October 2, 2017
I have been listening to American presidents since the 1950’s, but my first recollection of a president saying something that I really remembered was in 1961 when John F. Kennedy, said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” As an adult my favorite presidential sayings were from Ronald Reagan, particularly when in a debate he responded to his opponent’s attempt to use his advancing age against him by saying, “I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” This classy, but cutting remark arguably won that debate for him. Over the years, American presidents have used many one liners and promising words during their campaigns to try and get them elected. Consider these campaign slogans and promises for presidents from the past. Abraham Lincoln promised people “Vote yourself a farm”; Franklin Roosevelt, “A square deal”; Eisenhower, “Peace and prosperity”; Obama, “Change we can believe in”; and Trump, “Make America great again”. Only history determines if these slogans were empty or fulfilled. One thing is for sure is that the things we say do matter.
As Christ followers we have all said things we regret. The most important factor in what we say is not the trivial things, but the consideration of the impact of our words in light of eternity. In our school community there is no faster way for a teacher to lose credibility with students than to lose control of what comes out of their mouth. Similarly, there is probably no greater disruptive force in our churches than words spoken in anger or as gossip. It is the same for a parent, who can lose the relationship with a child by words spoken in anger or frustration. The Bible says in Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk (corrupt communication) 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.” In the book of James, we read, “…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” In other words, everything we say to our students, our children, or to our peers must be for the purpose of benefiting those who hear us speak, or we can get into a lot of trouble. We simply cannot allow evil things to come out of our mouth and ruin our ministry and our testimony. The evil things spoken of in scripture can be described in several ways. James was specifically talking to the people in the early church about Christians who were talking about other church members, but the same things apply right inside our churches today, our classrooms, our neighborhood and even our online presence through social networking and e-mail. Speaking evil against others by slandering, criticizing, using disparaging remarks, tearing or cutting down others, are all examples of evil or corrupt communication and cannot be a part of our practice as a believer.
On the other hand, the influence a teacher, a parent, or friend can have with a child by what they say can be incredible. A teacher can inspire, a teacher can encourage, a teacher can teach a concept to a child for the first time, a teacher can comfort, and all with the words they speak. Parents have the incredible opportunity to teach life lessons through day to day family experience, and most importantly parents can offer daily spiritual teaching through these same circumstances. In I Peter 4:11 it is explained in a wonderful way, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The Bible promises more to us as parents. Proverbs 22:6 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 6:20-23 reminds children of the value of the words of a parent, “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.” The value of what and how we speak to our children can literally be a life changing influence.
So while it is one thing to have a slip of the tongue, or an awkward moment which results in embarrassment, the implications of the impact of our words on our children and our students is dynamically instrumental, both as an example that will impact them positively and negatively. May we choose to surrender the control of our words to the Lord through the Holy Spirit. May we demonstrate every day that our life and our mouth are under God’s control, and the influence we have with others, especially our children, is faithful to God’s Word.