When my cousin was young, just starting to speak fluently, he ran into the house and gave my brother a hug and said in his usual chipper tone, “Hi! I’m going to kill you!”
He looked around in confusion at our eyes, filled with horror at the words that had just flowed over his lips so effortlessly. But the poor little guy had absolutely no idea what he was saying. He was simply repeating the phrase after hearing someone mutter, “I’m going to kill you!” in joking annoyance.
Thankfully, my sweet cousin quickly realized that this phrase was not expressing his excitement to see my brother and everyone who was old enough to use their words carefully walked away carrying, perhaps for the first time, the true gravity of the way we use our words.
You have probably already guessed that, as a writer, I am a lover of words. They are powerful, mighty pieces of Creation. In fact, God’s words are so powerful that that’s all He needed to create all things from the void of nothingness. Words have power.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
I can only imagine the delight with which the Trinity expressed this. These words have marked each of us with a unique dignity bestowed on no other member of Creation. God opened His lips and breathed into us the breath of Life.
We carry in our beings the likeness of the Almighty God.
But words also have destructive power. They beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden and stole the innocence of Mankind. They fueled the pride at the Tower of Babel and then, the lack of common words tore the people apart into groups of us and thems that could no longer cooperate on their sinful project.
Words are not cheap weapons, they are powerful ones.
James wrote that our tongue is like the small spark that sets a forest ablaze. It is small. We might overlook it or see it as non-threatening, but it has the power to destroy everything around us.
There is a strong double nature in words but, no matter which side, it is clear that words are mighty. And they are desperately hard to control.
How often have I been in that situation? Mad because I thought, ten minutes too late, of the perfect snarky comeback that would have asserted my rightness? Or on the other end, awake in my bed long after my eyes should have turned off, trying to cope with words said hastily in anger?
Instead of using words that create life to heal, I use my words selfishly. Instead of extending grace, my words are often used to simply heap kindling on the fire of anger for the sake of my pride.
Words are not meant to be used to build ourselves up but for the encouragement of those around us.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,[encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5: 11-18, ESV
Encourage. Build-up. Admonish. Peace Patience. Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks.
These are all words that direct us in how our speech should be used. There is a place for speaking the truth, but if we are not speaking the truth in love, if our words are not backed by the whole of Scripture’s instruction on how we should live and love God and our fellow man, then we’re missing the point.
We need to lace every bit of our speech with compassion, grace, and love.
Our words matter. Greatly. We need to use them as God did, to breathe life and hope into all of Creation. Our preachers, need to be encouraged, not criticized. Our friends need to be admonished, not gossiped about.
We need to pray, as Christ instructed in the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s Kingdom will come on Earth as it is in Heaven. And then, we need to put our money where our mouths are and start by changing the way we speak to those around us.
We cannot afford to throw our tongue around carelessly, without regard for the damage we may cause. Because that’s what we cause when we unleash our tongue, damage. We wound our brothers and sisters in the faith and we wound the God who made them in His image when we use our words to tear them down in order to exalt ourself. And when our words leak out the greater desire to be thought of as above the rest, we commit the sin of Babel, the sin of wanting to be like God.
As our days journey on, let us take account of each and every word that flows from our mouth. May we speak words that are sweet as honey and may we, even when we are jesting, use only words that give life to those who hear it.
For more on using your words in a manner becoming of followers of Christ, take some time to pray through these passages: Genesis 1, 11:1-9, James 3:1-12, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-18, Psalm 34:13, Ephesians 4:23-32, Psalm 141, Proverbs 17:27-28
If you liked this post, you’ll probably like, “Can I Stop Pretending to be a Good Person?” as well.