The Secrets of Social Grace – Part Three

The Secrets of Social Grace – Part Three

The Art of Elegant Speech

by Leslie Ludy | January 1, 2011

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
– Ephesians 4:29 KJV

I will never forget leading a Bible study for a group of college-aged women; Christian girls who were hungry to go even deeper with Christ. Every one of the girls was outwardly attractive, well-dressed, and seemingly well-mannered. But before the study began, as we were sitting around having a casual conversation, I noticed a disturbing trend in their language: substitute cuss words. The girls were using them in every other sentence. Soon it became so distracting that I could hardly focus on what they were saying. They werenʼt intentionally meaning to be crass. In fact, they were using substitute words instead of the real thing in order not to offend anyone. However, I noticed that these few little words reduced the girls from being gracious, ladylike young women to sounding like crude, immature teenagers. Not to mention that it created a disrespectful and irreverent tone and certainly did not bring honor to the name of Christ.

A friend of mine who was discipling a small group of Christian young women recently told me, “They sound like guys when they talk – loud, rude, obnoxious, and crude. Iʼve started charging them money anytime they say something inappropriate, just so they can start realizing how often they do it and how unattractive it is!”

Today, itʼs totally normal for young women to take pride in speaking like obnoxious guys – belching, cussing, telling crude jokes, or making inappropriate comments. Itʼs almost as if the less feminine they can become, the more hip they think they will be.

Every so often, I meet a young woman who is excellent at the art of elegant speech; a girl who is respectful and refined in her conversation and manners. Whenever I see a young woman with this kind of dignity, I always take notice, because such women today are so rare. A few summers ago at one of our retreats, I encountered a young woman who was truly graceful in her speech. Her words were articulate and thoughtful, and marked by a truly unique eloquence; not drawing attention to herself, but reflecting the glory of God. And yet, for all of her polish and refinement, she was not prissy or uptight. She was fun-loving, passionate, and hard-working, living a life of sacrificial devotion to the least. She painted a wonderful picture of feminine grace, and stood out from among other young women as a shining example of Christʼs beauty.

Getting a Speech Makeover

Itʼs not necessary to sound like a British aristocrat or flowery old-fashioned poet to excel at the art of elegant speech. Itʼs more than possible to be relaxed and feel like yourself in a conversation, while still expressing yourself with dignity and grace. However, the lackluster, rude, and ungracious manner in which many of us communicate does not reflect the glory of our King.

Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt...” And Christ says that we will answer to God for every idle word that proceeds out of our mouth (see Matt. 12:36). Scripture is full of warnings and exhortations regarding our words and our speech, so itʼs certainly an area worth evaluating before God. Here are a few questions to prayerfully consider:

Do I use crude humor or make sexually inappropriate comments?

Do I criticize and belittle others with my words?

Do I use profanity or substitutions for profanity that make me sound crass and disrespectful?

Do I overuse filler words such as “like,” “really,” or “and stuff”?

Filler words clutter up conversation and make you sound less intelligent than you are. And when giving any kind of public presentation, nothing makes you sound unprofessional like an overabundance of fillers. (It takes some practice to break this habit – but I know from personal experience that it can be done!)

Do I mumble or talk too softly, as if Iʼm ashamed of what I have to say?

Remember that we are to be ambassadors of Christ, and instead of sheepishly muttering, we are to boldly and confidently speak the Truth in love.

Do I ramble or talk too fast, especially when I feel nervous or awkward?

Do I talk so loud that everyone in the room is forced to listen to me whether they want to or not?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, ask God to equip you to remake your habits in these areas. Begin to observe women who excel at the art of gracious and elegant speech. Study what the Bible has to say about the words that come out of our mouth. And make a purposeful, prayerful effort to use your tongue only for the glory of God. Youʼll be amazed at the difference it makes in your ability to showcase social grace.

In addition to refining our daily speech habits, here are some other important ways God asks us to cultivate the art of gracious conversation:

Give a Gentle Answer

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When someone speaks rudely or says something insensitive to us, the way we respond is critical. Our selfish, fleshly side urges us to respond harshly, insisting that it is our right to be rude to those who are rude to us. But Christʼs pattern is completely different. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44).

There might not be anything more challenging to our flesh than to live out this principle of selflessness, unconditional love, and forgiveness; to bite our tongue when a harsh reply wants to burst out, and instead, take a deep breath and pray for the other person. To exude the nature of Christ in the face of rudeness, insensitivity, or cruelty is a supernatural ability that His Spirit gives, not something we can muster up in our own strength.

One of the things that helps me most when it comes to giving a gentle answer is to remember stories of persecuted Christians throughout the ages. Betsy ten Boom was able to see her vicious, murderous prison guards with eyes of compassion instead of hate. Sabina Wurmbrand was able to sincerely love the pastor whose betrayal of her husband caused him years of torture and imprisonment. Elisabeth Elliot was able to forgive and serve her husbandʼs killers. Vibia Perpetua was able to intercede for the salvation of those who tortured her, humiliated her, and took her life.

If these women could receive grace and strength to love even the cruelest of men, can we not trust God for the power to overlook the much smaller offenses we encounter everyday?

A woman who has been transformed by the selfless love of Christ is not easily angered. She does not fly off the handle. She is not a slave to tumultuous emotions. She is not concerned with protecting her right to be treated a certain way. She is far more interested in the eternal souls of those around her than in her own feelings.

Next time you are in a situation where you feel your emotions flying off the handle, make a decision to slow down, walk in the other room if needed, take a deep breath, and pray for His love, His attitude, and His response to flow through your being. If you silence the voice of your screaming emotions and tune in to the still small voice of His Spirit, gentle answers will begin to replace angry ones. And soon people will stop and take notice of the unusual grace, beauty, and nobility that emanates from your life. A woman who is free from the tyranny of her own emotions is truly a sight to behold.

Flee Gossip

Gossip is one of the ugliest habits a young woman can allow into her life. It often seems so harmless at first. But gossip is deadly to our spiritual lives, and disastrous to our friendships and relationships. In fact, itʼs one of the main ingredients to bitterness, tension, and ruined relationships. Godʼs Word says that “a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28 NIV). But deliberately choosing to avoid gossip can quell even the most intense conflicts. As Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (NIV).

When God first began to purify the inner terrain of my soul, gossip was one of the first areas He convicted me of. Though it had not been my habit to maliciously gossip about people, I hadnʼt seen any harm in engaging in a little lighthearted banter about someoneʼs annoying social habits or irritating quirks. It was the kind of conversation that usually began with someone saying, “Not to be mean or anything, because I really like so-and-so, but have you ever noticed how they always do such-and-such?” Since this kind of “discussion” often took place among church friends, I had somehow felt it was justified. Yet I finally realized that this pattern did not reflect the likeness of Jesus Christ. It did not enhance His beauty in my life. It only fueled my fleshly, selfish side. By His grace, I determined not to participate in or even listen to any form of gossip, no matter how innocent it seemed.

In 2 Corinthians 12:20, Paul writes about his concern over one of the churches: “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be...I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (NIV).

Just think about how perfectly this describes the state of affairs in a typical sorority house, girlsʼ dorm, or clique of high school girlfriends. Young women can be masterful at gossip, backstabbing, arrogance, conflict, and betrayal. Christian young women are often no exception. Paul rebukes idle, slanderous, gossipy young women in 1 Timothy 5:13: “At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention” (NASB).

Gossip is not something to take lightly in our spiritual lives. Itʼs destructive, ugly, and damaging to friendships and relationships. It must be ruthlessly purged from our lives. Prayerfully evaluate this area of your life before God. Here are some questions to ask:

Do I use gossip as a weapon to get back at those that have hurt me?

Do I gossip under the seemingly spiritual banner of being “concerned” about people?

Do I use my tongue to honor and build up, or tear down and criticize?

When someone offends me, am I quick to report it to others?

Ask God to purge any patterns of gossip from your life. Next time you feel the urge to speak words of criticism or gossip, ask Godʼs Spirit to take over your tongue. Pray for the person you are tempted to gossip about. And let God deal with their “issues” instead of you. Make it your goal to be a woman of discretion, not dissension.

The Code of Honor

A Christ-built woman does not gossip, slander, back-stab, criticize, or complain. Her speech is gracious and respectful at all times. She does not take pleasure in worldly crudeness and humor or in cutting others down. She represents her Kingʼs glory and nature in the words that she speaks. Yes, it is impossible to live by this code of honor in our own strength. But when we yield our lives to Jesus Christ and submit our tongue to Him, He gently refines our speech, our language, and our conversation into a beautiful reflection of Himself. Proverbs 8:6 declares, “Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things” (KJV).

By Godʼs grace, may this be the testimony of our words – and our lives!*

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