The Power of Words
We have all experienced it … the tremendous power of words. Indeed, all of us have been the recipients not only of encouraging words that swell our hearts with joy and strengthen resolve to press on, but also of harsh and discouraging words that momentarily cripple us, leaving us dejected and dispirited. Then there are the words that either take us by the hand and lead us to the contemplation and enjoyment of God, His truth, and things worthy of attention, or lead us to muse on things trivial, foolish, and sinful.
In the book of James we learn that “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the whole course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6-8). Mankind’s wicked tongue is a symptom of the depraved and sinful state of his soul (Romans 3:13). Our sinful nature (flesh) directs us to say things to others that are unkind, unloving, harsh, critical, selfish, unwholesome, and foolish. To our guilt and shame, we sometimes even employ words to tear down the most precious people in our lives (i.e. spouse, children, etc.). However, as God’s redeemed children –– united to Christ by grace through faith and filled with the Spirit –– we have been given the power to use the tongue as an instrument of blessing. In part, God has saved us unto a godly use of words.
Christ “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). This is good news! God saves His people not only from the guilt and judgment of sin but also from the bondage and power of sin. Indeed, in Christ we are liberated from sin’s tyranny and set free to live according to God’s Word. He has promised to “purify for himself” those for whom Christ died (Ephesians 1:4). This process of purification [read: sanctification] includes the purification of our conversation and the motivations that give rise to it. In short, we are called, by God’s grace and strength, to spiritually grow and mature in our conversation. As God’s redeemed, we must seek to have our conversation filled with words of love, encouragement, truth and righteousness. Daily we must endeavor to pray that our speech would reflect the love, joy, and grace of God. Paul underscores the importance of godly speech in his epistle to the Ephesians where he writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as it good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Again in Colossians the Apostle states, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
Dearest brothers and sisters of Christ Church, as you evaluate your conversation over this past week, ask yourself, “what kind of fruit have my words produced – tasty, bland, or rotten?” Has your conversation been “gracious and seasoned with salt?” Have you taken the time to build up someone in the Lord or have your words been focused on building up yourself?
Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, never uttered a sinful word. Indeed, his faultless speech was a reflection of His perfect love and sinlessness. Unlike we who are physical and spiritual descendants of Adam, Christ was born without the imputation of Adam’s sin. Though severely tempted by Satan, Christ remained without sin His entire life (Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, Christ not only serves His Church as a perfect example of one who never spoke a sinful word, but more importantly, He serves as a righteous substitute, perfectly obeying the Law with His sinless life and satisfying God’s justice by His sacrificial death on the cross. By grace, through faith, in the person and work of Christ, our sinful words – past, present, and future – are all forgiven. God’s forgiveness and grace, however, do not allow us or free us to continue engaging in sinful and ungodly conversation (I Peter 2:16). On the contrary, God’s grace enables and motivates us to ever increasingly love God and our neighbor, not the least in the manner of our conversation. Here are eleven scriptural exhortations for godly speech:
1. Be quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19).
2. Be gentle, not harsh, with your words (Proverbs 15:1, 4).
3. Gain valuable knowledge for the purpose of fostering edifying conversation (Proverbs 10:14; 15:2).
4. Let your words be few, for “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).
5. Be intentional about building others up in Christ (Ephesians 4:29).
6. Be honest, speaking the truth in love (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 12:19, 22; 27:5).
7. Do not actively or passively participate in any form of gossip or slander (II Corinthians 12:20).
8. Speak with humility, letting others “praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).
9. Refrain from making empty promises (Matthew 5:37).
10. Seek to bring glory to Christ with all of your conversation. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
11. Be conscientiously gracious and loving with your speech (Colossians 4:6).
12. Pray every morning and evening that God would grant you the sanctifying grace to employ your words for the blessing of others and the building up of your marriage, your family, your friendships, and most importantly, the body of Christ.
Let me encourage you to take some time this week to re-read this letter, paying careful attention to the Scripture passages cited. Afterwards, think and pray about your use of words, and how your conversation may or may not conform to the truth of God’s written Word concerning godly speech.
Solomon once wrote that the “mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11). Beloved Christ Church, as we rest and boast in the finished work of Christ, may our conversation be a “fountain of life” that both glorifies our heavenly Father and edifies those around us.
“However greatly we have failed, we must repent and cultivate a way of speaking which better reflects the holiness of our master.” – Maurice Roberts, The Thought of God.