It was another night at my Bible study in Southern Idaho and another challenging night was ahead. There was a man in my Bible study who wanted to take the Bible study in whatever direction he felt it should go. I spent several hours if not more studying each week to prepare, using the training I learned in seminary to develop the best lesson I could. This man though felt that he could take the study in whatever direction he wanted. This was difficult for me. One day I’m in one of my pastor’s offices, and I’m talking openly with him about this, and he says to me, “Dave pray for him.” I say, “No.” Even to this day, I can’t believe I said no, but I did end up praying for this man. What ended up happening over time is the Lord began to change my heart towards this man and others like him who I had a problem with in the local church.
Maybe today finds you reading this article facing challenges in your life or ministry like I had in my Bible study. You have a difficult person in your Bible study, at your job or some other facet of life. I want to encourage you, yes, to pray for this person or persons and to pray for the Lord to change your own heart first. Beyond that though, I want to write to you today about true graciousness and how it flows from Christ to us as His people.
True graciousness is very rare, and it is always others-centered and focused on Christ. The Bible has much to say about how we use our words. James 3 it talks about the power of the tongue as an awful weapon. Still, other places Scripture tell us to speak to build up one another in the faith (Ephesians 4:29). Jude 3 tells us that we are to contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.
The Christian faith is a revealed faith in the Word of God. This means Christianity requires that we use words, but it also holds us accountable for how we use those words. For example, if you state the Trinity in the wrong way you are going to go into error. If you dismiss Jesus dying in our place and for our sin, you are going to walk into theological error very quickly. We often want to say yes those are egregious things and rightly so. But what we often fail to understand is that it’s not only theological error that is egregious and horrifying. We should also be mortified by how often we use our words to cut down others, to build ourselves up, and to strengthen our position, instead of being others focused, taking the posture of a servant, even if it means taking a towel to wash someone’s feet.
There is a genuine danger here in saying what I said in the previous paragraph and in opening up this article the way I did. You may think that I somehow have this all figured out. After all, it’s easy to say, “You prayed, and God changed your heart,” but it would be wrong of you to think that happened overnight. It didn’t. It happened over many months, even years. And what told me that the Lord has transformed my own heart is the reaction of these difficult people to me when I would go up to them. Instead of not wanting to talk to them, I would seek them out. I would talk to them find out what was going on in their lives. I was invested in them, and they were invested in me. In our local churches, this is how it should be.
Graciousness is not an option for the Christian. As Christians, we are to speak words seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6). Paul says this because he knows that the true Christian like all humans has issues in their lives and problems with communicating graciously. Some people do this amazingly well. They are some of the most kind and encouraging people you will ever meet. They will encourage you, ask you how you are and want to know you genuinely and to walk alongside you and befriend you. These people are a real blessing. To have a friend like this is amazing. I have several friends who genuinely excel to my benefit and joy in Christ at asking me how I am and don’t stop asking me questions till they have gotten to encourage me. That isn’t to say that they don’t aim to pry into my life either. They intend to ask hard questions to care for me. They want to walk alongside me to help me grow in grace.
When we turn, and we talk about graciousness in pastors and ministry leaders, I’m confronted again with the reality that I haven’t been the best example of graciousness in my ministry life. In my early 20’s I was often very stubborn (the Lord is still working on me), and sometimes I rejected correction at critical times when I was younger. In my late 30’s, I’ve learned that humility and graciousness are not friends to be avoided, but are instead friends to be cultivated.
I was having a conversation with my now former pastor about half a decade ago, and he said, “Dave you need to work on humility and relational maturity.” Uh. Ouch. But he didn’t just say those things. He walked alongside me, and he cared, and listened to me, and loved me with the love of Jesus Christ.
Today you can begin your journey towards graciousness. You can start by doing as Calvin says in the opening to his Institutes to know God and to know yourself. Or, to put it another way, to begin to have a right estimation of yourself in light of Christ. And then to cultivate friendships with people who will be honest with you in your local church, and with other Christians. We need to help one another, and that is why over 50 times in the New Testament, we are told to one another each other.
Begin today, to ask others, perhaps, even your spouse these two questions, “Am I loving towards you? Do my words build you up in the faith?” Ask your friends the same questions. To be genuinely gracious, we need one another. I need you, and you need me. We need one another in the local church. So let’s intentionally and with great purposefulness grow in these things all for the glory of God.