The Conversation of a Gracious Friend
A gracious friend is not only known by her character but also by her words. King Solomon wisely observed, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend” (Prov. 27:9 NASB). Just like oil and perfume can rejuvenate a troubled body or heart, the conversation of a gracious friend brings comfort, healing, and strength. She’s learned from personal experience and by much practice that “the most pleasant conversation . . . promotes the prosperity of the soul.”1The words of a gracious friend are self-controlled, wise, and hopeful, and those who hear her speak are the better for it.
1. A gracious friend speaks with self-control.
Have you ever heard a child banging on a piano, making up her own music? It’s cute for a few minutes, and then it can become annoying. But give that child piano lessons, and within a few years you’ll enjoy hearing her play. Careful instruction and self-discipline will have provided her with skillful control of the instrument so that when she does play the piano, others truly enjoy it.
Self-control means “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.”2Just as an accomplished pianist has learned proper technique to beautifully express herself at the piano, a gracious friend has learned self-control so that she can carefully express herself with words that bless others. But the woman lacking restraint in her speech is harmful to everyone. Proverbs 25:28 warns that someone “without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Unless self-control guards the mouth, foolish and sinful speech easily tumbles out.
How can you gain self-control over your speech? First, check your heart, for your speech originates within you (Luke 6:45). Self-controlled speech begins with submitting control of your heart to the Lord. Confess and turn from ungodly thoughts, motives, and attitudes in your heart, and your words will begin to reflect the Christlike changes in your inner person.
Second, think before you speak. It’s tempting to speak your mind and even congratulate yourself for being a straight shooter, but that attitude leads to ruin. Instead, thoughtfully guard your words (Prov. 13:3). Ask yourself: “Is what I’m about to say true, kind, and necessary?”3To be true, your words must be free from falsehood and exaggeration. To be kind, your words must be considerate and gentle. To be necessary, your words must be needful in the moment to accomplish what is good and right.
Third, speak with self-control by using your words to promote unity, and never division: Be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Seek and grant forgiveness, speak highly of others, and learn to resolve conflict biblically.4Guard against gossip by keeping others’ confidences to yourself, not spreading rumors, and refusing to entertain damaging information. Protect the reputations of others, for a gracious friend is not slanderous but trustworthy with her words (Prov. 11:13).
2. A gracious friend speaks with wisdom.
Wise words are characterized by “deep understanding, keen discernment, and . . . sound judgment.”5They communicate the application of knowledge to real-life situations. It’s like my (Cheryl’s) friend, Sheila, who recently gave my daughter and me sewing lessons. We could have tried to learn by ourselves how to sew, but Sheila is a skilled seamstress who was able to help us avoid beginner mistakes and master the basics. Similarly, the wise words of a gracious friend teach us how to live skillfully for God’s glory. She shows us how to put God’s word into practice. She “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26).
To be a woman of wisdom, begin by fearing the Lord (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the Lord is
that indefinable mixture of reverence and pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what he has done for us. It is a love for God which is so great that we would be ashamed to do anything that would displease or grieve him, and makes us happiest when we are doing what pleases him.6
To understand who God is and what he’s done for you, look at his creation and be in awe of his power and majesty.
To understand who God is and what he’s done for you, look at his creation and be in awe of his power and majesty. Gaze upon his grace in the gospel and marvel at his justice and mercy. If you revere and love the Lord supremely, the joy of your life will be to avoid what displeases him and pursue that which honors him.
Next, study the Scriptures: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). Like Ezra, set your heart to know God’s word so that you can obey it in your own life and then share it with others (Ezra 7:10). Through diligent and consistent Bible study, conform your thoughts and speech to the source of true wisdom.
In addition, pray for wisdom: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18). Ask the Lord to help you understand and apply the Scriptures to your life. The prayer for wisdom is a prayer that the Lord delights to answer (1 Kings 3:10–12). You can pray with confidence knowing that God will grant you wisdom as you search his word and ask in faith.
3. A gracious friend speaks with hope.
The words of a gracious friend foster hope because they are full of hope. Her words are characterized by confidence in the attributes and promises of God. She has a high view of him, and she inspires others to trust him with reminders of his faithfulness. Her hope in the Lord is contagious and brings joy to those around her (Prov. 10:28). For the believer, the word hope is not an expression of doubt or uncertainty. Instead, it communicates a secure faith in God. One pastor explained that hope “is not simply a ‘wish’ (I wish that such-and-such would take place); rather, it is that which latches on to the certainty of the promises of the future that God has made.”7Hope is a confident expectation of his goodness and faithfulness. Do your words inspire hope in God?
Do you encourage others with God’s past faithfulness and future promises? Speak with joyful certainty about his enduring love. We all need reminders that the Lord will be our help in every circumstance and that he’ll always be faithful. Just as Aaron upheld the weary arms of his brother, Moses, throughout battle (Ex. 17:11–13), strengthen and uphold others’ faith with Scripture and your personal expressions of hope in God.
Sometimes you may offer hope with a simple comment, and sometimes you may have opportunity to share specific Bible verses to encourage another’s hope in God. To be genuine, share verses with your loved one that have personally helped you in the past. Briefly explain how a particular scripture has strengthened your own hope in God. For example, Matthew 11:28 has been a comfort to me (Caroline) through many trials. I often share it with others who are under heavy burdens to encourage their faith in Jesus: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
We have one more thought to share with you about encouraging hope in others: proceed with caution. Keep in mind how your hopeful words could come across as unfeeling or hurtful to a friend who is suffering. Be discerning when offering hope: Are you being sensitive to the timing and content of what you’re saying? Are you allowing your loved one to express her concerns and process the biblical truth she already knows? Beware of bombarding her with Christian clichés instead of taking the time to have meaningful conversations about her trials and God’s faithfulness. Sometimes it’s best to be quiet, and sometimes it’s best to simply sprinkle hope in what you say. When in doubt, gently ask your friend if you can share with her the hope that God has given you.
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 1016.
- Merriam-Webster, s.v. “self-control,” accessed September 29, 2019, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-control.
- This question is the subject of a poem in Mary Ann Pietzker, Miscellaneous Poems (London: Griffith & Farran, 1872), 55.
- For more about biblical conflict resolution, we recommend Ken Sande, The Peacemaker (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).
- Merriam-Webster, s.v. “wise,” accessed September 29, 2019, www .merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wise.
- Sinclair Ferguson, Grow in Grace (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1989), 29.
- R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians(Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, 1994), 40.
This article is adapted from When Words Matter Most: Speaking Truth with Grace to Those You Love by Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser.
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