Friday, May 29, 2009

The Power of Speech

The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.

                        Luke 12.12


Of the three Persons in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is most often and uniquely tied to speech. Among the “signs accompanying believers” that Jesus instructs his disciples to watch for in the future (i.e., under the dispensation of the Spirit) is speaking with new tongues. (Mark 16.17) Luke’s account of the Pentecostal outpouring says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2.4) Paul’s roster of ministerial gifts received from the Spirit includes “speaking in different kinds of tongues” and “the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12.10) He goes on in chapter 14 to discuss “speaking in a tongue”—or “another language”—at length, saying in the second verse, “anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.” And in verse 18, he writes, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”

That Paul devotes so much space to the matter in his letter to the Corinthians—far and away his most learned readers—plainly suggests the practice, its meaning, and its purpose were as mysterious and controversial to them as it is us. Being a product of Pentecostalism, I can vouchsafe, personally and scripturally, for the glossalalia phenomenon, i.e., the utterance of unknown languages as a sign and ministry of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Yet speaking in tongues mustn’t become a wedge issue, any more than baptismal modes, veneration of saints, transubstantiation, and other doctrinal disparities should divide us. We are, and must always remain, one body joined together in Christ. Thus, whatever our differences about how the Holy Spirit manifests itself through speech, I hope we all agree on this: its indwelling changes our conversation on a very profound level. When the Spirit comes, new talk comes with It.

Harm-Free Speech

In democratic societies, we’re duty-bound to protect free speech at all costs. Denying anyone’s right to speak his/her mind—to castigate, jeer, and even lie—can’t be justified simply because limiting the freedom of one limits the freedom of all. As a result, we’re taught to minimize intolerable speech, to ignore insults and slander as inconsequential. “Consider the source,” we say flippantly, while beneath our bravado, we’re all too aware words can be dangerous weapons that break our spirits and bruise our beings. The flipside of dismissing cruel words, unfortunately, encourages us to trivialize what we say. What’s said is done, however, and pleas for forgiveness can’t undo the blows that hastily and angrily spoken words wield. If we meant it or not, we said it and speaking harmfully without thought is no better than speaking harmfully with intent.

Controlling our speech becomes especially difficult when we’re wrongfully challenged or falsely accused. For the sake of the truth, we’re urged to defend ourselves, and sooner or later our defensiveness escalates into offensiveness. In Luke 12.12, Jesus says when we find we’re edging closer to proving our point (usually by disproving another’s), we shut down our personal impulses and yield to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To grasp the full gist of His comment, it’s best to back up one verse, where He instructs us, “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Stepping off so the Spirit can quicken our hearts with the right words is how we defeat harmful talk with harm-free speech.

New and Other

Regardless if a believer speaks in other tongues, desires to, or even puts credence in the practice, all Christians should seek the Holy Spirit’s power to speak with new tongues. The nature of our conversations, our manner of speaking, and our caution in what we say are telltale signs of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. And lest we settle for a vague idea of what that means, we must recognize by dwelling in us, the Holy Spirit occupies us—our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. In promising to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells the disciples, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14.17)

Repeatedly, Paul stresses the importance of the Spirit’s influence over what we say. In 1 Corinthians 2.13, he writes, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” Further along, in the twelfth chapter, he insists our witness to Jesus’s love and power comes only through the Spirit: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Christ could not have been more clear about His expectations that we monitor our conversations to avoid harming or misleading others. In Matthew 15.11, He says, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” What we say reflects not only on us, but also on Him. The power of speech is so mighty, God in His infinite wisdom ordained the Holy Spirit to enable us to speak with new tongues. He will teach us what to say. We need only be willing to learn.

When we don't know what say, the Holy Spirit gives us the right words. 

(Tomorrow: The Beauty of Witness)

Postscript: Weekend Gospel

Holy, Holy, Holy – The Kurt Carr Singers

This is a must! I know I’ve already featured Kurt and his singers in a previous gospel selection, but given this is Pentecost weekend, this selection just seemed apropos. Can these kids sing or what?

No comments: