“Love” is a much misused word, misunderstood even by Christians, whose “mark” is supposed to be love. At present many valentine cards are flying about the country speaking of one or another sort of affection, and the day of many grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, and others is cheered by the reminder that someone was thinking of them. However much we may scream “commercial,” something is better than nothing as a sort of a squeeze of the hand across the miles. Yes, even an “artificial” day can be a helpful jog to get us to stop in our “too-busy” hour-by-hour day-by-day life and say, “I love you, you are significant to me, you matter, it is important to me that you are alive.”

In First Corinthians 13, we are admonished in strong words to speak with love. No matter how beautiful and eloquent our speech, if it is without love, it sounds like the clank of brass or the tinkling of a cymbal. Our speaking is to be in love, with love, prompted by love.

Chapter 14 goes on to say that we are to “follow after love” so that we can speak in a way that will build up people in their understanding and give them comfort. True comfort can come only from knowing the truth and the hope and the promises of the living God. Our compassion and love are to prompt us to comforting conversation, and also to conversation in which we learn something that will help us take a step forward in the Christian life.

When we talk on and on with no consideration for anyone else, no thought of what someone else might need to hear or say, our conversation can do great harm, spraying the plants around us with a poison that stunts growth instead of with fresh water and a little proper fertilizer to help growth. What harm can take place in an evening’s careless conversation as doubts and bitterness, gossip and criticism poison the tender growth of understanding, ideas, creativity, or fresh love for the Lord and desire for his will in others. People can go home from such an evening and lie awake full of doubts as to whether their ideas and plans—for a book or article or painting, a gardening project, an open house on Wednesday evenings, a festive meal at an old-people’s home, a weekly visit to a blind person to read aloud, sketches to illustrate a Bible story, a fresh way of communicating God’s truth to prisoners—are worth bucking the criticism. They may even begin to doubt whether any fresh, new, loving, compassionate attempt to glorify God and help people to find him, or to show kindness, is worth the effort. The careless remarks, the raised eyebrows that say “That’s impossible,” can bring such discouragement that the result is the death of some precious seed the Lord had planted.

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A Christian’s careless conversation can be used in the Devil’s plan to hinder or delay the plan God is unfolding to his children, even in the very basic areas of obedience. In Galatians Paul says, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.… He that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be” (Gal. 5:7–10). It happened in Paul’s time, and it happens now: someone in his conversation hinders another Christian from obeying God.

When we read the warning in Galatians 5:15 against “biting and devouring one another,” we must realize that it is in the area of conversation that we “bite.” We are being warned with a flashing light that there is danger when we depart from talking with love, kindness, longsuffering, concern, compassion, and a desire to help rather than to hinder others.

However, it is not just in long times of talking together with careless disregard for what we might be doing to each other that there is danger. Questions can be completely without compassion, totally unloving. Yes, honest questions deserve honest answers, but there are two things to think about before asking a question in a group of people who have come together, whether as a class, a discussion group, a gathering of friends, a Bible-study group, a casual gathering on a beach, or in some other way: (1) Is this an honest question or a trick question to try to upset the person answering? (2) Are there people present who do not know whether the God of the Bible exists or not, who may not have another opportunity to hear their own deep questions dealt with, and who will be turned aside by theological “hairsplitting”?

Consider for a moment that perhaps you have entered a group of people where a Hindu, a devil worshiper, an atheist, a confused church member, a materialistic business man with slight interest in spiritual things, and a variety of others have come because of someone’s concern in bringing them, or praying for them. With what breathless interest someone may be listening? Suddenly a Christian asks a question about some point about which Christians differ, such as predestination or mode of baptism. The whole evening can be negative in its effect, but worse than that, the time is lost, never to be retrieved.

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We are responsible for our use of our time, and perhaps doubly so for our use of other people’s time. So often the Christian uses up the time during which non-Christians might have drastically needed help. The need to avoid extravagance with money is much in our minds because “depression” is near, but what about the extravagant use of time, which will never be more abundant until this life is over?

Paul says to Timothy in Second Timothy 2:14, “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” I think Paul is talking about conversation and peripheral questions that use up time during which the “hearers” need some positive help. He is warning all of us who are children of the living God to show forth our love and compassion for one another and for the lost ones of the world when we sit conversing, and asking questions. He goes on to urge and command in verses 23, 24, and 26:

Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves … that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

There is to be a positive result in conversation and in question-and-answer times, as well as in teaching and preaching times.

Love expressed is not simply a valentine, not simply the words “I love you” said at the end of a phone conversation, an evening, or in public acclaim. Love is to be expressed as we choose the content of our conversation, as we carefully decide when to ask a question and when to keep quiet, as we consider other people before ourselves in the use of precious time.

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