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Ephesians 4:29 and Incredulity

28 September, 2009

corcpicsmallMy wife and I have been reading through a very good book by John Younts, Everday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children (Shepherds Press, 2009). Somewhat surprisingly, the book’s not mainly dealing with the actual process of faithfully speaking of the things of God in order to

impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deut 6:7)

Of course the book is about this, but it often addresses this indirectly; often, what is directly addressed is the kind of parents we are called to be in order, in faith and faithfully, to engage our children in this crucial ‘everyday talk’ of God and his marvelous ways.

One verse (in addition to Deut 6) that Younts repeatedly comes back to is Ephesians 4:29:

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.

Younts suggests that this is perhaps one of the most difficult statements in scripture, and the more I think about it the more I agree. One of the most convicting things that Younts mentions is how we often speak with what might be called incredulity towards one another. This really hit me.

This is one of those sins that are the easiest to perpetrate on your family, I think. I’ve so often found myself reacting to something my wife said or did, or my daughter, with a phrase something along the lines of,

What were you thinking? How could you…? I can’t believe you did…

And the tone of such statements is precisely that of incredulity. I’ve known somewhat vaguely, if someone pointed it out to me, that this was not the best way to speak. But I couldn’t ever really say why. What Younts pointed out to me is why such incredulity is bad — it’s bad because what I’m really saying when I say these things is,

How can you be so sinful? I can’t even conceive of being that sinful, and I can’t believe that you could be so sinful…

See what’s going on? When I say to my daughter after the third day in a row for getting in trouble for the same thing, ‘Why would you do that? Don’t you realize? How many times?’ and so on, I’m not simply discipling her and calling her to obedience, under God. What I’m saying to her with my incredulous tone and words is that I’m not a sinner like she is, and I’m shocked and dismayed as a result. What I’m doing in this situation is not loving my daughter, but shaming her; not calling her to repentance, but saddling her with a yoke of people-pleasing performance that neither she nor her father is able to bear. In terms of Eph 4:29, incredulity is not wholesome or helpful, it does not build up, it’s not what my daughter needs, it’s not to her benefit. This is not discipline before God, but as putting myself in the place of God. And wouldn’t you know, I don’t make a good god — because God does not shame us, or belittle us, or rub our nose in it. He’s not incredulous, because he’s not a sinner. Which brings up the most poignant thing in all this, which is that incredulity misunderstands and misrepresents God and the gospel to our children, as well as to others.

God has been convicting and teaching me through this book the sinfulness of incredulity, but at the same time the true wholesomeness of parenting (and husbanding) in the light of my own constant need of faith and repentance, my own continual need of the gospel of grace. It’s much harder to ask my daughter, with thinly veiled contempt, ‘How could you…?’, when I’m well aware that God has forgiven me for the same stubbornness and worse every day of my life, and forever. Ironically, I want to ask myself incredulously, ‘How could I do such things?’ — and the answer is that I’m a great sinner. But the Lord is a great Savior, which is my hope and that of my children, of which it is my calling and privilege to speak to them every day.

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5 Comments
  1. Jay Younts permalink
    28 September, 2009 11:48 pm

    Thanks for your comments about Eph. 4:29. You have hit on exactly what I hoped to communicate. Thank you for taking the time to post about this and for the eloquent manner of your comments. It is a great encouragement!

  2. Brad Lindvall permalink
    29 September, 2009 2:13 am

    Excellent post! Thanks for taking the time to write so well about this subject.

  3. Donna (Ellis) Burrell permalink
    29 September, 2009 12:28 pm

    Well, you have made your mother cry. But, they are happy tears… some are sad tears due to my memories of the past when I did not realize what you have discovered so early in your children’s lives. Thanks to Jay for writing in such a way to get the message across and glory to God for his wonderful grace!

  4. 29 September, 2009 8:33 pm

    You have made your friend cry. Alisia and I have been talking about this a lot. Jay’s book is definitely next in the Amazon cart! I hate those last 2 gray boxes. Sigh.

  5. 29 September, 2009 8:37 pm

    Thanks everyone.

    John (Jay): I’m glad to return even a little encouragement your way, as until now it’s been entirely one-directional! I’m enjoying the book, and recommending it often.

    Mom: You know, the first time I was ever made aware of my issues with incredulity is when I was annoyed with Jack [my dog], and you said, quietly but searchingly, ‘Why do you talk to him like that?’ I’m sure you don’t remember that — it was a couple years ago in California — but it has really stuck with me.

    ~B

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