“Truth Overheard”—How Our Words Matter

Older women are to teach what is good.Grace Abounding

Thus the apostle Paul instructs the young Titus concerning one of the roles of older women within the church (Titus 2:3).

Sometimes, we women forget that—no matter how young or old we are—if we’re able to read these words, we are all probably in the role of “older” to some else’s “younger.”

Oddly enough, John Bunyan recently reminded me just how important it is that we women not forget this exhortation to “teach what is good”—and how teaching “what is good” may happen in the moments we least expect.

In his autobiography, entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan writes of his time as a young man, “ignorant of Jesus Christ…establishing his own righteousness in which [he] would have perished had not God in mercy showed [him] more of [his] state by nature.”

Then God, in His sovereign grace, brought Bunyan into contact with a group of older women. Listen as Bunyan explains the impact their conversation—a conversation which he only overheard—had on him:

But one day the good providence of God called me to Bedford to work at my trade. In one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun talking about the things of God. Being now willing to hear their discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker myself in the matters of religion.

I will say I heard but I did not understand, for they were far above my reach. Their talk was about a new birth, the work of God in their hearts, and also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature. They talked about how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil. Moreover, they spoke about the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular and told each other by what means they had been afflicted and how they were strengthened under his assaults. They also discoursed about their own wretchedness of heart and their unbelief and did condemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness as filthy and insufficient to do them any good.

I thought they spoke as if joy made them speak. They talked with such pleasantness of scriptural language and with appearance of grace in all they said that they seemed to me as if they had found a new world….At this I felt my own heart begin to shake and mistrust my condition to be nothing. I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth never had entered my mind, neither did I know the comfort of the Word and promise or the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart. As for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them, neither did I understand what Satan’s temptations were or how they were to be withstood and resisted.

Thus, when I had heard and considered what they said, I left them and went about my employment again, but their talk and conversation went with me. My heart also stayed with them, for I was greatly affected by their words.

How tremendously convicted I am by the questions that are raised in my own mind each time I read Bunyan’s words:

  • Are my conversations as I’m “sitting at a door in the sun” — or visiting with my neighbors, or chatting with someone after church, or making copies at the copy machine — are these seemingly casual conversations actually of such weightiness that the person who overhears my words is impacted by their truth?
  • Do my overheard words make someone think that I speak as if joy has made me speak? (Read that one again. It hurts.)
  • Is there such an appearance of grace in all that I say that it seems as if I have found a new world?

Oh, Lord. Please forgive us for our casual words. Teach us to be careful with our words—because we know that we will give account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). Teach us to season our every conversation with grace so that the word of God will not be reviled (Titus 2:5). We ask this so our whole lives—including every word we speak—would be used for the glory of Jesus and for His name’s sake. Amen.

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