Sitting around the table at a family gathering, the conversation has veered political once again. It’s mostly one person talking, sharing his thoughts on COVID, on how churches have handled it, are handling it, and ought to be handling it. Some of us agree, some don’t. None of us will change our minds during this discussion. 

I sit and listen mostly, sharing a few remarks now and again, not really daring to say much. A phone is passed around, and when I see a post of someone who is sharing her views in a way that seems ridiculous to us, I laugh. Then I’m stricken. 

What good does it do to laugh at this woman? She’s a person, worthy of respect just as I am. Have I started to “sit in the company of mockers” as I’m warned not to in Psalm 1? The conversation continues, but when I go to bed, I wonder if I gained any benefit or benefited anyone else through this conversation.

Reading 1 Timothy 1:3-7 the next morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on our chat more. Paul instructs Timothy to encourage people not to spend their time arguing about genealogies, a popular religious debate of the day. I wonder how much this advice might apply to me and my conversations—political, theological, or general conversations about life and the world that do the same thing Paul is warning against:

“…Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1:4b-7).

Thinking about the passage, I saw that Paul makes it pretty easy to see when we’re straying into the realm of meaningless talk. There are three main indicators that a discussion is getting there.


1. It promotes controversial speculations.

Am I speculating? Guessing? Jumping to conclusions? Assuming? Not that all imaginings and wonderings are wrong, but when we make sweeping generalizations—especially of others—without the facts, we’re generally not being wise, constructive, or loving. 

Like when I say that I know for sure what’s making kids these days act disrespectfully. Or I dismiss entire groups of people, assuming that I understand them completely because they hold one certain opinion. “He gets his information from this or that news platform.” “She believes this or that about vaccines.” “They voted for so-and-so in the last election.”

These types of generalizations are dangerous because they leave us no reason to hear anything these specific people say ever again. Talking this way isn’t usually fruitful or even interesting. 


2. I’m talking with the desire to make myself look good.

In 1 Timothy 1:4-7, Paul says that those having these meaningless conversations desire to be teachers, showing off their knowledge. I know that in my conversation with my family, part of the funniness of the situation was in thinking about how ridiculous that lady was. Why did I enjoy finding her ridiculous? Because deep down, I got to enjoy the fact that I wasn’t that ridiculous. I got to feel smarter than her. 

How often do desires like this fuel my conversations? Am I speaking to sound smart? Funny? Why am I talking anyway? To encourage others? Stir them to loving action? Hmm, maybe I should talk a lot less in general. 


3. The discussion stems from ignorance.

Paul says that the people devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies have no idea what they’re talking about even though they’re stating it confidently. 

Remember those conversations where someone states something confidently, and later we all realize that they didn’t know beans about it? I always walk away thinking that person was an arrogant idiot (we can talk about my propensity to judge in another article!), but how often do I do the same? 

How quick am I to pretend I know something instead of admitting my ignorance? Do I prefer learning to voicing my own opinions? How quick am I to listen and how slow am I to speak? Some of these questions literally make me cringe because the truth is, I often talk too much and listen too little.


Thankfully, Paul also gives some thoughts on what the focus of our conversation should be instead. 


1. Advance God’s work (v. 4).

I don’t want to imply that we should never discuss controversial issues or anything but how to share Jesus with others. We should discuss those big things, but God’s work happens in the small stuff, too. We can advance his work by encouraging. By offering hope. By choosing to voice thankfulness over criticism. 

In a different letter, Paul encouraged the Philippians (Philippians 4:8) to think about what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Don’t we all need more conversations and thoughts like these in our lives? If I thought like that, well then, I’d probably talk like that. 

And I think that’s how my conversations could advance God’s work. 


2. Remember God in the moment (v. 4).

Paul reminded Timothy that God’s work is advanced by faith. It seems there’s an implication that the quibbling debaters aren’t showing much faith. Caught up in what they’re doing and thinking and saying, they’ve forgotten God for the moment. Their focus has turned to issues. 

I’m more and more convinced that the Christian life is about keeping God in mind. At my core, I know he’s there, but I forget him. I forget his presence, his desire for me to talk with him, remember him, thank him, and live with him. 

What would I sound like if I spoke my words with God in mind? What if I were abiding in Christ as Paul and Jesus talk about so often? What if I were always remembering his presence? What if he were a part of all my conversations, thoughts, and actions?  After all, he’s the Creator of everything, and he is working everywhere. 


3. Speak from love (v. 5)

Love is really the end and the beginning of Christianity, isn’t it? Of course, it ought to be our intention in everyday conversation. Paul says the goal of all the instructions he gives in 1 Timothy 1 is based in love, which comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (v. 5).

Assured of Christ’s love for me (and his forgiveness, peace, and hope), my heart can respond by loving others. Remembering that Christ gave his very life to restore me opens my heart to see that all of us, regardless of our behavior, are equally in need of Christ. Once the playing field is leveled in my mind, I have more desire to love others rather than condemn them, seeking to restore them if I can rather than degrading or arguing with them. 

What if, before speaking, I reflected on Christ’s love for me, and let that guide the words I spoke? What if I found joy in speaking from love to others, regardless of their response to my attempts? What if I let Christ’s love guide even my thoughts? 

As I practice staying away from meaningless banter and setting a better focus for my conversations, I know that none of this is possible without Christ’s help. If you’re with me in this struggle to let Christ rule your tongue, join me in this prayer: 

Lord God, help me to shut my mouth more often. Help me instead to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Help me not to be so concerned about my rightness and my opinions. Help me to focus on you, and on showing your grace and love. Teach me true humility, Father. And thanks for loving me even when I fail in all of this. Amen.