Most folks enjoy a sweet snack. A chocolate chip cookie, a scoop (or two) of ice cream, or a slice of pie is a fine treat. We like sweets. Our BMIs prove it.
You may be thinking, “that last sentence wasn’t very sweet.” But, we will see in a moment that it actually is a style of “honey-word” that the Bible demonstrates for us. Now, you may be thinking, “what does a comment about my BMI have to do with the Bible?” Excellent question. Enter Proverbs 16:24; it provides the answer, and so much more.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
This verse in Proverbs shows us that a certain kind of words are “like a honeycomb,” and that they have a beneficial effect upon us. First, let’s see the effects that they have on us. Then, we will see what those words look like.
Proverbs 16:24 lists two of the general effects of “gracious words.” These words “sweeten the soul” and bring “health to the body.” They improve both spiritual and physical health. The goal of gracious words is to solidify, not to “be sweet.” In other words, that which is healthy for the body and soul may not seem “sweet” at all. (You already can feel the hard right turn coming can’t you?)
In order to identify and enjoy “words of grace” we must know what they look like, or better, how they are packaged. The following list points out the different packages that they come in. Some will cause you to nod in agreement while a couple of them might leave you shaking your head.
First, a definition. “Gracious words” are discussions that are wise, discerning, grace-based, and soul-building. The Bible lists several kinds of “gracious words.”
Here is a summary of some of them:
1. Words of grace are words of encouragement. They are words that are meant to help, comfort, or build up others. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as “encourage” means to pour courage into the soul of another. Perfect word picture.
2. Words of grace are words of truth. The teaching of God’s Word plants seeds of grace in the soil of the soul. In Psalm 119:29 the psalmist asked God to “graciously teach me your law.” Grace and truth are partners. Grace without truth is sentiment; truth without grace is condemnation. When God’s truth is shared or taught it is an expression of grace that instructs us to further depend upon God’s grace.
3. Words of grace are words of correction. When a Christian lovingly corrects a fellow Christ-follower it is grace-based speech. A love that does not correct isn’t love at all. A handy example of this is from parenting. We encourage and teach our children, but for both to have any substantive effect we must also correct them. This rough-cuts across the grain of a society obsessed with protecting feelings and bent on being acceptable to all, by all.
There are numerous examples of biblical correction that are gracious, yet also stout, stern, and satirical. Here are some of them from the mouth of Jesus:
A. Stout – From Matthew 16:23, “But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus loved Peter, and at times demonstrated His love for him by sternly correcting him. That may not seem gracious to us, but it was for Peter’s ultimate good. Allowing Peter to continue on in error may have been “nice,” but it wouldn’t have been grace-based or truth-based.
B. Stern – Check out Jesus’ response to James and John when they asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory: “Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38).
Think of this not as “Aw shucks guys, you are confused about this,” but more like, “Guys, in your prideful and selfish request you have no idea of what you are talking about.” True. Stern. Loving. It’s grace honed with the edge of truth. Jesus went on to use the stern correction of James and John as a lesson on servanthood for the group. The loving and stern correction of two of them became edification for all of them. He called them out in order to build them up.
C. Satirical – This one is foreign to the church today, but was widely used until the last century. Satire is the use of humor to point out an error, bad judgement, or misbehavior. Think of it as sanctified smart-aleckry. As you become aware of satire as a teaching device you will notice as it leaps to life all over Scripture, particularly in the word pictures in the Book of Proverbs and teachings of Jesus.
Jesus regularly used satire. In fact, he used it so frequently that it’s almost shocking. Here are some of his sledgehammer-like satirical lines found in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Emphasis added)
That is satire! It points out error, corrects it, and does so with humor and grace. (For some hard-hitting satire, and fine use of holy metaphor, check out Jesus’ correction of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.)
You might be wondering how this post began with sweet words and ended with stout and satirical ones. Here’s how. To weave all of this together we must: 1. Remember that a growing faith is not based on feelings (temporary) but on truth (eternal), and when consistently applied the truth is usually like sand paper to our feelings. 2. Pursue that which promotes long-view growth, not short-term goodies (feeling fuzzy, acceptance by others, etc.).
To summarize, words of grace build others up through encouragement, instruction, and correction. The correction ranges from gentle rebuke to strong satire. All are necessary; each balances the other.
If you want to build up others try sharing some words of grace with them this week. You may need to give someone a verbal pat on the back or a spiritual poke in the ribs. Both are biblical; both are needed. Using the right words in the right manner at the right time always requires … wisdom. So, pray before — preferably, long before — you speak.
Until next time, a great way to learn to use satire as a means of grace-based corrrection is by practicing on your in-laws, or boss, or …. on second thought, start with encouragement and work your way through the others first!