And a Soft Tongue Will Break a Bone
Written by A.W. Workman |
Friday, February 17, 2023
A soft tongue can break even hardest bone – or the hardest heart. I am reminded of Jesus’ gentle words to the Samaritan woman in John 4:17-18, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” These gentle words of the Messiah proved extremely powerful – they brought about not only this woman’s repentance, but the awakening of her village also through her.
“You are in my house. You are in my house.”
The words were spoken in a soft voice. The speaker, a silver-haired older man with deep blue eyes, sat just as calm and hospitable as ever in his armchair as he spoke them. But the effect of these words was like a bomb – some kind of vacuum grenade that sucked all the noise out of the room and shut the mouths of a room-full of arguing twenty-somethings.
Well, not all the mouths were shut. Barham’s* mouth was hanging open, cut off in angry mid-sentence. The change coming over him was quite remarkable. His red face was returning to his natural Central Asian olive tone, the deep creases in his forehead were relaxing, and a softness seemed to return to his eyes and even his entire posture.
Somehow, our older host had known just the right words to say to defuse our explosive situation. The words he uttered cut to Barham’s heart, tapping deeply into Central Asian values of honoring the elderly and being a gracious guest. I sat back and exhaled slowly. Our host, pastor Dave*, had once again proven the power of a wise and soft tongue.
Barham, a new believer and a refugee, had moved in with his girlfriend, an American who was also professing to be a new believer. As their friend and community group leader, I had called them to repent and stop living together. When this counsel was rebuffed, we had brought a couple other believers into the situation. This only led to more angry opposition. Finally, we informed them we would be bringing their situation to the whole community group as a step on the way to informing the entire church. Not known to shy away from a fight, Barham and his girlfriend had decided to come to the meeting where we would inform the group in order to defend themselves and to tell us off for our self-righteousness.
In this season our community group was a motley crew of young Bible college students, newlyweds, internationals, and new believers. We were all very young and things were often very messy. We jokingly nicknamed our group Corinth because of the way the Spirit was working powerfully to save and sanctify even as sin messes spilled out on the regular, setting things on fire. This group was where I first cut my teeth in leadership in our sending church, and I was often overwhelmed and very much in over my head.
Wisely, each of the community groups was overseen by one of the elders of the church, who also served as a mentor to the group leader. These pastors would sometimes attend the groups themselves, often rotating between the several they oversaw. Dave was our appointed elder, but every week he was also at our group meetings (perhaps it was clear that we really needed this), though he seldom spoke during the meeting itself. He seemed content to let me do most of the leading, while he and his wife brought a welcome measure of age and gentle wisdom to our very young group.
The day that Barham and his girlfriend showed up to challenge us over step 2.5 of the Matthew 18 discipline process, we were meeting at Dave’s house. This proved to be providential, setting up Dave to remind Barham of this crucial point after the conversation had gotten out of hand. Earlier, I had done my best to handle the awkwardness of Barham and his girlfriend showing up and had also tried hard to be clear, kind, and firm as we responded to their accusations.