On Translation, Zingers and Grace

On one of our trips to Ukraine, Cindy Byrd and I were invited to meet the family of a teen who had been attending our campaign meetings. We thought that her family had some questions about God and the Bible, and as it turned out, they did. It seems her family had friends who lived in the same tenement building who were Jehovah Witnesses, and they had been studying just long enough to become really confused. They wanted us to come and discuss the Bible with their Jehovah’s Witness friends. I remember thinking that it was a bit ironic that we traveled halfway around the world to get into an argument with some Jehovah’s Witnesses; we could have stayed home and waited for them to come to our door!

The thing we could not have done is discussed the Bible with very argumentative and indoctrinated people (and these folks were both and then some) through a translator. Our hostess was the only person present who spoke both English and Russian, so all the discussion had to go through her. Our JW friends would make impassioned (as in veins bulging in their necks and smoke coming from their nostrils) argument, but then they would have to sit and wait for their words to be translated from Russian into English, then for Cindy or I to respond and then for our words to be translated back into Russian for them. That took a long time… and it let them calm down a bit and kept things on a calmer keel would have been the case if we could have spoken directly. I remember thinking that all theological discussion needs to take place through a translator!

Maybe that is a lesson for us in our marriages, families and church relationships. Maybe rather than responding immediately to what people say to us, we need to wait for the translation. Maybe we need to wait long enough for the words of the flesh (what we want to say) to be translated into the words of the Spirit (what we should say). Paul expects us to translate our “unwholesome talk” (literally “rotten words”) into speech that is helpful and which builds up.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

In Colossians 4:6, Paul uses the imagery of seasoning our words with grace, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Often, in disagreements, we end up saying what makes us feel better rather than saying what is best for the other person. We need to let the Holy Spirit in us translate our words into what the other person really needs to hear. To do that, we need to slow down a bit. That’s hard for me to do… especially when I have a great zinger on the tip of my tongue. But it is that "zinger" that is often the “rotten words” that come from the flesh. We need to let the Spirit translate those into words that are beneficial and build up those who listen.