your words --
1. Stop excusing. Stop saying, "I didn't really mean to say that." Realize that what you say impacts everyone around you.
2. Talk less. If it's a power tool, you don't have to use it as much. One of the reasons we get in trouble is we just talk too much sometimes. We need to talk less and then ...
3. Listen more. If I listen more, I can understand people's needs.
4. Start building. Think first of all, "What do they need?" How can I use a word of encouragement to build them up? How can I use a word of challenge to make a difference in someone's life? How can I use my words to build up the people I love the most?
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
When it comes to forgiveness, we're tough negotiators. We open with an offer like, "I'll forgive you, if . . . ." Then, we follow with a subtle concession that sounds like a confession: "I can't forgive her until she learns her lesson."
When we think the other side is stonewalling, we take off the gloves: "If I forgive him, he'll just think he got away with it."
We think we're negotiating for God; we think we're negotiating for their souls; we think we're negotiation for justice, when all we're really doing is negotiating for control over the situation.
Truth says we can't conduct these negotiations. We're ambassadors of the King, and we represent, not our own, but the King's intentions as well as his character. The King says forgive and that means we forgive. See the period at the end of the previous sentence? We forgive.
The King's instructions are clear and unambiguous: If you forgive those who sin against you, then the King will forgive you for your sins against him. If you don't forgive those who sin against you, then the King won't forgive you for your sins against him. No room for negotiation there.
Anything else, such as saying, ""I'll forgive him, if . . ." isn't really forgiving; it's just negotiating, and God's court of justice will not recognize contracts made without kingly authority or permission.
"He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Psalm 23:3b (NIV)
Sometime we're afraid of making the wrong decision. And that creates stress.
We might be facing a decision about a major issue -- 'Should I hold on or should I let go?' 'Should I get in or should I get out?' 'Should I get married?' 'Should I find a new job?' 'Should I move?'
When you can't make up your mind, you stagger through life. In fact, the Bible says when we remain double-minded, we become unstable in everything we do (James 1). The Greek word for unstable literally means "stagger like a drunk."
But God says there is an antidote to our indecision? Psalm 23:3 tells us, "He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." We handle the stress of decision-making by letting God guide us.
You may be thinking, But I've tried this! You asked God to guide you but then you became more confused than before. You still couldn't figure it out. You wonder, Why is knowing God's will so difficult?
Is God playing games with us? Of course not! God wants to guide us. He wants us to know His will more than we want to know it. Our problem is we often look for the wrong thing when we're trying to find God's will.
For example, some of us look for a feeling. We want to be swept off our feet by some emotion so we can say, "That's how I know what God's will is!" Some of us want a methodical approach to God's will. We want somebody to give us a recipe, a formula to apply. But God's will is not a recipe. Some of us take a magical approach to God's will. We're looking for God to do some fantastic sign—write it in the sky, call us on the phone, send us a telegram.
All of these ways lead to frustration and cause us to miss God's will. God's will is not a feeling or a formula or something He wants you to be frustrated or fearful about.
So how do you know it? How do you let God guide you in the right path? Over the next few days we'll look at several things the Bible tells us will help determine God's will.
But for today, the important thing to understand is that God does not want you confused and he does not want you stressed over making any decision. He is there, guiding you every step of the way.
This is his promise, so you can believe this to be true: "He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." (Psalm 23:3 NIV)
"He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way." Psalm 25:9 (NIV)
The Bible says there are several things we need to do to receive guidance from God, but the very first thing is this:
I need to admit I need a guide!
Sheep, by nature, tend to wander off the path. The Prophet Isaiah says, "All of us like sheep have strayed away! We have left God's paths to follow our own." (Isaiah 53:6 NLT)
This is why we often don't know God's will. The truth is most of the time we don't want to follow God or anybody else. We want to go our own way. We don't want to admit we need direction or that we need a guide.
Another thing about sheep is that they have poor vision. They can't see very far ahead. That's why, on a path, they don't know if it is heading toward a cliff, and that's why they need a shepherd. We can't see the future. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, much less next year or ten years from now. We don't even know what's going to happen this afternoon.
God made you so that you would not be able to see into the future no matter how much you try. Even with all the gimmicks to predict the future, you don't really know what's going to happen. Why did God do this? He did it so you would depend on Him.
Because we can't see into the future, we often stumble. Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (NIV). We've all made decisions that at the time seemed right but later on turned out to be wrong. Some paths lead to dead ends and we end up off track. That's why we need to admit, "God, I need help."
"If you want to know what God really wants you to do, ask him . . . but if you don't ask in faith, don't expect the Lord to give you any solid answer." James 1:5-6 (LB)
"Have you ever asked God for something and didn't expect to get it? That's why you didn't get it."
The Bible says when we ask God for guidance, we need to believe he will give us that guidance.
Jesus said, "Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened" (Luke 11:9 NIV). Ask, seek, knock—ASK. God wants you to learn to ask.
God is willing to give wisdom: "If you want to know what God really wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; but . . . if you don't ask in faith, don't expect the Lord to give you any solid answer" (James 1: 5-6 LB).
God wants to direct you in life, but two things need to line up: You have to ask the right person—God, and you have to ask with the right attitude—in faith, expecting an answer.
Have you ever asked God for something and didn't expect to get it? That's why you didn't get it. God works in our lives according to faith. So many times we say, "God, please guide me!" and we walk away not even waiting for guidance. We just immediately start to work. We say, "God, I want you to give me wisdom, help me make the right decision." But we don't really expect Him to do that. We think it all depends on us.
God has promised to give us wisdom, if we will ask. Wisdom is seeing life from God's point of view. Wisdom is the ability to make decisions the way God makes decisions.
God's family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15b (GW)
"None of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves."
You are called to belong, not just believe.
Even in the perfect, sinless environment of Eden, God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:18 NIV)
We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God's purposes by ourselves. The Bible knows nothing of solitary saints or spiritual hermits isolated from other believers and deprived of fellowship.
The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, and held together and will be caught up together. (1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 2:21, 22; 3:6; 4:16; Colossians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
You're not on your own anymore!
While your relationship to Christ is personal, God never intends it to be private. In God's family you are connected to every other believer, and we will belong to each other for eternity. The Bible says, "In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." (Romans 12:5 NIV)
Following Christ includes belonging, not just believing. We are members of his Body—the church. C. S. Lewis noted that the word membership is of Christian origin, but the world has emptied it of its original meaning. Stores offer discounts to "members," and advertisers use member names to create mailing lists. In churches, membership is often reduced to simply adding your name to a roll, with no requirements or expectations.
To Paul, being a "member" of the church meant being a vital organ of a living body, an indispensable, interconnected part of the Body of Christ. We need to recover and practice the biblical meaning of membership. The church is a body, not a building; an organism, not an organization. (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 12:12-27)
God's purposes for his church are identical to his five purposes for you. Worship helps you focus on God; fellowship helps you face life's problems; discipleship helps fortify your faith; ministry helps find your talents; power helps fulfill your mission. There is nothing else on earth like the church!
Love your spiritual family. 1 Peter 2:17b (MSG)
As I mentioned yesterday, the church is a body, not a building; an organism, not an organization.
For the organs of your body to fulfill their purpose, they must be connected to your body. The same is true for you as a part of Christ's Body. You were created for a specific role, but you will miss out on this if you're not attached to a living, local church. You discover your role in life though your relationships with others.
The Bible tells us, "Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we?" (Romans 12:4-5 MSG)
If an organ is somehow severed from its body, it will shrivel and die. It cannot exist on its own, and neither can you. Disconnected and cut off from the lifeblood of a local body, your spiritual life will wither and eventually cease to exist. (Ephesians 4:16)
This is why the first symptom of spiritual decline is usually inconsistent attendance at worship services and other gatherings of believers. Whenever we become careless about fellowship, everything else begins to slide, too.
The Bible says, "Love your spiritual family." (1 Peter 2:17b MSG)
Membership in the family of God is neither inconsequential nor something to be casually ignored. The church is God's agenda for the world. Jesus said, "I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it." (Matthew 16:18 NLT)