“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Unfortunately, this childish chant is not true. Our words have power: power to hurt, power to heal. To understand this power, we have only to look at a mother cuddling a child, cooing words of love and comfort. Or, in contrast, listen to the angry outburst as two people let raw emotions spill out in argument.
A friend once shared the pain of her father’s final words to her. They were not words of love but a bitter outpouring of rage at the turns of life. Unable to accept the blame for his own actions, he was transferring the blame to his child. The hurt of those final words stayed locked inside for years. Another person related the crushing blow as a child of hearing his father say, “I hate you.” Words are powerful and can definitely crush the spirit.
James recognized the impact of our speech on others. His epistle paints strong word pictures as he admonishes us:
“And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?” (James 3:10-11, NLT).
The word conversation in the New Testament does not refer to our speech as much as our conduct or behavior (i.e. Ephesians 2:3; 4:22; Philippians 1:27). However, the two are closely related. Our “speech” reflects our “conversation” because it shows what is in our hearts. (Read Matthew 12:35; 15:18-20.) This is why David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord” (Psalm 19:14).
Angry words spill from an angry heart. A profane person uses vile speech. A loving person speaks gracious words of love and goodness. Those we meet can tell if we are Christians by our speech as well as our actions. Both can enhance or destroy our witness.
The Bible has so many verses which address our speech patterns that it might be easier to examine some of them by looking at the following list of things our words should do.
|Edify (build up, uplift)||Ephesians 4:29|
|Encourage||Proverbs 12:25; Isaiah 50:4|
|Testify of God||Psalm 145:11|
|Give blessing and praise||Psalm 9:1, 2; 34:1; Hebrews 13:15|
|Be without evil or malice||Psalm 34:13; Ephesians 4:31|
|Show thankfulness||Ephesians 5:20; I Thessalonians 5:18|
|Be pure||Proverbs 15:4, 26; Ephesians 4:29|
|Be truthful, honest||Proverbs 12:19,22; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 3:9|
|Be gracious||Proverbs 15:1; Colossians 4:5-6|
|Avoid gossip||Psalm 15:1,3; Proverbs 11:13|
James warns, “the tongue can no man tame” (3:8). Fortunately for us, the Spirit of God in our lives can control even the unruly tongue. It is no coincidence that God chose the tongue as a sign of the infilling of His Spirit (Isaiah 28:11; Acts 2:4). As we yield ourselves to Him, we also yield control of our speech patterns.
Think back over some of your conversations during this past week. Were your words sweet or bitter? Did they build up or tear down? Encourage or discourage? Praise or criticize? Show respect or disdain? Display purity or profanity, Christianity or hypocrisy?