[Editor’s Note: This excerpt is adapted from Reactivity by Paul David Tripp, ©2022. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.]
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Imagine stopping to think of the person you’re reacting to as a person, that is, a being made in the image of God. Imagine taking the time to think of others in their world, having a normal set of responsibilities and people who love them and whom they love. Imagine considering how they have been hit with the burdens, temptations, and heartaches of life in this fallen world. Imagine taking time to think about how they will be impacted by your words.
Communication that Builds Others Up
Ephesians 4:29 reminds us that what comes out of our mouths should be “only such as is good for building up.” Here is an application of “love your neighbor as yourself” to our world of communication. It is a call to responses that are deeply loving. I am not posting what I am posting because it makes me happy or it satisfies some philosophical, theological, cultural, or tribal desire in me. This is a call to other-centered communication. My reaction is not done for me but out of loving consideration for you. There is something that I want for you, but it’s not that you would be simply proven wrong, put in your place, exposed for what you are, proven to be the fool, exposed as a member of a certain tribe, soundly mocked, getting what belongs to you, knocked off your pedestal, or harmed in some way. No, what this passage calls me to is the polar opposite of what the culture of reactivity does and ultimately produces.
Imagine responding not just because you like the verbal skirmish but because, out of love, you really do want the person to benefit from and be built up by whatever it is you are about to post, tweet, or say. Imagine caring enough to want that person to learn something new, to grow in self-awareness, to have a deeper confidence in God, to be encouraged in some way, or to gain new courage or motivation. What if every reaction were preceded by this kind of other-centered consideration? What if you only ever spoke to build up? How different would your reactions be? How many previous reactions would you have to delete?
Communication Marked by Love
“Only such as is good for building up” means that the core character quality of wholesome communication is love. In these words is a call to intentional, focused commitment to loving communication, no matter how wrong you think people are, no matter what you think of their tribe, no matter how hurt or angry they have made you, and no matter how high you think the stakes are. When love is the expendable ingredient in our communication, there is no end to the hurt, chaos, division, and harm our reactions will produce. When you refuse to abandon this call to love and determine to only ever speak the truth in love, you will say what you need to say in a radically different manner and with an entirely different tone. The darkness of social media isn’t difficult to understand; it is the darkness of the failure to love. The human community, as God designed it, cannot function without love. Human communication cannot work without love. Without love, human interactivity becomes a war zone with a list of casualties too many to number.
We are not islands. Each of us needs to be built up and each of us is called to be a builder. This mutuality of community is a beautiful gift from a wise and loving God. It seems that we have devalued this gift and viewed being right, winning the day, and putting someone in his or her place as being more valuable. The human community will continue to be harmed and our digital meeting places will continue to be dark and dangerous as long as tearing down seems more attractive than building up.
Communication that Seeks to Understand
“As fits the occasion.” Before you react, consider the moment you’re speaking into. First, make sure you carefully read the whole post and pay attention to the comments that follow. If you’re in a face-to-face conversation, pay attention to the situation and location of the conversation.
Second, before you react, reflect on the cultural moment. Is this a moment of cultural confusion? Is it a time of cultural grief? Are the various cultural tribes angry and at battle? Has the culture lost its way? Is it a cultural bandwagon moment that everyone seems to be jumping on? Then ask yourself, “Why do I feel the need to respond? What am I hoping my reaction will accomplish? Do I have anything to add that would clarify, advance, or calm the conversation? Is my desire to react born out of hurt and anger or motivated by loving concern?”
As a believer I should think about what kind of moment this is for the church. Is this a volatile, divisive issue for the body of Christ? How much impact is this having on my everyday Christian community? Are there threats to the gospel? How is the church of Jesus Christ being viewed, both in the way it understands and how it handles the issue? How is the current discussion and the way it is conducted affecting the reputation and ministry of the church? As a member of the body of Christ, how should I interact with the issue at hand? As a believer, why do I feel compelled to join in? Are my reactions needed? Will good result? Ephesians 4 reminds us that wholesome communication flows from a careful consideration of the moment, the situation, and the occasion.
Communication that is Full of Grace
“That it may give grace to those who hear.” Chapter 4 of this book explores what it means to have your words rooted in grace, so I will be brief here. Every reaction must be shaped by a commitment to the right process of communication, and the right process is shaped by what you want your words to achieve. Paul says everything you say, no matter when you say it, no matter who you say it to, and no matter what the topic is, must have grace as its goal.
Whenever I talk about responding with grace as a goal, I am met with misunderstanding. When people hear the word grace, they think I mean being nice, being permissive, being passive, or choosing not to deal with difficult things. It is important to recognize that God’s grace is anything but passive. Grace never calls wrong right. If wrong were right, there would be no need for the rescuing, intervening, and transformative operation of grace. Grace is not about ignoring wrong; it is a radically different way of dealing with wrong. Responding in grace requires humbly admitting your inability, coupled with a robust trust in the power of God.
Meet the Author
Paul David Tripp is a pastor, award-winning author, and international conference speaker. He has written numerous books, including the best seller New Morning Mercies. His nonprofit ministry exists to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. Tripp lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Luella, and they have four grown children.