Four Questions to Guide our Words

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Words are powerful. The LORD God brought creation into being through words. “Let there be______. And it was so.” (Genesis 1). We have the ability to speak life or death into situations (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, we must keep a tight rein on our tongues (James 1:26).

Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of The Alpha Course and Vicar of HTB in London, offers three questions to guide our words. I have added a fourth. As we pass our words through the filter of these questions, our mouths become refreshing wellsprings of wisdom and revelation.

  1. Is it true? As Christ-followers we are called to honesty, accuracy, and integrity. Our words must embody truth. “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18, NLT).
  2. Is it kind? With our words we build up or tear down. Is our motivation to benefit the hearer, or is it to get something off our chest? “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
  3. Is it necessary? Is there a sense of urgency to avert danger or avoid a costly mistake? Perhaps it is essential to speak up on behalf of some else, or to highlight their positive achievements. Don’t use an opportunity to pridefully show off your knowledge. Instead determine necessity by being others-focused. “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).
  4. Is the timing right? Is the audience able to give their undivided attention? Is there space to interact? If not, wait. Our words and the timing of delivery must both be right. “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverbs 25:11).

Our words are designed to make a difference. In our families and in the places we lead, our words can set the tone of honoring God and one another, creating an environment of health, respect, caring, learning, and thriving.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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For most of my life, I believed that conflict was negative. I dreaded the tension that filled the room when two people I cared about disagreed. I longed to run away, to find a place to breathe. The message came through loud and clear: Conflict is dangerous, disagreements are harmful, and differences ruin relationships.

I carried the message into my parenting. One of my roles was to keep the peace, to ensure that nobody rocked the boat. I wanted one big happy family where nobody would ever get hurt. Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations”?

I also carried the message into early ministry. I spent a lot of effort to avoid offending anyone. I had a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. When I was eight years old, I literally stepped on my uncle’s little toe and broke it. Even though it was an accident, I was devastated. My uncle was gracious, but the memory impaired my perspective for decades.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). There is a blessing when we prioritize peace. However, merely avoiding strife or stilling opposition falls short of the mark. During the pax Romana, the mighty Roman military kept the peace. The powerful quelled all hostilities and conflicts, and the Roman Empire maintained the exterior of peace, while animosity boiled beneath the surface. We are not called to be peace keepers.

The New Living Translation phrases Matthew 5:9 as, “God blesses those who work for peace.” It requires consistent, courageous work to pursue peace in its fullness. Shalom is the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, meaning “wholeness, completeness, health, safety, and prosperity.” Shalom involves our relationships with others and replacing systems in which shalom is broken. Shalom originates from and is sustained by God.

As followers of Jesus, we must seek peace, working to maintain and strengthen it (Psalm 34:14). We reflect the LORD’s heart for humanity as we actively engage with others in pursuit of shalom. We should view conflict as a natural part of existing with human beings, rather than as a threat. As servant leaders, we create a safe place to lovingly address conflict, disagreements, and differences. We build bridges by seeking to truly understand, and emphasizing empathy, listening, and respect (even if we don’t agree). Beyond our relationships, we advocate for true justice and systems that restore shalom to others living in the margins.

Let’s be peacemakers—not peace keepers—and walk in the ways of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.