As children, we probably all used the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” We knew even then that this wasn’t true. Words are powerful. They can build up or tear down, inspire or discourage.
Words are the basic building block for communication. We probably talk as much or more than we do anything else. We talk in person, by phone, text messages, instant messages, message boards, blogs, and email. Words are also at the heart of how we speak with God. It’s not surprising, then, that scripture provides a wealth of guidance on how we communicate.
God’s Call and Promise
The goal for how we use our words is quite simple. As new creatures in Christ, every word spoken should be a graceful expression of God’s love and mercy in that situation. Each phrase should echo the words of our Teacher and reflect the presence of his Spirit. Our words are one of the primary ways we express love for God and others.
Read the following passages as a few examples of God’s intent for our speaking.
1 Peter 3:9-11
We know all too well that expressing love in every moment through our conversation is extremely difficult. We’re all in the same boat. The reality of our lives is that sin continues to poison our comments. We don’t need to study this problem very deeply in order to agree with James’ statement in James 3:8 that “the tongue is a restless evil.” At times we speak and then immediately long to bring the words back, but we cannot. Unfortunately, many of us sin this way against those we love the most.
Think of all the ways evil is expressed through our words: pride, sexual advances, belittling, gossip, slander, anger, rage, backbiting, superiority, malice, sarcasm, flattery, gloating, lies, egotism, self-justification, hatred. There are even times when the right words are used but with a sinful tone added.
The heart of the problem is that our words express what is in our mind and heart. Even the slightest sin will find its way out through your mouth. In passages such as Matthew 15:18 and Mark 7:21-23 Jesus told us the evil that comes out of our mouth rises from the heart. This is why James tells us in James 3:2 that if anyone can control their tongue they are perfect.
Read the following passages as a few examples of God’s description of the problem.
Receiving the Promise
We cannot control every word we say, and even if we could this would not change our heart. The answer lies in correcting the problem. That is, we work with the Lord to experience the changed heart he alone provides. Spiritual discipline will enable us to align our speech with the Lord’s work in us. Paul told Timothy that while physical training has value, training in godliness holds promises for this life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). Here are a few suggestions of what we can do today that will help.
Pray. Ask the Lord
- to purify your heart.
- for self-control.
- at the start of each day and throughout the day to guide you as you speak.
- that he would be honored by your words.
- to work his will in and through your comments.
Make a conscious effort to
- follow any promptings you sense are from the Lord.
- listen to others when they speak.
- listen to the Lord when others speak.
- avoid speaking in a way that does not honor God.
- avoid speaking in an attempt to make yourself look good.
- avoid interrupting someone else when they speak.
- to your words when you speak.
- the attitudes behind your words.
Review the passages listed below and
- memorize some of them.
- post some of them where you will see them such as in the car, around the house or where you work.
- pray through them asking the Lord to establish his word in your life.
Be aware of situations when tempted to speak ill of or to another and handle this as you would any other temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
- Spend time in fasting and prayer about maturing in Christ, specifically in your conversation.
- As you reflect at the end of each day with God, consider also your speech through the day.
- Spend time in the discipline of silence.
Seek forgiveness when you offend someone.
Read the following passages as a few examples of God’s instruction.
We will not experience the victory of God’s promise until we begin. The Lord’s love and mercy will shine through us with more clarity if we pursue maturity in every word we speak.