The Bible is filled with instruction on the use of our words. The words we speak hold great power. Power to loose, or to bind (Matt 16:19), the power to profess, or to profane (James 3:9-10,), the power of life and death (Prov 18:21). David cries out, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Ps 141:3). He understood the power of the spoken word and the difficulty involved in taming the tongue.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3:7-10).
Although we are able to tame wild animals, we cannot ever tame our tongue. But! The tongue can be brought under the power and the control of the Holy Spirit if we submit our words to Him. A woman once came to John Wesley and said that she knew what her talent was. “I think that my talent from God is to speak my mind” she told him. Wesley replied, “I don’t think God would mind if you buried that talent.” God doesn’t want us to simply speak whatever passes through our mind. Such talk is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” God wants us to submit our speech to Him in order that we would bless and not curse, lift up and not tear down.
When I was a child there was a saying that was often used on the schoolyard. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Although I have been surrounded by neighbourhood children for the last decade I have not once heard that saying uttered. And that is good. There is a deep untruth to those words. The hope of an encouraging word or the wound left by a hurtful word are both very real and can penetrate our heart deeper than many a physical injury, because “gentle words are a tree of life but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Prov 15:4).
What words do you use when you speak to and about yourself? Or when you speak to a friend, or a family member? How about when you are speaking to or about a person or group that you don’t agree with, who has wronged you or someone else or who rubs you the wrong way? How do you speak to those of a different faith, a different denomination or who are questioning or even outright opposing Jesus? Do you treat all people as image bearers of God with the words you speak?
Pay attention. Since we’re usually most comfortable around our family and those we live with, that is who will often get the brunt of our spoken words which are spoken in frustration, anger or overwhelm. The difficult road is to speak in love even when we don’t think that the recipient deserves it, or when we don’t feel that we are in the space to speak it due to our heightened emotions in the moment or around the topic of conversation. Once in a while I find myself speaking words to someone that are less than satisfactory, then immediately speaking a good or kind or encouraging word to them to somehow nullify it. It’s then that an apology on my part is appropriate. And an internal check on how I’m personally doing in my day. Perhaps there are some stressful events in my life or the day has not gone as expected. Perhaps too, I need a time of rest and self care.
Jesus says, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Paul too understood this mystery, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29).
In the coming weeks, listen to the words you speak to others and how you speak about others. Do you catch yourself saying hopeful, helpful, encouraging, and loving words? Do you speak accusing, blaming, bitter or condemning words? Maybe your point of view is the “right” one, but maybe being right is not the point of our speech. Maybe we should listen to James, to David, to Paul. To Jesus Himself. Our words come from what is deep within us, with the power to hurt or to heal, to praise or to curse. How will you choose to use your words today and throughout this academic year to bring hope, healing and truth to yourself and to those around you?