A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.—Proverbs 15:1
Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.—Proverbs 16:24
The Bible says that words matter. Words have great power to make things better. When people are angry, we can calm the situation down by making sure that our words are gentle. When someone is hurt or sad or afraid, kind words can have a healing effect on their soul.
I was reminded of this on Saturday, when we gathered to honor the life of Jim Oschner. As person after person talked about what a difference Jim made in their life, a recurring theme was that he spoke kindly to them. He told people that they were a gift and a blessing. He told them that they were good wives and husbands. He told them they looked nice, or that they were smart or capable. He told pastors that their sermons were great, even if it wasn’t always true. Jim made the world better, and made our lives better, by choosing to focus on what was good, and by saying kind things that made people feel good about themselves. How simple. How beautiful.
For me, this reminder came on the same week that I’ve been thinking a lot about the opposite reality: when we’re angry and harsh, that makes a difference too. I’ve been reading a book called Christians in the Age of Outrage by Ed Stetzer, about how too many believers are getting caught up in the angry and divisive spirit of our culture. Many Christians seem to think that the primary way we promote the cause of Christ is by crusading for the truth, even if it means trampling over people in the process. They call their anger “righteous indignation” and compare themselves to Jesus turning over tables in the temple. They see people who think or vote differently from them as the enemy to be conquered rather than as fellow humans to be loved.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” but too often we are burning bridges with those around us rather than building them. This is a major problem, because it keeps us from sharing the good news with the world that needs it. As Stetzer says, “You can’t hate people and engage them with the Gospel at the same time. You can’t war with people and show them the love of Jesus.”
Sitting and listening to everyone talk about Jim on Saturday, I had a thought that will sound rather obvious: God’s way is better. The way God tells us to handle our relationships is more effective than the defensive, argumentative way we naturally do things. When we love people, and they know it, their hearts soften and there is the real possibility that they will change and grow over time. On the other hand, when we set out to put them in their place, they become just as defensive and argumentative as we are, and the only growth that happens is that we all grow angrier at each other.
In a small way, from his simple job and his simple life in this remote corner of California, Jim Oschner changed the world. Or who knows, maybe it wasn’t small at all. God is the only qualified judge of the fruitfulness of our lives, and only eternity will show the difference we made for good or evil. And maybe when we when we get there, we will see that all the angry news anchors and social media crusaders didn’t actually accomplish very much, that it was all just a bunch of hot air, and that it was the people who chose to treat others with love who made a real difference.
Jim’s example has made me want to be more of an encourager to my wife and children, to God’s church, and to the world around me. His kindness was far more effective in influencing me than all of the times I’ve ever felt lectured, criticized, or preached at. What if we all tried to change the world by speaking kindly to the people we disagree with, rather than yelling at them? What if Christians were known for their love?
Words matter. The tone of our voice matters. The way people feel after they have an interaction with us matters. Will you join me in making an effort to say nice things to people, and to say things nicely? I would love it if people said “When someone from Community Church speaks up at a city council meeting, they are always so respectful and calm. They’re even nice to the people they disagree with,” or, “When someone from Community Church posts something on social media, you know it’s going to be something that builds others up.” I would love it if people walked away from a conversation with me feeling better about themselves and more convinced that God loves them. Now that Jim is with Jesus, I pray that many of us take his place as encouragers who speak life to those around us.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.—Philippians 4:8