A favorite game my friends and I like to play when we gather is called Fish Bowl. Players write a word or phrase on slips of paper that their team then has to guess based on some kind of clue. There are three rounds, which increase in difficulty each time, and the team with the most words/phrases guessed correctly at the end wins. The first round is the easiest and a lot like Catchphrase; players can say anything except the word(s) on the paper to get their team to guess the phrase. The second round uses the same slips of paper and gets a bit tougher, taking on a Charades vibe to use only gestures to get their team to guess the phrase. By round three, players have a good idea of the phrases on the slips of paper, and the person whose turn it is can only use ONE word to get their team to guess the phrase. If you’re wondering what to do at your next group gathering, give it a whirl! It’s a fun one.
Each time I teach someone to play this game, though, I stress the rule of Round 3. The first word or sound that comes out of your mouth for each slip of paper is the clue your team gets. That means that if “ummm” is the first word out of your mouth, that’s all your team has to go on. Oof. It’s a tricky rule, and each time I play someone inevitably falls for it and their team is left naming off every word/phrase they can remember in the hopes they will stumble upon the correct one.
Because I have always been pretty loose-lipped, I will literally clamp my hand over my mouth during this round to keep myself from saying anything before I’m ready to intentionally speak that one word. It’s very goofy, but honestly I don’t always trust myself to keep my mouth shut until the proper moment.
Scripture has a lot to say about how we use our words, and each time I do a study on wielding our words wisely, I find myself quite convicted. I want to be someone of whom it can be said, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26). Often though, I find myself praying, “Post a guard at my mouth, God, set a watch at the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). Clamping my hand over my mouth is a silly way to do better at an inconsequential game, but sometimes I think I need to practice this more in the conversations that do matter in this life.
This month at Your Sister, Kimber, we are looking at some of the ways the world teaches us to do friendship that are wildly different than the way we learn from Scripture. One of the most prominent ways friendship in the Bible looks different than friendship as taught by today’s popular TV shows and movies is in how we communicate with each other in our relationships.
When we look at Scripture, we see a blueprint for using our words in friendship in a way that values honesty, grace, and love. What I see promoted in media in regard to how we should communicate with our girlfriends is through passivity (just ignoring problems and hoping they go away), passive aggression (using sarcasm, subtle digs, and body language to communicate disapproval), or straight-up aggression (saying what we think without love and grace). We process disagreement by gossiping behind each others’ backs long before we ever address a problem with the person, and drama is expected, sometimes even welcomed. And obviously, the world’s approach has no regard for talking to God about our relational questions first to see if our view is even correct, before we react or talk to others about it.
As with pretty much everything I write about here at Your Sister, Kimber, I have lots of experience in getting this wrong. As I write that picture of “friendship” above, my brain says check, check, check. Been there, done that. But in the way of Jesus, I see a better way to use my words. I don’t want to just live with my hand clamped over my mouth. I want to train my tongue and my heart in friendship to submit to the gospel-centered life that I’m pursuing.
Proverbs says, “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life” (10:11), “the tongue of the wise promotes health” (12:18), and “the tongue has the power of life and death” (18:21). The way we use our words in our friendships matters – it holds the very power of life and death. We can bring health, refreshment, and life-giving words to our friendships, or we can follow the way of drama, gossip, and passive aggression. Let us choose to speak life.
And yet, even when we seek to speak life in our friendships, conflict arises as an inevitable part of friendship between broken people. The world says to lean into the drama and expect implosion. The way of Jesus teaches a better way.
In Ephesians 4, Paul calls the believers to unity and gives some practical ways we can pursue unity in our relationships through how we communicate.
First, we choose honesty over being fake.
Paul charges the church to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor” (v. 25). Falsehood toward our neighbor doesn’t always look like straight-up lying. Being fake in a friendship by acting like everything is fine when it’s not, going along to get along, or not being your genuine self are all ways we choose the comfort of a fake facade over the hard work of honesty. Proverbs 28:23 says, “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue.” Honest conversations are tough sometimes, but fake flattery won’t grow your friendship for the long run. We can keep our friendships shallow by being fake, or we can take the harder road of honesty and pursue real relationship.
We choose kindness over being catty.
What being honest doesn’t mean, however, is being unloving. A troubling phrase that works its way into our speech sometimes is “I’m just being honest.” This is usually a phrase we use in an attempt to excuse our rudeness. But honesty doesn’t have to come at the expense of kindness when we “speak the truth in love” (v. 15). If we do have to address some kind of conflict, we can be honest, but we can do it in a way that is loving and honors our friendship and God. Jesus embodied this perfectly, speaking some really tough truths to people, but doing it in a way that made it clear his love for them was the reason he spoke those hard words (Matthew 23 is a great example). We find our litmus test for this in verse 29 of Eph. 4, when Paul tells us to only let the following come out of our mouths: “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Is it helpful? Is it going to benefit them? Is the truth I speak in love going to build them up and point them to Christ? When we speak the truth in love, we do our best to choose kindness over speaking the truth with a ‘tude.
We choose forgiveness over falling out.
And if it doesn’t go well? First, we don’t just quit each other. Paul says to not let the sun go down on our anger (v. 26), which is just a way of saying that we shouldn’t let our anger fester. Instead, pursue reconciliation and more honest conversation. Second, we put the conflict in God’s hands, not our own. Paul quotes the Psalms, saying, “in your anger do not sin” (v. 26), and tells us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (v. 31). If you’ll allow me to paraphrase this into a girl version: Get rid of your resentment toward her, your rage that she did that, and your frustration at her actions. Don’t fight about it, and don’t talk behind her back about it. In fact, don’t have any ill-will toward her at all. That’s a tall order, though, and how do we just “get rid” of all that emotion? We put that conflict in God’s hands, and, third, we forgive. Paul reminds us that, because God has forgiven us for so much, we can deal with compassion and forgive each other when conflict arises in our friendships (v. 32).
And finally, we choose God’s glory over gossip.
When we choose to put that conflict in God’s hands, we are relinquishing the opportunity to weaponize our words. Gossiping feels good because it’s a release of those toxic emotions Paul listed out. But the better way to release those toxic emotions is through prayer. We honor God and our friend when we take our hurts to him, not to all our other friends behind her back. This is so hard! But it really matters that we try to surrender that desire to talk to people before or instead of talking to God. There may be a time to speak with a trusted third-party friend about our hurt, but only when we’re ready to actually work toward forgiveness, not just to rant. Rather than using our words in friendship for gossip, Paul tells us to let our speech be Scripture-saturated. He tells the believers to speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (5:19). This doesn’t mean we’re quoting Bible verses at people at every turn, but rather that the way we speak and what we speak about reflects God’s heart as revealed in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit. When we choose Scripture-saturated speech in our friendships over gossip, bitterness, slander, malice…we choose to speak life with our words.
To summarize how we can love our friends well with our words, Paul says this: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us” (5:1). To the world, this might sound like a wild way to do friendship, but for sisters in Christ, using our words well is the way of love, the way of Jesus.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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