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Gifts of Speech

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Gifts of Speech

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I love giving gifts, especially when the gift is something that I know for sure the person I’m giving it to will appreciate. It might be something useful, something that they have been wanting for a while, something that will make their life easier, or maybe just something I stumbled on and knew that they would love. While I was planning a gift for my son, I happened to read this passage from Ephesians: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:28-29).

The first thing I noticed about this passage was that the instructions are like each other: in verse 28, Paul writes that the person who has been a thief shouldn’t steal, but should work to be able to give something to others who are in need. In verse 29, he writes that we shouldn’t say bad things to each other, but instead should say things that “impart grace.” In a way, these could be boiled down to “don’t take away from others, but give to them.”

Thinking about the passage like this made me think about giving gifts: when I talk to people, are my words giving to them (by building them up, encouraging them, helping them), or are they taking away? How can I be sure that my words to others are like gifts?

1) Gifts are about the receiver, not the giver.

Have you ever been given a gift that didn’t seem like it was even intended for you? Sometimes we give gifts that reflect ourselves more than they reflect the person we’re giving them to. We can do that with our words, too. Often, when we’re in a conversation, we’re thinking more about what we want to say than about what the other person is saying, or what they might need to hear. The growing use of social media to communicate can make this even more true, because we get used to saying whatever comes to mind, whenever it comes to mind.

To make our words like gifts, however, we have to listen to that other person and think about them first, before we ever start thinking about what we want to say. We have to focus first on what would help them, encourage them, and instruct them, rather than what would make us feel good to say.

2) Gifts are carefully prepared.

If all that focusing on others seems like work, well, it is. When I plan to give a gift to someone, I devote thought to what I know about that person. I choose the gift. I think about how I will give it to them—when? Where? Is it the kind of gift that I should wrap up? Or just a little something I can give them anytime? Not all gifts—and not all conversations—require huge amounts of preparation, but some do. We should think about what it is we’re saying and how much we should prepare for it.

3) Gifts are given thoughtfully.

No matter how nice a gift is, it won’t be well received if I just throw it at the person’s head! When we give gifts, we don’t do that. We think about how to give it to the person. It’s the same with our words. Most of the time, we’re just having casual conversations. We should still be thoughtful, but we don’t have to consider our words intensely. But sometimes, we have something special to say, either positive (perhaps words to express gratitude for the other person) or negative (something that will be painful for them to hear). We need to think about what we’re saying, and give it the right amount of thought before saying it.

What does this all look like in everyday life? As I mentioned, most of the time we are not having big, important conversations with one another. But even in our most ordinary words, we can apply these ideas: listen to what the other person is saying. Do our best to be aware of what they might be feeling or experiencing, and how our words might affect that. Think about the words we will use, and about what a gift of those words would give to them: are they encouraging, uplifting words? Or will the other person leave this conversation feeling frustrated and discouraged?

It is even more important, however, to think about this when we have to share something with someone that will be hard for them to hear. Maybe you need to give someone instruction that you know they will not receive well. Maybe you even need to correct them. In these cases, it is especially important that you think about that other person, and try to think about what they really need to hear and how they will be able to best accept it. You will need to prepare, with thought and prayer, to give the gift of instruction with love, gentleness and tact. And you will need to choose a good time (not in public) and a gentle way to present those words.

When we all work together to really think about using our words well, we build each other up—and we build up the body of believers. In this way, our words can impart grace to one another, and even to those who don’t believe. We can all work to make our “gift of gab” more of a blessing!

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