A few years ago, it was rather popular for Christian youth to be wearing clothes and trinkets with the initials “WWJD”, meaning “What would Jesus do?” Like most modern fads, it was short-lived. Hopefully, it at least was used by God to get some people to think seriously about how authentic their relationship to Jesus actually was. “How can you call yourself a follower of Christ, if you fail to follow him?” is always a legitimate question.
When we focus on communicating like Jesus, it would be very easy to construct whatever model of “talking like Jesus” one desired by a selective citation of a few texts from the Gospels. Join that defective method with a couple emotionally charged illustrations, and you have a ready made heresy. For example, we could turn to Matthew 15 and paint an anti-religious establishment Jesus. That would sound very appealing to “they like Jesus but not the church so we worship in nature” crowd. Or we could read the last part of Luke 8 to emphasize the compassionate speech of Jesus. That approach would endear us to those who want a therapeutic Jesus. Or John 6 would be an excellent introduction to Jesus the theologian, valiantly standing for truth as the crowds walk away. The folks in the institutional, confessional church model like that one. Or perhaps we should open our Bibles to Mark 13 to hear the prophetic Jesus, since in troubled times people want to hear of escape from the turmoil of life. Many escapist Christians love to hear about prophecy above all other things. But then what would we do with Matthew 23? Oh, have you never read it? Should we model our speech after the way he speaks there: “woe to you”? The “angry Jesus clearing out the temple” model appeals to people angry about how their preferred view of culture is being ruined.
My point is that we must always be cautious when we approach the subject of talking or acting like Jesus. Are we hearing only part of what the Spirit has revealed about Christ that is being presented as the whole of what Jesus is and what we should be? The text before us presents a model of communication for talking like Jesus. However, let us remember that it is not all of what an authentic Christ-focused model is. In order to communicate like Jesus, we must draw from his full story, and not merely our preferred passages. Obviously, this could be material for a book. With the preceding caution in mind, let’s consider this idea. To speak like Jesus means to speak in a constructive manner.
When we speak like Jesus, we will rid our conversation of words that are destructive. As a general principle, we will seek to eliminate “unwholesome” talk (Ephesians 4:29). The Lord Jesus never engaged in unwholesome words. The apostle chose a colorful word. Consider a couple literal usages in the New Testament Scriptures. It is used of “spoiled fish” (Matthew 13:48) and of “decayed trees” or “rotten fruit” (Matthew 12:33). From the immediate context in Ephesians, we can find specific examples of unwholesome talk: falsehood (4:25), bitterness (4:31), shouting (4:31), slander (4:31), foolish talk (5:4), and impure or coarse jokes (5:4). A helpful exercise might be to journal the type of words that you use during a week. Write examples of unwholesome words on a sheet of paper, and then put check marks next to them when you know that you have used such words. The goal is a simple reality check for you. Or in your small group (you are in a small group, right?) discuss the subject of unwholesome words together. In what area does most of the group struggle? How can you help each other?
According to this text, we must take charge of eliminating unwholesome talk from the way we talk. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” is about as blunt and directive a command as any in the Bible. We must accept the Holy Spirit’s authority to order us to speak like Jesus. This is not a suggestion, if you want to be “nice”. It is of the essence of new covenant life. We should not minimize these sins of the tongue. “I say that when there is any loose and filthy talk, or talk tending to give liberty to evil, it is just as if speech was being used to poison men’s souls” (Calvin).
There is a better way. Maximize what Christ can do in you by the Holy Spirit. How does this happen? Use wholesome words to strengthen others. Since all followers of Christ are members of his spiritual body, we have an opportunity with the help of the Holy Spirit to be part of significant changes in the lives of others. Effective communication can be very powerful. The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:23-24 NIV).
Grace and peace, David