The word ‘conversation’ used to refer to all of life. Paul’s conversation in times past as it is in the King James version, refers to how he lived not just to how he spoke. Today we usually confine the word to exchanges of speech. In the course of a day we may have several conversations with several different people. There can be few of us who often go all day without speaking to someone, even if only by telephone. How holy are our conversations? Whatever Christians do they should do it in Jesus’s name and for God’s glory. That includes how we speak to others.
The importance of holy conversation
The Bible brings out the importance of holy conversation in a number of places. Its importance is often underlined. For example, in the Old Testament, family conversation is to include talk of God’s Law. Such conversation is not to be confined to holy places or holy feasts but to be part of everyday conversation, at home, out walking, in the morning, in the evening (Deuteronomy 6:6, 11:9). This is reflected in the psalms where the psalmist wants all who fear God to listen to him tell what God has done for him (66:16) and states how keen he is to pass on God’s Word to the next generation (71, 78).
In the New Testament a key text is Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt .... When the believer speaks there ought to be something of the grace of God in it. It should be thoughtful and kind, uncomplaining and thankful, acknowledging God and pointing to Christ. Further, there should be salt in it. Salt is a preservative. When a Christian is present, the conversation should not deteriorate into what corrupts but should come alive with what will do others good. Sometimes rebuke or pleading will be involved. As all Old Testament sacrifices were to be seasoned with salt, so all New Testament conversation should be preserved from every corrupting influence.
More generally, James has a great deal to say about the importance and influence of the tongue. Its influence for good or evil is out of all proportion to size. What havoc it can wreak if not strictly controlled. How confusing when it gushes fresh water one moment and salt the next. What harm there is in idle gossip, malicious slander, self-exalting boasts, harsh words, deliberate deception and empty nonsense. Remember, at the judgment we will have to give an account of every idle word.
More indirectly, we can gauge the importance of holy conversation by considering the power for good it can be, under God. We have already mentioned how important it is for keeping the faith alive in families. It is also important in telling others of the good news of Christ. Peter reminds us of the importance of always being ready with an answer for those who question us about our hope. Several Proverbs are apposite, The lips of the righteous nourish many; those of the wise spread knowledge and promote instruction; pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones; as iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another (15:4, 7; 16:23, 24; 25:11; 27:17). It is by means of holy conversation that fellow believers are encouraged (Hebrews 10:25), those young in the faith are instructed and unbelievers are drawn to Christ. Think of the impact some conversations may have had on you, especially with older believers. Remember how the conversation of those godly women long ago in Bedford made such an impression on the then unconverted John Bunyan.
The improvement of holy conversation
Given the importance of holy conversation, it is clearly a matter to which we need to give serious attention. What can we do to improve our conversation?
- Get your heart right. There can be no question that the priority must be our hearts. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). We must let Christ’s Word dwell in us richly. It is no wonder that our conversation is dull and lifeless when we do not store our hearts with Christ’s Word.
- Be careful what you say and how much you say. The Proverbs say A man of knowledge uses words with restraint; when words are many, sin is not absent (10:19, 17:27). The fool multiplies words says Ecclesiastes 10:19. As a rule we should be slow to speak, though that must not become an excuse for cowardice or laziness.
- Be determined to do others good. Ephesians 5:4 rules out obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking of course. In 4:29 Paul had warned against any unwholesome talk. Rather, speak what will build others up and do them good.
- Make conversation a matter of prayer. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight (Psalm 19:14). At the start of the day and as we begin to speak to others we should pray for God’s help and wisdom.
- Think through the sorts of thing that you might say in a given situation. 1 Peter 3:15 talks about being prepared to give an answer. Christian wisdom demands that we think through approximately how we are going to present the Christian faith to the unbeliever and surely too how we can best edify our fellow believer.
This article first appeared in Grace Magazine