Building Up or Cutting Down?

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I have a two year old, which means that the majority of the time we are in the car we are listening to some form of children’s music. Our CD player alternates pretty regularly between Bible songs, The Wiggles, and an array of music from children’s movies. Because these songs live on in my brain for days on end in the form of earworms, it’s no wonder that the inspiration for this post came from one of those very songs. 

Disney’s animated movie Pocahontas has a song called Colors of the Wind, and there is a very poignant phrase toward the end of the song that has caused me to stop and reflect on the way I use my words. Here’s how the lyrics read:

“How high does the sycamore grow? If you cut it down, then you’ll never know.” 

Obviously, the song is literally talking about nature and our relationship with it, but I think that there is a deeper application in how we treat those around us. For today’s purposes, let’s think about the way we treat our preacher.

The best way to build up a person is to refrain from cutting them down. That seems obvious, right? If we continually cut someone down, they are not going to develop or blossom into a better, stronger person. Instead, they are going to become timid, bitter, or complacent. None of us would want those things in a preacher – a man who is a proclaimer of God’s good news. And yet, how many of us have been a part of cutting down a preacher? How many of us, by our words, have caused him not to soar, but to shrink back because of our hurtful words? Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “The tongue has the power of life and death,” while James would say the tongue is “full of deadly poison” (3:8). You and I have the power to give life or give poison just by the words we choose to say. We have the power to either allow the sycamore to grow and become strong or to poison the tree and watch it fall. With great power comes great responsibility. Which do you typically choose?

It’s been a longstanding joke to talk about having fried preacher for lunch on Sundays. Perhaps you think that by not actually saying hurtful words to your preacher that you’re not actually hurting him. And maybe you’re right; perhaps the preacher will never know the hurtful words that you’ve said. But God knows. God sees your heart and knows what you are capable of. He sees that “with [the tongue] we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10). 

The Bible is our inspired guidebook. We are expressly told that having a tongue that would praise God one minute and cut down the preacher the next is abhorrent and sinful. Why, then, are we so quick to criticize and cut down? Anytime we speak ill of someone else we are exposing a heart problem that we have as well as a lack of spiritual maturity. James says at the beginning of his discourse on the tongue that no man is able to fully tame it and that everyone will struggle not to stumble. That means that all of us, regardless of age or experience, are going to struggle with the ways we use our words. I know I definitely do. However, just because we struggle doesn’t mean we stop trying. Instead, it means we look deeper into our hearts, spend more time in God’s word, and pray about our self-control daily. It means we find someone to hold us accountable, be it our spouse or the people we regularly eat with on Sundays. We let others know we’ve been wrong and that we want to be better.

As someone who is married to a preacher, I feel I can with confidence say this about all preachers: they put their heart and soul into their lessons. For at least a week, they have poured everything into the lesson they are presenting. When someone is quick to make a snide comment or complain about the length of a sermon, that cuts the preacher to his core. When this is done repeatedly, a preacher could become so discouraged that he decides to quit. So please, weigh your words. Even if you have a problem with the sermon, spend a little time thinking about it and praying about the way you will discuss it. The preacher has spent lots of time with the text, and perhaps we could all do the same before jumping down his throat about this or that. 

Obviously, every preacher has different strengths. There are different levels of experience and maturity in every minister. But as a Christian (who is to be known by love), shouldn’t we assume the best about our preacher and refrain from behaving rudely (1 Cor. 13:5)? Shouldn’t we rejoice in the truth being proclaimed, even if the presentation wasn’t exactly flawless or what we would have wanted? Every preacher would tell you that he is still growing and still striving to reach greater spiritual heights through study and prayer. If we continue to cut him down, will he ever grow? 

As Christians, let’s always strive to keep our tongues bridled. Let’s always choose to build up the ones around us instead of cutting them down, regardless of who it is or whether or not we think they will ever hear what we’ve said about them. To be pleasing to God, we will be a holy people – a people who aren’t hypocritical or hypercritical.