Gracious words in evangelism

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

Proverbs 16:21 reads:

The wise of heart is called perceptive,
and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness.

The word “pleasant” is also translated “sweet” or “gracious”.

Os Guinness says that “contrast is the mother of clarity.”

With that in mind, three questions:

  1. In your cultural context, what makes for pleasant, sweet, or gracious speech?
  2. How is this distinguished from unpleasant or rude speech — or, on the other hand, flattery?
  3. How can we build a culture of ‘pleasant speech’ in RZIM Connect?

(C Rhodes) #2

@CarsonWeitnauer. Those appear to be simple questions but, when I begin to list attributes of questions one and two; there is some crossover. So, as it stands, I had better give it some consideration before answering. :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer Great question. This question is very multifaceted and I look forward to hearing from others. I think if I were forced to pick one word that should characterize our speech it would be gracious. And I want to say - I have been pleasantly surprised by how gracious everyone I have interacted with on Connect has been - what a great community! Consider these two Bible passages.

Colossians 4:6 - Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Proverbs 16:24 - Gracious speech is like clover honey— good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.

But what does gracious speech look like?

Put the Person Before the Point

I have been pleasantly surprised by the graciousness of everyone on Connect - I just want to reiterate that fact. But I think in online forums it can be easy to put the point above the person, whereas we are called to love the person more than the point.

Philippians 2:3 - Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Think Before You Type

I knew a guy in college who started to literally pause for a couple of seconds before speaking to you. It was very awkward sometimes, but it was also very challenging. During the time he actually kept it up, I had to admit his words did indeed seem to be much more well thought out.

Before we speak/type, we need a filter to determine if what we are saying is helpful. In the past I’ve used the acronym NUT:

  • Is it Necessary? (does it contribute to the conversation)
  • Is it Uplifting? (not rude or unpleasant)
  • Is it True? (flattery is not true and poorly researched answers could fall into the same category)

Going out of our way to be kind is important. We are to build each other up.

I Thessalonians 5:11 - Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

At Least Consider Silence as a Possibility

This comment is not meant to encourage not communicating. Part of the beauty of Connect is communicating what is on our hearts! It is simply to say that we should at least consider the possibility of silence as a way of double checking our own motives/heart.

Proverbs 17:27-28 - The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

And here are a few cultural proverbs whose origin seems to be uncertain:

  • don’t speak unless you can improve the silence
  • speech is silver, silence is golden

Never Type in Anger

As James said, especially when we are frustrated we should be slow to respond and quick to listen.

James 1:19-20 - My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Answer with Clarity, Gentleness and Respect

We should strive to give answers that are helpful to the questioner - well organized, thoughtful and respectful. As the classic passage on apologetics says in I Peter:

I Peter 3:15-16 - But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

(C Rhodes) #4

@SeanO, Amen, and amen. I know I will get that wrong sometimes, this pesky human thing just gets up in the morning with me. But, I am committed to following in the light that the Lord gives. I am committed to love from the heart of GOD. I am happy to learn and adjust my steps every time it is necessary.

(SeanO) #5

@cer7 Yes, it is such a blessing to remember that we are God’s children and part of being in God’s family is growing up. And as we grow in maturity, just like kids, we stumble and fall, but God is always there to pick us up and restore us. He is the author of grace and such a loving Father!

(Carson Weitnauer) #6


Thank you for this thoughtful answer. If I may, it was quite gracious! :slight_smile:

Some of my favorite comments of your reply were these:

And as you mentioned, I think there is a real wisdom in also knowing when not to communicate. As my mother said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Now, there is a time for difficult truth, but all the more reason to be attentive to the graciousness of our speech in those scenarios. Another proverb from my culture: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

I’ll add some other points that I find helpful and would love to learn from the wisdom of other members of the RZIM family.

#1 - How do we dignify the person who has asked the question?

I think it can take a lot of courage to ask a question. It also demonstrates curiosity, humility, a commitment to growth, a desire to know the truth, and at least a tentative trust that we will be helpful. The more I think about the value of a questioner - someone made in God’s image - and the value of a question - the more respect I have for each person who asks a question in Connect.

#2 - How do we dignify the person who has made a point we disagree with?

I think graciousness in disagreement requires that we at least understand the other person’s perspective so well that we can state their position in terms they would agree with. Unless we can describe their point of view in such a way that they go, “Yes, that’s it! That’s my point!” then we are unlikely to disagree well with them.

I think this also requires understanding not only the intellectual content of the point but also the emotional realities behind the question, the cultural uniqueness, and so on. We are beautifully different from one another; recognizing this can lead us to worship of the Triune God who made us this way.

It also takes humility. It is odd, to some degree, to assume that the points we are making are right. Perhaps the other person has something to teach us. Perhaps as we reflect upon their position we realize that we have gained additional understanding that can help us know God and love others better.

I remember talking with a student at Boston University once. We were walking down Commonwealth Avenue and I asked him to share about his experiences with Christians and the church. When he was done, he concluded, “And that’s why I don’t believe in God.” As I took in all that he was saying, the only point I could make in response was, “I don’t believe in the God that you’ve described either. And I agree with you that the behavior you’ve witnessed or been harmed by is immoral and wrong. We are in complete agreement about the moral and rational implications of your experience.” That was an open door to explore the truth of who Jesus is and the moral character his followers are to demonstrate. But what I realized by carefully listening to this student is that we were actually in agreement about some very important points.

I hope this serves to encourage someone else. I look forward to listening to and learning from others on this topic.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #7

@CarsonWeitnauer and @SeanO, Thank you for the helpful pointers for a good discussion. Having lived in two different cultural contexts for nearly the same amount of time, thought I could highlight a few areas where I have seen cultural uniqueness play into interpretation of graciousness .

Assuming our experience with one individual represents the whole culture
Oftentimes people may have one bad experience with an individual from a different culture and let that be the lens to see all future interactions of that culture. Every culture is made up of unique individuals and takes time and study to develop accurate perceptions of a culture.

Courtesy looks different in different countries
For instance, Indians may use verbal expression of gratitude less frequently than in the West, as being polite is expected more in terms of attitude and actions than words. Another example is respect for time looks different between task oriented cultures and community oriented cultures.

Approach to differences of opinion
Some cultures emphasize directness in disagreement and some who are not used to directness can feel offended or discouraged by the directness. For example: Indians may disagree directly within close relationships but many take a very indirect mild approach in unfamiliar relationships to maintain social harmony. In such situations, it may be easier to deal with disagreements after building some trust. Also, some cultures encourage questions when speaking to authority figures but if another doesn’t, questions to authority figures can be misinterpreted as disrespect or lack of humility. Its thus possible that a sincere attempt at humility of one culture is interpreted as a weakness in another culture.

Patterns of communication ingrained through upbringing may be hard to change
Our upbringing teaches us certain modes of communication that are considered proper and polite and when someone breaks that rule out of unfamiliarity we notice. The subtler rules are very easily broken in intercultural interactions and we find ourselves asking, “What did I miss”? ‘What is said’ and ‘What is understood’ can be quite the opposite. For example: I was surprised when I first learnt that “Very interesting” in the U.S. could actually mean less than impressive! It would be good to keep in mind that not everyone may have the social intelligence or adaptability to a different culture.

Gospel and cultures
I get excited when I think about how God chose to have every tongue, tribe and nation represented in heaven. God could have given us one common language but He didn’t. The gospel to me therefore is a reminder to always let ourselves decrease and bridge the barriers of language and origins in Christ’s love. Just as Christ showed us grace when we fell short of His heavenly culture, we can extend that grace when someone falls short of our cultural expectations.

I too am pleased with the gracious speech on Connect and it has to be the answer to faithful prayers behind the scenes. May God be glorified and known as we attempt to practice gracious speech.