Behind the scenes over the last few weeks I've been nudging readers and thinkers in my life to ask: "Have you read a great book, or heard a great sermon/talk on Godly speech?" Can I confess to you right now that I haven't either? Can I confess again - how odd that seems to me?
There seems little doubt that God's creative force is connected in some way with His speech - with is sometimes recorded in the Bible as being made with a voice like thunder ( "the sound of many waters" (Revelation 14). God's voice created all things. Jesus voice withered the fig tree. I've met people who are angry at God over having never heard His voice - and yet the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai told Moses "Speak to us yourself - because if God speaks to us we'll die." God's voice corrected and taught Jonah - and comforted Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19:11-18). How is it we don't have stacks upon stacks of books - really, really great ones about God's voice and on this whole topic of Godly speech?
I've been scouring the internet for articles - and there are many available. Most exhort us to not be awful. Again - I have to confess - I need that reminder too. Though I would say gossip is not my greatest weakness - I need to remember what's harmful about it. A decade ago Cru posted an article on speech called Taming the Tongue that looks at James 3's related passages in a thorough fashion. Earlier this year Rev. Dr. John Payne posted an article titled "Words Matter" on the Reformation21 blog.
What was it about the way that Jesus spoke that made Him so "follow-worthy"? I've talked to some who really don't like getting out of bed to go to church ... it's too early, it's too preachy, it's too uncomfortable ... but 2,000 years ago thousands of people occasionally congregated in the desert - not even giving a thought about what to bring for lunch - just to hear the words of Jesus. Surely there was more going on for His sermons than merely them being free of gossip, slander, rage and spite - wasn't there? I remember a trip a while back to Chaco Culture National Historical Park in north western New Mexico and having my mind blown by the incredible archeological ruins out there - and the desert weather. One afternoon my travel buddy and I spilled into the visitor center and immediately split into the dumbest grins. The rangers there looked at us and said "You from up north?" It was Memorial Day weekend - and Wisconsin had had an unusually cool spring - only one or two days where the temps even reached 70 - and we'd just finished a 6 mile hike in full sun - along the bottom of the mesa where it met the desert floor. We were cooked. We looked at them and said "Yes. It is over 100 degrees today?" They laughed and said "No! It's only 95." ... but all the same they turned the info movie on for us while we slaked our thirsts and cooled off - and then hit repeat when we nodded off in the comfy cool theater. That whole trip - I thought - "Jimminy Crickets, Jesus! How in the world did You get people to traipse about after You out into the desert over and over again - just to hang on your every word!?"
Surely Jesus' words weren't merely not foul, not slanderous, not careless.
His words are recorded as "authoritative" (Matthew 7:29). What does that really mean? Are we supposed to be able to do that too? Didn't God promise the disciples - now apostles - that "you don't need to worry about what you will say - for the Holy Spirit will teach you that very hour what you are to say" (Luke 12:11-12). Was that a promise just for Jesus hand-picked few back then - or am I supposed to be able to do that too?
What's more - quite a few articles I came across were addressed specifically to women and the evils of gossip. Gossip surely is evil - but is it pink? Before going to work for JC's Village full-time my last two jobs were in environments where I often worked only with men. Do some women not know that men like to gossip too? Some of those guys were the best I've ever seen at stuffing a stick into the proverbial hornets nest and loving watching the chaos unfold. A few articles addressed the problem of angry speech - which also seemed odd - because these days it can be a trick to not hear angry arguments all over the airwaves - on radio, TV, cable, podcasts. The sky is surely falling and it won't not fall unless we're frightened and mad about it. Can wisdom come from this? Would you hike on foot in the deserts around Jesus to hear that? What's more - does eschewing gossip, slander, vulgarity and other such deleterious verbage automatically make you godly? When you launch into a project like this - among the earlier things you discover are your own assumptions - and I surely assumed that godly speech was some sort of intentional conversational balm.
While I sure won't knock a effective reminder of what my speech must not be - I crave a high-point - an inspiring vision - of what Godly speech could be. Inspiration seems to carry my heart and imagination so much further than "don't say bad things" - and I haven't yet found a book that's designed to school Christ's followers on what possible for our speech once we choose to press past the temptations to mud-wrestle with our words.
I did eventually find a few books - and they are starting to trickle in from the Library and one or two used ones unavailable otherwise working their way to my door from all over the country. That said however - I would sure appreciate it if you'd share any great resources you've found on this topic. I came across this book - edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor - available on line as a pdf called The Power of Words and the Wonder of God. I just found it late last night - so I can speak to it one way or the other - but I will read it and get back to you about in next week.