Words are powerful. God created the entire world with speech. Since people are created in God’s image and likeness, our words carry a great deal of weight. Within the church, the tongue is the most powerful tool we have for building up the Body of Christ, giving praise and offering prayer to God, and for proclaiming the good news of forgiveness in Christ. However, the bald truth is that there are far too many duplicitous tongues within the church which can say something good one minute and something hurtful the next.
Whatever comes out of our mouths reveals what is on the inside of our lives (James 3:0-12). If we can grasp the truth of this, I believe it could transform the way we talk to one another. Salt water and fresh water cannot both come from the same spring. A fig tree cannot bear olives, and a grapevine is not going to produce figs. Here is the biblical point: Whatever comes out of the mouth reveals the source. Evil words come from an evil source; and, good words come from a good source. If a person has a pattern of negative condescending speech, then that person is drawing from a well pumping up words from the depths of Hell. And if a person has a practice of continually saying helpful words that encourage others, that person is producing good fruit from roots that draw nourishment from God’s Word.
Here are four ways to bring the tongue under control so that our speech and our words can reflect the God who created us for good:
- Train your tongue for good, just like you would train anything else. When starting an exercise regimen, you are training your body for health. When dieting, you are saying ‘yes’ to certain foods, and ‘no’ to others. The tongue needs to be trained to express gratitude, gospel, and grace. And one of the best ways to do it is through speaking Scripture out loud in a daily regular regimen. Consider going on a fast from talking, and seek only to be silent and listen for a specified amount of time. Paul said to Timothy: Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). The writer of Hebrews said: Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).
- Read a chapter of Proverbs each day for a month. There are thirty one chapters in Proverbs, one for each day of the month. Pay attention to the power of words. Notice the difference between the speech of a wise person and the words of a fool – and take to heart the consequences of both approaches. Here are just a few of Proverbs’ short pithy statements about the tongue: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise (10:19); Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (12:18).
- Foster relationships and friendships with people that are positive and encouraging. If a negative person keeps being negative, even after you have warned them more than once about it, you likely need a new relationship. Paul was straightforward with his young protégé, Titus, by saying: Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).
- Listen and learn before speaking. A judgmental spirit comes from an inability to rightly interpret another person’s words and/or actions. We can too often jump to conclusions about something or someone with only partial information and a fact or two without the whole story.
When it comes to using our words, love is to be our guide, as the Apostle Paul so eloquently said in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects (does not destroy or harm), always trusts (gives the person the benefit of the doubt), always hopes (that is, thinks the best of others), and always perseveres (never gives up on loving speech). Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled….