Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are aware that it seems as if the whole world is mad at everyone else. This group is screaming against three other groups, and so on and so on. I listened yesterday to a sermon that reminded me that the words (and their tone) can speak life to others or can speak death. Our words and the tone we use for them matter, not only to us but to our Lord.
Words are not simply sounds caused by air passing through our larynx. Words have real power. God spoke the world into being by the power of His words (Heb 11:3), and we are in His image in part because of the power we have with words. Words do more than convey information. The power of our words can actually destroy one’s spirit, even stir up hatred and violence. They not only exacerbate wounds but inflict them directly.
James wrote: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:21-22) Of all the creatures on this planet, only man has the ability to communicate through the spoken word. The power to use words is a unique and powerful gift from God that we must use with care.
Our words have the power to destroy and the power to build up (Prov 12:6). The writer of Proverb tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov 18:21) Are we using words to build up people or destroy them? Are they filled with hate or love, bitterness or blessing, complaining or compliments, lust or love, victory or defeat? Like tools they can be used to help us reach our goals or to send us spiraling into a deep depression.
Furthermore, our words not only have the power to bring us death or life in this world, but in the next as well. Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:36–37) Words are so important, that we are going to give an account of what we say when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph 4:29) In this passage, Paul is emphasizing the positive over the negative. The Greek word translated “corrupt or unwholesome” means “rotten” or “foul.” It originally referred to rotten fruit and vegetables. Being like Christ means we don’t use foul, dirty language.
For some reason, many people today think it is macho or liberating to use vulgar humor, dirty jokes, and foul language, but this kind of talk has no place in the life of a Christian. The Scripture in Ephesians is reminiscent of his words to the Colossians: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Col 4:6).
In Ephesians, Paul not only urges us to be a blessing to those with whom we have daily contact, but he emphasizes that merely refraining from telling lies, stealing, or unwholesome speech is not enough (Eph 4:25, 28, 29). The truth is that Christianity is not a mere “don’t” religion. As followers of Christ we should emulate the example of Jesus whose words were so filled with grace that the multitudes were amazed (Luke 4:22).
Jesus reminds us that the words we speak are actually the overflow of our hearts (Matt 12:34–35). When one becomes a Christian, there is an expectancy that a change of speech follows because living for Christ makes a difference in one’s choice of words. The sinner’s mouth is “full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom 3:14); but when we turn our lives over to Christ, we gladly confess that “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9-10). As condemned sinners, our mouths are silenced before the throne of God (Rom 3:19), but, as believers, our mouths are opened to praise and glorify God (Rom 15:6).
Christians are those whose hearts have been changed by the power of God, a change reflected in our words. Remember, before we were saved, we lived in spiritual death (Eph 2:1-3). Paul describes those who are dead in sin: “Their throat is an open tomb” (Rom 3:13). Our words are full of blessing when the heart is full of blessing. So if we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, only truth and purity can come out of our mouths.
Peter tells us, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15). Let the power of our words be used of God to manifest the power of our faith. Be prepared to give the reason for why we love the Lord—at any time, to anyone.
Our words should demonstrate the power of God’s grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If they don’t, then we haven’t submitted our lives to the Holy Spirit’s changing work within our hearts. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col 3:16) May God enable us to use our words as an instrument of His love and saving grace.