Believers, children of God, are considered “God’s instruments to do His work and speak out for Him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference He made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted” (1 Peter 2:9 MSG). Today, the big questions we should ask ourselves: Are you speaking out for Him? Is your life telling others of a difference He has made by your example? Are you praising God with your words and deeds?
The word excellencies is translated from “ἀρετάς” which literally means “virtue.” The only other time it is used in the New Testament is in Philippians 4:8: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (NLT). This same word is used in Isaiah 43:21, where we read: “the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim my praise” (NIV). The New Living Translation states, “I have made Israel for Myself, and they will someday honor me before the whole world.” Eugene Peterson’s translation describes them as “people custom-made to praise me” (MSG).
If we are to “tell about the excellent qualities of God,” it is not simply by the words we speak, but by the actions we take in life (GW). We show forth praises by our profession of Truth and by a good example. Let us examine the words we speak. Let us examine the actions we take. Are we telling people about the “excellent qualities of God” or telling them something very different? Are we professing the Truth or spewing something else?
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9 [ESV]
Recently my son had a problem with his gaming system. I decided to reveal my tech geek side and began to look deeper into the issue. I realized that the disc drive was malfunctioning and had another drive ordered. When it arrived, the sticker on the box said, “new.” I quickly learned that it was anything but new. It had a padded wrapper over it but inside told another story. I found things broken and a stripped screw.
The people who sold me the disc drive can easily slap a sticker on a box and say the merchandise is new even though it is anything but new. With us, we can pretend to be a particular way; however, if we have the Spirit, if we accepted Jesus into our lives and were baptized, then there should be a sign of fruit—fruit from our lives.
You cannot fake a relationship with Christ. You cannot slap on a label (ex: “Christian”) and think it makes the reality change. There’s a song that says, “You’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Today, are you a box with a deceptive sticker or are you the real deal? If people look around will they see the fruits of your labor or will they get lost and confused from the image you try to uphold?
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” – Matthew 7:16-18 [ESV]
When you get angry, it can often be difficult to keep your mouth shut and remove yourself from the situation for awhile. We want to speak out right away. We want to respond. We start to yell. We want to speak our mind. We feel the need to tell the person that we are in the right. We have to explain ourselves. We must get in the last word. We want to tell people when they are wrong and we are right. We can’t help but point fingers.
Nehemiah discovered that people were taking advantage of others. The Jews were charging interest to their brothers. As a result, the people were mortgaging fields and homes. Their children were going into slavery. They were being drained of everything. When Nehemiah found out he was very angry. But notice he did not respond right away.
Nehemiah thought it over; he considered his words and actions. He still went forward and told the people what they were doing was wrong. He told them to return to the people what was theirs. However, he waited till he contained himself and got his thoughts together. Oh how easy it could have been to immediately rush in and start pointing fingers and barking out orders. Instead he gathered his thoughts, went before the people and calmly stated the problem and provided the resolution. Now that is anger management.
“I got really angry when I heard their protest and complaints. After thinking it over, I called the nobles and officials on the carpet. I said, ‘Each one of you is gouging his brother.’”
-Nehemiah 5:6-7 [MSG]
There will always be some things that we are very good at and some things that are not very easy to undertake. We have weaknesses. Some of us are uncoordinated. Some of us do not do well speaking in front of crowds. Some of us are not good with math. We all have something we can consider as a weakness, something that isn’t our strong suit.
When Moses was commanded to go speak to Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he was not so eager to go right away. He made excuse after excuse, and one of those excuses related to his problem with speech. Eventually his brother Aaron is mentioned to assist and off Moses went after a bit of dragging of the feet.
But what do we read in Acts? Luke wrote that Moses “was powerful in speech and action.” He wasn’t so weak after all. Why? When we are weak, the strength of Christ is able to step in because of our humility to recognize we cannot do it alone. Moses was powerful in words and deeds because it was through God’s power that he spoke, and he followed through on those words. He acted. If it wasn’t for the action, the words wouldn’t have meant so much. If it wasn’t for God, he wouldn’t have been able to speak at all.
“Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” – Acts 7:22 [NIV]
I have seen people get so angry. They are ready to explode. You can see the look in their face. They are mad. They are ready to fume from their ears. Then something changes. They are face to face with someone who doesn’t yell back. The person doesn’t respond harshly. Instead there is a gentle answer. The person who is angry starts to consider this gentle answer. Wow, I don’t have to be so mad. This person is calm. This person isn’t out to get me. This person is being reasonable. This person is caring. This person is listening to me.
When someone is angry, words can be said. When the listener starts to respond with more harsh words it becomes a war. The two people end up tossing words back and forth. Who can hit the hardest blow? Who can hurt the person worse? Who can one up the person with the worst? It becomes very childish. It becomes very loud. Voices get even louder, as if the loudest voice would win. As if the loudest voice is delivering the truth.
God’s Word says we should provide a “gentle answer.” It says a lot about us to provide a “gentle answer” when we are being pelted with hurtful, harsh words. I have tried both the gentle answer and the harsh words. The gentle answers always have worked out best. I’ve given up on the harsh words.
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” – Proverbs 15:1 [NLT]
Eliphaz and his friends often got things wrong with what they said to Job in their speeches. They would say a lot of true things, but they did not adequately understand the entire situation and we therefore unable to realize what was truly going on with Job and his situation. As well, like us, they had a limited view of God. Even so, Eliphaz wasn’t always wrong. He had some wisdom to share.
When I read Job 15:2, I couldn’t help but chuckle. He said, “A wise man wouldn’t answer with such empty talk! You are nothing but a windbag.” When I heard that, I considered how we are all windbags from time to time. A windbag is someone who finds the need to use useless words or to ramble on for no reason, saying something that could not possibly result in any good.
We each can name a time when we used words when we should have been silent, when we ran our mouth when we should have spoke less. As we move forward, let us consider our words. Are they positive? Are they encouraging? Are they truthful? Are they beneficial? Are they good words? There’s no need to be a windbag. Let us choose our battles and our words carefully.
“Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: ‘would a wise person answer with empty notions or fill their belly with the hot east wind? Would they argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value? But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.” – Job 15:1-6 [NIV]
Today when I was walking my dog, he was charged by another dog. I was prepared for the situation; however, because the same dog owner allowed this to happen weeks ago. Last time, he had let his Golden Retriever run loose and the dog came and snapped at my dog. This time, he left his German Shepherd loose, and although there was no snapping, I was not a happy camper at the second episode of negligence.
In life we will meet a person who will do something that irritates us, that hurts us or something that is wrong. We will throw our hands in the air (or sometimes our fists) and demand change. We will get angry. We will say words (sometimes words that are not positive, life speaking words). We will be frustrated by these people who do not do what we want them to do; however, we cannot expect them to change and act as we wish. Nor can we expect someone to follow the commands of God.
I was mad at this man today. He has proven twice that he cannot handle his dogs. The first time I was upset. I was injured. My dog was frightened. It was not a good situation. This second time, though prepared for it, was just as bad. Even so, some people will not change. We can only control our reactions to a situation—not someone else. It is how you react to any given situation that says something about you. I know I do not always react as I should, but I also know that over the years, the Holy Spirit has helped me to react better to each given situation. Don’t let situations and circumstances control you. React with love.
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:12-14 [NLT]
“After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials. I told them, ‘You are hurting your own relatives by charging interest when they borrow money!’ Then I called a public meeting to deal with the problem.” – Nehemiah 5:7 [NLT]
I love the beginning of this verse. “After thinking it over, I spoke” is what Nehemiah says. It doesn’t say, “When I found out, I became frustrated and immediately took action.” Nehemiah thought about it, pondered, took counsel, consulted with himself… the HCSB says, “After seriously considering.”
Now Nehemiah had set to rebuild the wall. He waited three days before he even spoke up about what he wanted to do because he wanted to see for himself. He examined the area. He then delegated the workload so no one was burdened. It then comes to his attention that there are people who are very poor because of injustice. Nehemiah did not rush in to verbally attack those who were guilty. Instead, he thought about it. He took the time consider everything before he went forward to make accusations. In doing so, he calmly proclaimed the problems and there was then justice for these poor people.
Today consider your words and your emotions. We are to be slow to speak and we are to watch our anger (James 1:19-20). Again and again we are reminded. It’s hard to keep our mouths in check at times, but once something is said, it cannot be taken back.
Every time I reach my hands into the kitchen drawer with the cooking utensils, it seems like I am pulling out the wrong item. I want the metal tongs but pull out a metal spoon because I focus only on grabbing something metal. I want a heavy duty plastic spoon but instead retrieve the heavy duty plastic spatula. Often we quickly reach for the item, see something that closely resembles what we want, and we make the grab not realizing until it is too late that our eyes have played tricks on us.
This happens in life all of the time, but sometimes it occurs in areas that are more detrimental than simply selecting cooking utensils while preparing a meal. We see something that isn’t the Truth, but it appears to sound like the truth so we support it. Sometimes we find ourselves out in the world of social media and there’s a photo shared with some description. Everything looks to be true. We start commenting on the injustice we see in the photo or we share the photo with others, helping to assist in the lie, not realizing that it is in fact a lie. Some photos are photo shopped or taken out of context, but we have already shared them with our co-workers, family and friends. They have shared the same photos and stories because they trust you. Later it is found that the photos were doctored, the story isn’t even true, and the Truth itself is in question. You went from trying to be a compassionate person showing the injustice or bad situation, only to finding yourself in a bad situation. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that there is both life and death in our words.
God calls us to be watchful of our steps and of our words. We are to be careful with the words we speak so that we do not tread on the ground of slandering others. Instead we are to be encouraging, speaking love, and being a light for the Truth. It is so easy to get caught up in sharing something as simple as a photo. It doesn’t seem so dangerous, but still there are dangers. If we expect people to believe the Truth when we present it, we want to guarantee that we are not sharing lies with others—we want to protect our moral authority.
“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.” – Ephesians 4:29 [ESV]
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1 [ESV]