No, I am not writing about what it means to be a ‘biblically based Christian!’ Instead I would like to give a few thoughts on what it means to speak biblically.
Last week I bumped into John Bercow in Tesco’s carpark. He told me that he was passionate about reforming behaviour in the House of Commons during PM’s questions because, parliament is one of two institutions where quality of speech is a moral obligation. The other? The Church.
He is correct. How we speak to each other is a large part of our mission and ministry. How we speak is a highly tangible testimony to the loving quality of the church.
The bible is unequivocal about this. I strongly believe that Scripture presents a theology of speech based on four overarching principles: truth, love, humility and, silence. Yes, silence plays a significant role in Christian dialogue!
We are called on to speak the truth. The prophet Zechariah puts it like this:‘These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace,’ (8, 16). Defining what truth is, of course, difficult, as Pilate put it, ‘what is truth?’ As Christians we must be very careful not to confuse truth with opinions, however strongly held. Truth can be found in many places and expressed in many ways. Truth about God is revealed, for the Christian, in and through Jesus. Truth is therefore both embodied and personal. Christians also affirm the propositional truths of the faith through the creed. Truth can be experienced; I know that I love or hate because I feel love or hate. So, this leads onto my final point about truth – we must be honest about our motives. Christian truth must always be spoken from a position of love and humility. Truth can be thought of “sincerity in action, character, and utterance.” Zecharia reminds us only judgments that ‘make for peace,’ are real,sustainable, truths.
Cardinal Donald Wuer suggests that Christians must use the language of charity. He uses 1 Corinthians 13 as his base for describing how Christians should speak, both in our internal conversations, and, more widely. Our speech should be ‘patient,’ ‘kind’ ‘not jealous,’ ‘not pompous,’ ‘not inflated,’ ‘not rude,’ ‘it should not seek its own interests,’ ‘it should not rejoice over wrongdoing,’ but it should ‘bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and, endure all things.’ The Book of Proverbs (22,11) reminds Christians that whoever ‘is gracious of speech has the king for a friend.’ If the Proverb is correct,the quality of our relationship with God, is contingent on the quality of our dialogue with others!
Mary, in the encounter with the angel Gabriel, reminds us that our language is to be grounded in humility: ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it be to me as you have said,’ (Luke 1, 38). Is this how we see ourselves, as the Lord’s servant. Can we, just occasionally, follow the Virgin’s example and render ourselves linguistically passive? Can we trust, like Mary, in the authority of someone else’s words? ‘Let it be to me as YOU have said.’
And, finally sometimes we should simply remain silent. Do we have to have an opinion on everything? Should we sometimes willingly give way to the preferences of others? Proverbs (17, 28) reminds us that ‘even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.’ In his general epistle James (1, 19) urges readers to let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,’ whilst in chapter 3, verses 1-18 he provides a comprehensive theology of speech, why not spend some time reflecting on this passage in the week ahead?.
So there we have it; Scripture is concerned with the manner and quality of our speech. The way we communicate is a living testimony to the quality of our beliefs, but much more importantly, the image of the God within us.
Speak and communicate wisely for, as Christians, we claim to re-present for God to the world.