Tone and Walking Worthy of the Calling

Ephesians 4:1-3 – 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

So you’re a Christian. Lovely. What parts of your life look different? Does your speech change? Does your attitude change? Do only bigtime outer behaviors change?

After Paul has shared the gospel with clarity in his letter to the Ephesians, he turns to calling the church to live in a way that befits the gracious plan of God. The Lord wants his people to have lives that reflect the fact that we are saved, forgiven, followers of God. And that change will come in many areas.

In our present world, there are some interesting arguments happening regarding issues related to speech. Particularly, this argument happens around the word “tone.” there are a few groups who suggest that no Christian should be checked in his or her speech or writing based on tone. There are others who use tone as if this is the final trump card allowing them to demand that nobody ever say anything with which they disagree or which might hurt their feelings. Is one group right?

As the Lord through Paul calls us to walk worthy of the calling, I notice that he particularly is interested in our attitude. We are to walk with all humility, having a properly lowly view of ourselves and our own goodness. We are to walk with gentleness, meekness, with our strength kept under control. Just consider those two things in how you converse, especially on-line where conversation tends to lose civility. Is your speech humble? Would someone think that your view of yourself is in check? Is your attitude gentle as Jesus claimed to be gentle in heart toward us (Mat 11:28-30)? Understand, gentle does not mean that you refuse to use strength. Gentle simply means that you use strength under control. In speech, this would mean speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

Walking worthy of the calling includes patience, a willingness to suffer long for the sake of the glory of God and the good of others. It includes bearing with one another in love. These must include a patience with those with whom we disagree but who are in the family of God. Loving others must include true sacrifice for their good, including sometimes sacrificing our perceived right to get the last word for the sake of the life and good of another. The one who walks worthy of the calling is eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are careful to make sure that believers understand that we are on the same team, in Christ, even when we may need to correct.

OK, so does that put me on the tone police or anti-tone side of on-line debates? Neither. In point of fact, I am on the walk worthy of the calling side. If your on-line conversation, or your personal conversation, fails to demonstrate humility, gentleness, and unity, your conversation has a problem. And, yes, your tone, your choice of words, your attitude, your illustration, your sarcasm all can communicate that you are not humble, not gentle, and not seeking unity in the faith or willing to bear with others through their weakness.

Ah, so have I just proved I’m actually a big tone monitor? No. Why? Because, if a person is in sin, teaching things that dishonor the Lord, they must be corrected. And it is likely that none of us, when corrected, will feel like the person who corrected us was ever gentle enough. Correction hurts. Reproof almost always brings emotional pain. And the more a fool I have made of myself as I try to double down on my particular behavior or my particular doctrine, the more I will be upset when somebody shows me that I need to change.

I would recommend, whether on-line or in person, you check your attitude and actions in a different way depending on whether you are the one rebuked or the one doing the rebuking. Are you introducing a polemic? Speak the truth. Be strong. Be clear. But, if that clarity is not gentle, strength under control, then you are not walking worthy of the calling. If your words are snarky, insulting, harsh, ugly, mean-spirited, you really cannot claim to be humble, to have unity in mind, or to simply be loving. Remember the call to restore wayward brothers gently (Gal. 6:1-2). You can be strong and meek at the same time. And, be honest enough with yourself and with the Lord to know where your weakness lies. Are you more apt to cower and not tell the truth out of the fear of man? Are you more apt to try to score points by being nasty and belittling? Battle against your own sin as you seek to speak the truth in love.

Be careful not to excuse bad behavior simply because you just know that you’re right. Be careful thinking that, since Jesus turned over temple tables, you are Christlike enough that you can come crashing into somebody else’s world with the same righteous indignation. Be careful thinking that the sarcastic words of Elijah to the prophets should mark your daily interactions with those who oppose your view. Yes, maybe there is a time when really hard speech needs to be used. But, if this is what people regularly accuse you of, perhaps there is more of the flesh and less walking worthy of the calling in your life than you think. Be bold enough to examine yourself and ask the Lord to show you if, just maybe, you are not the perfect prophet you have built yourself up to be in your own mind.

But, if you are more likely to ignore an argument because you dislike another’s tone, be careful. One of the words translated “repent:” in our Bibles’ is a word that means to feel differently, and it implies a godly sorrow. If you are wrong and you are reproved, it is very likely that you will emotionally not like it. If you are given to shutting down if your emotions are tweaked, fight against that. Read past the tone you do not like. Listen beyond your feels. Ask the Lord if there is any truth in the case another is making, even if you think the person making the case is being a stinker. Do not shut down a person’s solid, biblical argument just because you are offended by the person. Be determined to embrace the truth of God even if you do not think the person bringing that truth is acting godly.

Dear friends, may we walk worthy of our calling. That means that we walk in the word of God. And it means that we walk in humility, gentleness, love, and all the rest.

Speaking Truth and Giving Offense

Luke 11:45-46 – 45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.

Sometimes the thing that you learn from in a passage is not exactly the passage’s teaching point. In Luke 11, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and teachers of the law for their hypocrisy. But the content of the reproof is not what got my attention this time. Instead, the method of Jesus, particularly in light of recent conversations about tone, is on my mind.

In the middle of this conversation, lawyers, experts in the law, told Jesus that his rebuke of the Pharisees offended them, insulted them. What Jesus did in response was to double-down, directing his next series of reproofs specifically against the lawyers. They tell Jesus, “You’ are offending us.” Jesus responds, “Woe to you.”

One of the dangers of our present culture is that many see offending others as doing them harm. Thus, many believers refuse to directly speak out against sin. Instead of pronouncing the kind of woes that Jesus spoke against the Pharisees, many hide behind a series of qualifications, of prefacing remarks about how loving we really are, before hinting at the possibility that certain acts are destructive and forbidden by God. Many believe that they can soft-sell condemnation, look more loving, and draw crowds to the church. They fail to recognize that, if the church truly preaches the gospel, either people will be actually saved, or they will hate the message. After all, the gospel is either the aroma of life to life or death to death.

I think there is certainly a difference in being, for lack of a better term, a jerk and in being honest. We should be able to speak to others with class, respect, and civility. But as we tell the truth, we will offend others with the truth; there is just no avoiding it. Jesus could not have been Jesus and ignore the sin of the lawyers. The Savior was never going to say, “O, I’ve offended you? I’m sorry, just keep on doing what you’re doing.” That would not have been holy.

No, I do not wish to be ugly in my social interactions. I surely want, if I must offend others, to offend them with the content of the message and not its delivery. But, if I am going to be a faithful preacher of the word, I will have to say things that, no matter how I would try to package it, our modern culture will hate. I cannot refuse to tell the truth simply because somebody says that the truth insults them. And, thanks be to God, if I stick with the gospel and do not find ways to take ugly cheap shots, I’m going to look like Jesus in the process.