When’s the last time you were in over your head?
I feel like “over my head” is where I spend a lot of my life. I love to take on projects for which I have little or no experience. Why? Because I think I have superpowers. But I don’t. So I end up leading things that I am really not qualified to lead. Maybe you do, too.
The apostle Paul put Timothy in that position. Paul left Timothy to lead the church at Ephesus, while Paul continued his missionary travels. Timothy had been mentored by Paul, but he was young. And most likely, in the eyes of some, he was too young to be leading a church! He was probably the subject of many conversations - “He’s just too young! Not enough experience! He’s in over his head!”
So Paul sent him a couple of letters with some “mentor-y” advice…
“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but in speech, conduct, love, faith,
and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” I Timothy 4:12
Paul essentially said, “Pay no attention to the haters! Let the way you live silence their doubts and criticism.” And not surprisingly, he started with our words.
Our words, and the way we use them, are a BIG DEAL! Don’t think so? Then stop right now and read James 3. He has much to say about the power of words. They can help, and they can hurt. They can be used to instruct others or to destroy others. Once spoken, they can never be taken back.
Paul tells Timothy, and us, to be an example of those who follow Jesus in the way you use your words. Let me say that another way - use your words the same way that Jesus used His words. Like everything else we possess, our ability to speak is a gift from God. And like all His gifts to us, we are responsible for how we manage, or steward them.
So here are some ways to use your words in the same way that Jesus used His words:
1. Use your words to encourage people, not tear them down. I like to turn the word “encourage” around to read “courage in” - to encourage is to put courage into another person.
Paul tells us how in Ephesians 4:29:
“And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let
your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by
speaking words of grace to help them.”
Putting someone down, even when you’re “joking,” usually doesn’t feel like a joke to them. They may laugh, but it feels like a knife in their back. There is enough hurt in the world - don’t add to it with your words.
2. Speak up! Jesus used His words to speak up for justice - for the poor and oppressed. He used His words to defend the defenseless. He spoke truth to powerful people, and He spoke truth to small children. He spoke grace and love and hope. He never missed an opportunity. I have found that God opens up those opportunities for me all the time. In coffee shops. At the gym. When I’m with believers. When I’m with unbelievers.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
How would your world be different tomorrow if you determined to speak up with words of truth and grace and love and hope?
3. Shut up! Pardon my harsh language, but sometimes the most appropriate thing to do is to say nothing at all. Americans seem to have developed a cultural norm that states, “If I think it, I have to say it.” And that’s especially true on social media, which is why social media has become such a cruel place.
James wrote, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak…” (James 1:19) There is a divine reason you have two ears and one mouth. We should be listening twice as much as we are speaking. You are never learning when you are talking - you are only talking when you are talking. So stop talking for a while, and, instead, listen! You don’t have to agree with the person you’re listening to, but you will begin to understand them and their perspective by listening to them. And by the act of listening, you are valuing them as a person.
I think Jesus spent a lot of time doing that - listening intently to the people around Him.
I think this verse sums it up pretty well…
“The tongue has the power of life and death…” (Proverbs 18:21)