March 1, 2021 Standard Bearer preview article
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma and will be published in the March 1, 2021 issue of the Standard Bearer.
WATCH YOUR MOUTH! (1)
We are all communicators. Already as babies we begin to communicate what we want by pointing, crying, and stammering our first words. As we get older, our ability to communicate becomes more sophisticated, and we spend a large portion of our days talking, texting, and tweeting.
While it’s true that we are all communicators, it’s equally true that we are not very good communicators. To give just a small sampling of our communication errors, we say things that aren’t true, we say true things at the wrong time and in the wrong way, and we gossip and backbite. How many hurts and misunderstandings are caused by our failures to communicate properly!
An important part of maturing as Christians is learning and practicing sanctified communication. In this and a few other articles I would like to lay out some of the basic principles of how we are rightly to communicate with one another.
The nature of communication
What is communication? Consider the following definition: Communication is a process of sharing information with another person in such a way that the sender’s message is understood in the way he intended it to be understood.
Both parts of that definition are important. First, communication is a process of sharing information with another person. The information we desire to share comes in many different varieties: we might be trying to comfort, confess, confide, correct, encourage, humor, instruct, motivate, question, or rebuke. Whatever the information we are trying to get across, communication involves the sharing of that information with others.
Second, communication involves the sharing of that information in such a way that the message is understood in the way we intended it to be understood. For communication to be effective, information must not only be shared; it must also be received and understood. If the intended information is not received and understood, communication has not taken place. This can be the fault of either the one sending the message or the one receiving it. A teacher might explain a mathematical equation to you in algebra class, but you raise your hand and say, “I still don’t get it!” You might not understand because the teacher was not clear, or because you were daydreaming when he explained it the first time. Communication has not taken place because the teacher’s message is not understood as it was intended to be understood. Your mom might tell you that your room needs cleaning, and you think, “Ok, I’ll do that by the end of the week,” when in reality she meant, “Clean your room right now!” The confusion might be due to mom’s lack of clarity, or it might be due to your failure to pick up from her words and tone what she intended. Communication has not taken place because mom’s message is not understood as it was intended to be understood. Communication involves both the conveying and the understanding of a message.
When we think about communication, we usually think immediately of our words. Words are certainly the main means of communication. We mainly communicate with the words we speak and with the written word (text message, social media post, email, handwritten letter, etc.).
But words are not the only way in which we communicate. We communicate with one another in a host of different ways:
- We communicate with our eyes. A wink at another person? You might be sharing an inside joke. Roll your eyes? You’re probably annoyed. Eyes darting all over? You might be nervous. Eyes bulging? You’re surprised at the news you just heard. Eyes narrowed and brow furrowed? You’re communicating that you are angry. Eyes filled with tears? Something has made you sad.
- We communicate with our facial expressions. A smile probably means we are happy; a frown that we are upset; a smirk that something amuses us; a bottom lip jutting out that we are pouting.
- We communicate with our bodies. We even have a name for this: body language. When we shrug our shoulders, we communicate that we are confused. When we talk with our hands gesturing all over, we communicate that we are excited. When we tap our foot on the ground, we communicate that we are impatient.
- We communicate with our tone of voice. Not only do the words we speak communicate a message, but the tone with which we speak those words also conveys a great deal. Just as important as what we say is how we say it. A husband might say to his wife in a harsh and angry tone, “Don’t you know I love you!” and his wife might run in the opposite direction. But if he says to her in a soft and quiet voice, “Don’t you know I love you!” his wife will probably run into his arms. A classmate might say to you, “You’re a great friend,” and a good friendship is born. But if she says those same words dripping with sarcasm, a good friendship might have just ended.
- We communicate with our presence. Your presence at a church function conveys that you are interested in what is going on, but your absence from that function conveys that you are too busy or you are not interested. Your presence at the home of the grieving conveys you care, but your absence conveys that you might not care.
- We communicate with our gestures. A touch on the arm says, “You’re important to me!” A hug says, “I care about you.” A pat on the back says, “Keep up the good work!” A snap of the fingers says, “Hurry up!”
- We communicate in a host of other ways: by our willingness to help another (or not), by the giving of a gift (or not), by a note we leave them (or not), and so on. We convey messages to others in many different ways.
The gift of communication
It is important that we learn to appreciate what a precious gift communication is.
Begin here: God is a God of communication. He is a God of communication eternally within His own triune being. God was not a lonely God who created humans so that He could have someone to talk to. Eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit communicate with one another, speaking the truth in love. Evidence of this trinitarian speech is found in Genesis 1:26 where, prior to the creation of man, we read, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….”
God is a God of communication because God is a covenant God. Among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there exists a perfect bond of communion, friendship, and love. As communication is essential to our closest earthly relationships, so communication is an essential element of God’s perfect, covenant life within Himself.
In His good pleasure, God determined to share His covenant life with His elect people in Jesus Christ.
To that end, He created the universe as the stage on which the drama of sin and grace would play out. In a marvelous demonstration of the power of His voice, God spoke and all things came into existence. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.… For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:6, 9).
At the pinnacle of this creation, God placed the man and woman. God made them with a unique ability to communicate one with another, an ability that set them apart from and above all other earthly creatures. Pods of dolphins can communicate with various clicks and pulses, and troops of monkeys can communicate with various howls and barks (all of which is fascinating to hear and study). But dolphin clicks and monkey howls cannot come close to the rational, intelligent communication among humans. Having made them so fearfully and wonderfully, God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). He shared with them the secrets of the divine mind and spoke to them as a Father with His children. Wonder of wonders, the Divine reached down and spoke to the human!
But then sin entered the world through the fall of Adam and Eve. Rather than listening to the voice of God, they listened to the voice of the devil. As a consequence, they were driven out of the garden, never again to commune with God there as they once had. By nature their descendants are conceived and born without “ears to hear” (Matt. 11:15).
But God had prepared some better thing for His chosen people. What sin destroyed, grace restores. In the fullness of time, He sent the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, to take our flesh and to atone for our sins. As our chief Prophet and Teacher, He “fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption” by His death on the cross (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 12). Now from heaven, He speaks to us the glad tidings of our salvation and gives us ears to hear and hearts to believe. He speaks to us words of instruction, rebuke, exhortation, comfort, and encouragement. Wonder of wonders, the Shepherd speaks and the sheep hear His voice!
By His work in us, Christ sanctifies our tongues and teaches us to use them rightly, to God’s glory and our neighbor’s edification. As His covenant friends, we delight to hear His voice and listen to His Word, and we also respond by speaking to Him in prayer and song. Such communication is at the heart of our daily experience of covenant friendship with God.
Consider two applications in closing. First, while learning to communicate rightly with others is important, most important is our communication with God. Imagine what one of your friends would think if you never listened to him and never spoke to him. That friend might think that you are not really friends. Now think about your friendship with God.
Do you love to listen to Him speak in the preaching and in the Bible? Do you speak to Him often in prayer? Second, what we have said about the gift of communication ought to make us grateful for it and motivated to make sanctified use of it. More on that next time.