Is Small Talk Unspiritual?

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Scripture gives great significance to our words:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37)

“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)

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6)

As men and women created in the image of a speaking God, our words have great capacity to build up or tear down. What we say or don’t say matters. But that raises a question. If, as Jesus says, we will give an account for every careless word; and if, as Paul says, all our speech is to be gracious and good for building others up – is it a sin to small talk? Is conversation about the weather or sports or any other insignificant topic an absolute waste of time?

I know – this might sound like hyper-spirituality. But as apparently small an area of life as it is, our view of small talk is significant. Because it’s the most mundane area of our conversation it reveals much about how we think about all conversation. Or, to put it another way, it’s the place where we’re most likely to have our guard down, and therefore the one that shows what we really think about our words. We can boil it down to one question: does your small talk build walls or bridges?[1]

The difference is not so much in what’s said, but why it’s said. Building walls is when your conversation about the latest sports news or the weather is just a means of keeping someone at arm’s length. It might be because you don’t really care about them – at the precise moment of your conversation, baseball is more important to you than what’s going on in your neighbor’s life. It might be because you’re afraid of what will happen if the conversation gets serious – better keep it on the weather or you’re going to end up on a subject you’re not prepared to handle! But the end result is that you use your small talk to build a wall. And that is ultimately wall-building is a failure of love.

But the exact same conversation – “How about that game?” or “Starting to feel like fall, isn’t it?” – can be a means of building a bridge towards someone. Maybe you don’t have an established relationship. Casual conversation is a first step towards turning a stranger into a friend. Maybe you do have a solid friendship, and sharing sports news is one of the things you enjoy together. A conversation that touches nothing deeper than Peyton Manning’s latest game can still be a way of moving towards your friend, strengthening and reinforcing your relationship. The bridge is there, even if you don’t walk all the way across it in this conversation.

So is it a sin for Christians to engage in small talk? No, not at all – provided it isn’t used to build a wall separating you from a person God’s called you to love. Use your words to tear down walls and build bridges – because that’s what God for you.

“In the beginning was the Word…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

 

[1] I’m indebted to David Powlison in his counseling class “Dynamics of Biblical Change” for this question and image.

Photo by Bert Kaufmann

Emancipated! No Longer Slaves Of Sin

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Sin often comes on strong, and we feel like we have to give in to it.

That temptation to lust is just too strong. We just can’t stop worrying. If we don’t give vent to our anger we feel we’ll explode. We’re born slaves of sin and do its bidding all our lives – UNTIL Jesus saves us. And he saves us not only from the GUILT of sin, but from the ENSLAVING POWER of sin.  We can conquer sin.  We can put it to death.  I’m NOT saying it is easy, or that we don’t have to fight, that we won’t fail and struggle at times, but I believe the Bible says we CAN overcome it and make progress in becoming more like Christ.  We are not hopeless, powerless slaves any more.

In Romans 6, Paul tells us:

WE DIED

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (1-2)

We must stop sinning because we’ve died to it. A dead person doesn’t get angry or covet or lust. He’s dead to those things. We’re spiritually dead to those things. Done with them, even if we FEEL like we have to give in to them. We died to sin when we were joined to Jesus:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (3)

When we believe in Jesus God baptizes us into Christ. Plunges us into him, makes us one with him. One with his death and burial. We’re dead and buried to our old life of sin. And…

WE HAVE NEW LIFE

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (4-5)

One with Jesus’ resurrection, we can now walk in newness of life. We have a new power to conquer sin.  The old life is gone.  As a result,

WE’RE NO LONGER SLAVES

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (6)

Imagine a slave in the days of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. As he leaves his old life walking away from the plantation where he was a slave  his master sees him and yells, “Get back here!” At first the former slave feels all the old fears come rushing in. His first instinct is “I have to do what he says.” Then he remembers, “Wait a minute! I’m no longer a slave! I don’t have to do what you say.”

WE’RE FREE

For one who has died has been set free from sin. (7)

This is the truth whether we feel like it or not. We’ve died. We don’t have to sin. We have been set free from its enslaving power.  But when we’re tempted we still FEEL like we have to sin. What do we do?

CONSIDER

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (8-11)

In his earthly life, Jesus was subject to temptation. But when he died he died to sin. He was finished with all temptation. So, since we are one with him, we are to CONSIDER ourselves dead to sin. No matter how strong the urge, we can say, “I’m dead to that.”

DETHRONE

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. (12)

Don’t let sin rule you. Dethrone it.  Don’t obey those passions and feelings. You don’t have to. And especially…

DON’T PRESENT

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness…. (13)

Flee temptation. Don’t drink if you’re tempted to get drunk. Put the computer where everyone can see the screen if you’re tempted to impurity. Here’s the principle: Stay as far away from the edge of the cliff as you can. Don’t offer your eyes, ears, hands or any part of your body to sin.

DO PRESENT

…but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (13)

Present yourself to God in prayer. Use your body for righteousness. Use your hands to serve someone. Use your tongue to encourage someone.

SIN DOESN’T HAVE TO DOMINATE US

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (14)

You’re in a new place – under grace – not under the dominion of sin. Grace will transform you.

Remember, you don’t HAVE to sin. You died to it and rose to a new life in Jesus.  It’s a fight.  You will fail at times.  When you do, simply confess your sins to Jesus our advocate in heaven and he will forgive and cleanse you.  But no matter how many times you fail don’t forget the reality of your new life in Christ.  Sin will have no dominion over you!

What Brian Regan’s “Me-Monster” Teaches Us About Grace

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Brian Regan, a comedian, has a stand up bit about the “me-monster”,” that obnoxious person at a dinner party who insists on talking about his or her accomplishments and insists on one-upping any other person’s story. Reegan wonders during the bit “what is it about the human condition, people get something out of that?” (2:39 in the linked video) It’s a prescient question.

I’d like to take the question a bit further. Why do people get something out of that same one-upmanship when it comes to forgiveness from God? “Oh you were forgiven for what you did? Well I did this! There’s no way He’d forgive me.” The me-monster strikes again. Something about that perversity in the human condition makes it more satisfying to win the one-up competition than acknowledge that God can actually forgive whatever it is you did. And I do mean whatever.

Or maybe it’s that you actually struggle to believe you could be forgiven and the me-monster persona is simply a bold face on an empty and fearful soul. Whether it is genuine braggadocio or a false front, the persona is pride. It is a statement that your sin, whatever it might be, has one-upped God’s grace.

But think back to the stories of scripture, those characters littered throughout its pages. Some of us might have had Sunday school teachers that did us the disservice of using biblical characters as mythical heroes. Really, though, they were case studies in the profound grace God has on sinners of all varieties. Adam and Eve, the originals. Noah the drunk and Jacob the liar (and cheat). David the murderous adulterer. Zacchaeus the thief. Mary Magdalene the demon possessed. Thomas the doubter, Peter the coward, and Paul the thug. Imagine a dinner party with these folks trying to one-up each other. And yet these were the chosen ones of God to be His patriarchs, His kings, His friends, and His apostles.

What is it about the human condition that makes us withdraw into our me-monster shell before God, even in the glow of His grace? Is it so satisfying to win a competition where the result is losing forgiveness, losing peace?

At the end of Regan’s bit he talks about how he wishes he was one of the astronauts who had walked on the moon so he could sit quietly at that dinner party by while the one-uppers yacked on. Then, in a pause between brags he could simply say “I walked on the moon.” And the me-monsters would be silent. If a man who walked on the moon can silence his one-uppers, how much more the God that made that very same moon? There is no one-upping God’s grace for it truly is “grace greater than all our sin.”