Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:19 NRSV)
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68 NRSV)
I have occasionally been told that I have something of a mischievous sense of humour. I suspect that people are usually being polite when they say that and what they really mean is something much less complementary.
I don’t mean that I’m a practical joker or anything like that, because I think that most practical jokes are usually not very funny, and can even be a form of bullying. But I do have a slightly oddball sense of humour, based on a significant number of years observing life in all its “richness”. I’m a bit of a people watcher.
So, for example, when someone comes up to me and says, rather sternly, “I’d like a word with you vicar,” whilst I try to maintain a calm and collected countenance, occasionally one part of my brain is saying, “Put the kettle on. This is going to be a long job,” another part of me is mentally checking my insurance policies whilst a third part is thinking, “Any particular word you would like?”
In the same way, I’m not much of a fan of certain types of modern comedy, which I often find to be crude, vulgar and demeaning or so politically correct that you have to be told when to laugh. Alternatively it looks down its nose at those people it considers to be “uncool”.
I’m sure this is partly a facet of my generation, but I quite like the humour of an earlier age which was often based on word-play or innuendo.
But words do matter; and the way we use words matters, too.
Words do more than merely share conversation. Words are amazingly powerful. For Christians, words are part of the way in which we share God’s love with each other, and they are certainly the means by which we communicate a major part of our Good News. In fact one whole gospel is dedicated to the one who is described as “the Word.” Take a look at the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verses 1 to 14.
Words really do matter, and so does the way that we use them.
St Paul was quite a wordsmith when he wanted to be, but he was also deeply concerned that God would give him the words to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ – which are nothing less than the words of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and salvation.
He asked his friends: “Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” That should certainly be our prayer, too. It is most definitely mine.
Just imagine, for a moment, that our words were not idle gossip, not words of judgement or criticism of another person, not words of complaint or envy – but words of eternal life: words which flow from our relationship with our Lord; words not based on our shopping list of demands of God, but on the intimacy of our prayerful relationship with him.
What kind of words would they be?
What would be their effect?
Who would they comfort?
Who would they build up or inspire?
Who would they release from bondage?
Whose eyes would be lifted over the horizon?
With whom would they join us in a relationship of love?
The words of eternal life are spoken by Jesus and recorded in the gospels. We should study them very carefully, for they are intended for us, too.
St Paul asked his friends to pray that he would be able to proclaim that gospel. And there’s our cue; because the prayer of St Paul should be our prayer too: that God will give us the right words, to use with the right people, in the right season.