Never Use ‘Always’ – Always Avoid ‘Never’ – Unless…
It happened again. Your spouse, your teenager, your brother or sister, your friend has let you down. An argument, a disagreement, a misunderstanding, a missed opportunity. And now the words begin to flow – maybe to the offending party, maybe to someone else about the offending party. Soon the words are not merely flowing, they are flying with the speed and accuracy – and deadliness – of an arrow off a crossbow. And then it comes:
They are such easy words to say. And they certainly communicate well your frustration and hurt. But do they over-communicate? Do they say more than you intended to say? And is it true?
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4.29-32).
Hello, My Name Is…
When you use words like, “You always,” or “You never,” what you are saying is, “This trait, this offense is your identity. This defines you.” In other words, nothing else in the person’s past has any capital or impact on who this person is at his or her core. This, and this only, is their identifier. It becomes the monochromatic lens through which you view the person. Everything they do is colored by this one fault or flaw or sin.
But if you can take a moment to be honest you have to admit, that is simply not true. Hyperbolic language is always over-the-top and never accurate (see what I did there?). This sin is NOT the defining character trait of your husband or wife, your teenager or sibling or friend. Our sin is not our identifier. It is certainly true that our sin used to be our identity, but no longer. Christ has delivered us.
“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6.11
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Romans 8.14-17
If God himself does not identify us by our sins, we ought not use each other’s faults as identifiers either.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here
When we use the language of “you always” and “you never” and other phrases like them, what we are saying is that there is no hope for change. “This is so much your definer that the Holy Spirit is not going to change you.” “I have no hope for anything ever changing in you.”
Is that what we are seeking to communicate with one another? Is that an accurate assessment of the ongoing struggle with the power of sin?
“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1.6
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4.8,9
If God’s view of us is that we are washed, justified and sanctified shouldn’t that be our view of each other?
Our words have meaning and power, power to heal and help or power to tear down and destroy.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18.21
Where ‘always’ will always work and ‘never’ will never be out of place
So, how does God use always and never when he describes our relationships on earth? Won’t we always be dealing with each other’s sin? Won’t we never be perfected before the Lord returns? Yes, and so we need love… always.
1 Corinthians 13 is that well-known passage that is read at so many weddings. It’s the “love” chapter. Have you ever noticed that most of the descriptors of love are in response to a negative situation? “Love is patient.” When is it that you need patience? “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not resentful or irritable.” When is it we are most insistent that others follow our way? When are you tempted to be irritable or resentful?
The passage ends with four “always” and one “never.”
“love bears all things (always bears), believes all things (always believes), hopes all things (always has hope), endures all things (always endures). Love never ends.
Love never gives up. This is the love God has for you. This is the love God grants to you for each other. The next time you are tempted to throw the “always” and “nevers” into an argument. Remember the always and nevers of the Gospel, of Christ’s love for you, of the Spirit’s presence both in you and in the other person. And never give up.
Enjoy the journey.