In a story quoted in the April 2005 Signs of the Times, entitled "Ice Cream Is Good for the Soul," Kim Kane and her six year old son prepared to eat dinner at a restaurant, and her son asked if he could say grace. As they bowed their heads, he said "God is good. God is great. Thank you for the food, and I would even thank you more if mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And liberty and justice for all! Amen."
Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby Kim heard a woman remark, "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why I never!"
Hearing this, her son burst into tears and asked, "Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?" As his mother held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job and God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table. He winked at the boy and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer." "Really?" her son asked. "Cross my heart," the man replied. Then in a theatrical whisper he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started the whole thing), "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."
Naturally, of course, Kim ordered ice cream for her kids at the end of the meal. What happened next came as a complete surprise. Kim explained, "My son stared at his for a moment and then did something I will remember the rest of my life. He picked up his sundae and without a word walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, 'Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes and my soul is good already.'" 1
For me, that story illustrates the power our words may have upon others, either for good or for bad. It seems to me that since we want to be ready for Jesus' coming, we will also want to make the best use of our time. And since part of that preparation involves encouraging and strengthening our fellow believers, and our family members, we will want to be very careful in what we say.
The Bible emphasizes these themes clearly. Satan is like a lion seeking whom he may devour. Troublous times are coming, it tells us. The Lord is coming. Time is indeed a precious commodity. How we treat each other is an important part of that preparation. I'd like us to see what the Bible tells us. And let's begin with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. Scripture passages like ths and others tell us that Christians will want to make the right use of every moment and only speak the right words.
What does the Bible say? 1 Thessalonians 4:16 18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The idea presented here is that because of the promise of the Lord's coming, we should use the time we have to comfort or encourage one another. How do we prepare for the coming of the Lord? We do so in part by comforting one another. And we see that emphasis in other passages, too.
In fact, starting with the very next chapter. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
There is another passage. Look at James 5:7-9. This is a familiar passage, just like the previous ones. Notice how we see a similar theme. Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! The King James Version says Grudge not one against another .
What do these passages tell you? Perhaps that time is short enough already? Are they telling us that it's too short for us to waste our words and waste our relationships? And that because of the quickness of time and the great things that will happen, Christians everywhere will want to comfort and edify each other? I think so. I think these passages are telling us that we need to watch and be sober, to watch and to pray and be careful that we don't get caught up in complaining and grumbling against each other.
Other Bible versions of these passages make it even clearer. The New Living Translation for 1 Thessalonian 5:7 says, Encourage each other and build each other up. The same translation also says: Don't grumble about each other, my brothers and sisters, or God will judge you. For look! The great Judge is coming. He is standing at the door! And I like the Message translation for James 5:9. It says, Friends, don't complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know.2
But what do these Biblical words really mean? Let's think about them for a moment. Comfort or encourage comes from the same Greek word that Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit. Parakaleo is the verb that means to comfort in a time of sorrow, as Paul uses it in these passages that we have erad. The noun, parakleton, is what Jesus uses for the Spirit, who is our personal Comforter. The Spirit is One who is present, who walks beside us, comforting us, encouraging us. And the verb "edify" means to build. You build a building and edify an edifice. And the root word behind the verb in the original language is that of a house.
So, as Christians, we have two options when it comes to building relationships in our family, with our friends, and also in our own spiritual houses. We can either build them up, make them strong, make them beautiful. Or we can tear them down.
In the story of the Three Little Pigs, as you may well remember, the mother sent her little pigs off on their own to seek their fortunes. The story then describes how the three little pigs tried to build their houses out of different materials. Well, they didn't have much time before the wolf would give them trouble. They only had one shot at building a house that would last and protect them. And they had to make the right use of their time. As Christians, we will want to make a proper use of our time and of our words as a part of our preparation for Jesus' soon coming. So we will want to build our spiritual houses our spiritual experience out of the right materials. God's people need to act wisely. The house of God's believers needs to be built right if it is going to stand. People who comfort and build each other up, won't want to get caught wasting their precious time in grumbling against each other because when you do those negative things to each other, you forget about the quickness of time. You forget that the Lord is coming and you are in danger of not being prepared.
The bottom line, I believe, for these three texts is that life goes too fast and the Lord is coming too soon for us to do anything else but to speak encouraging and hopeful words to each other. When someone comes to us and says, "Sally said this and Sally did that," Christians will want to say, "I'd rather not hear it." Or, even better, "Have you talked this problem over with Sally directly?" The person who was hurt or affected should go to the person involved, with gentleness and patience, and talk to them directly.
How does the Bible say to handle this? Well, do you remember that familiar passage in Matthew 18:15. It says, Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. Of course, we must balance this with another passage that says we must speak the truth in love. That means that it is best to take a direct approach, not an indirect one.
On January 13, 1982, Air Florid Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River, killing all but five of the passengers. Crash investigators ruled that a buildup of ice on the plane had caused the crash. Linguist Charlotte Linde, while studying the black box recording of the conversation between the pilot and co-pilot, discovered that the communication between the two men may have contributed to the problem. Numerous times before takeoff, the co-pilot made reference to te problem of ice on the wings. But due to the co-pilot's subordinate role, he voiced his concerns in a very indirect way. He made comments like, "Boy, this is a losing battle here trying to de-ice those things, it gives you a false feeling of security, that's all it does." Because the co-pilot communicated his feelings in an indirect way, the pilot missed or ignored his comment and carried on with the ill-fated flight.3
Many people tend to communicate in an indirect way, gossiping and spreading criticism to other people who are not involved. But the direct approach is really what works best. Matthew 18:15 tells us to go to the involved person himself. That means you don't talk about it to other people. And you don't spread stories around the church or neighborhood.
Actually there is One you should talk to before you go to the person involved; Our God! Ask Him to help you have the right perspective. And you've got to remember what Jesus said in Matthew 7:3,4: And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me remove the speck from your eye"; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
Also, ask God to help you to speak the truth in love. That's good advice coming to us from Ephesians 4:15. It says, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head Christ And if someone comes to you to tell you about their woes because of what someone did to them. Kindly stop the grapevine of gossip right there. Refuse to hear it, out of kindness to your self and to the person who is trying to tell you. Hearing doubt or criticism or insinuation about how someone else did something wrong or why they did something wrong is like poison. It poisons our attitude and we become grumbling and critical of that person. And if we pass it on, we just spread that poison.
There is a story about a farmer who went to a restaurant owner in a small town nearby and asked him if he had thought about offering frog legs on his menu. The restaurant owner replied that he did not have a supplier for frog legs. The farmer said that was no problem. He could supply all the frog legs that the owner could use because he said he had a pond behind his house and he could hear thousands of frogs each night. The restaurant owner said, "Well, if you could keep me supplied with frog legs, I will add them to my menu."
The next day the farmer came back to the restaurant and brought two sets of frog legs. The restaurant owner was puzzled. "Where are the thousands of frog legs that you promised me?" The farmer said sheepishly, "I was mistaken. When I got out to the pond I discovered that there were only two old frogs out there but they sure were making a lot of noise!"4
That's how it can be with us sometimes, can't it? How much great progress for the Kingdom is impeded because all it takes is a few old frogs and they can sure make lots of noise! So why should we want to hear all those negative things about someone else? It's wasting our time. The person with the grapevine burden should go to the source.
That's really the problem with gossip. It starts with one person and then it works its way around like a dank, old rusty chain that's been dragged around in the mud. And by the time it gets back to the person who supposedly has a problem, the chain tears that person's heart and then they really have a problem. Let's follow the Biblical council to speak the truth in love and to encourage and build each other up with our words. Time is too short, short enough already for us to do anything else.
1. By Kim Kane with Keith Todd (from the Sermon Fodder List, a daily dose of Christian humor and modern day parables by email. To subscribe drop a note to Sermon_Fodder firstname.lastname@example.org).
2. The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson. NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO 80935.
3. Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. Talking from 9 to 5(New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994), pp. 91 93.
4. Seven Worlds Corporation: Email illustration subscription.
Hymn of Praise: #82, Before Jehovah's Awful Throne Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6 Hymn of Response: #615, Rise Up, O Church of God
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last updated April 16, 2005 by Bob Beckett.