Death and life are in the power of the tongue. ~ Proverbs 18:21
Most of us probably heard the rhyme from our mothers at some point in our childhoods: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Why do we seek to instill such rhymes into the minds of our children? Because, we all have experienced the truth:
Words do hurt.
The Bible tells us repeatedly that the tongue is a powerful member among the parts of our body. Solomon said that in the tongue reside death and life. In a rather frightening passage, James wrote that the tongue though small is like a rudder that guides a large ship. It is “a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell” (3:2-6).
As part of the slow and sometimes painful process of sanctification which God is working in my life, thoughts of the tongue have recently filled my mind.
I’m one of those people who once I get going, I can say a lot; but initially, I tend to keep my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself. Lest I use that to boast James 1:19, God has reminded me that many times when I do speak bitter sarcasm drips quickly from my lips. Most of the time I mean it to be humorous: little wry shots at people towards whom I hold no animosity. However, my anger tends to assume passive aggressive forms; so when I am mad at someone, it tends to come across also as little wry shots of sarcasm.
Such words are flaming arrows meant to maim.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be preaching on Ephesians 5:1-21 and our need for holy character as followers of Jesus and together as a church. Paul wrote, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” As imitators of God who are to walk in love and live as children of the light, we are to seek purity in our speech.
Dirty jokes, put downs, gossip, wounding sarcasm…etc. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
I don’t have a source, I have simply heard it said: it takes ten positive affirmations to overcome a single negative statement made to us. Sometimes, it seems, it takes more than that. As a friend of mine said to me the other day, “You can have ninety-nine people tell you, ‘Good sermon,’ but when one person comes up and says, ‘That was pretty bad,’ you end up dwelling the rest of the day on that one criticism.”
You hear stories now and then about adults who have either ruined their lives or, to the opposite end, nearly work themselves to death, all because their father or mother said (sometimes in a moment of anger) to them as a child, “You’ll never amount to anything.”
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. ~ Proverbs 16:24
It seems like the spotlight shone upon Christianity in our culture most brightly illuminates people like those from a certain cult in Kansas who picket funerals with signs with messages that should be shameful to repeat. They certainly know nothing of Paul’s admonition from Colossians 4:5-6, “Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
We might not be able to keep them out of the spotlight, since we can neither control them nor the ones pointing their cameras in their direction. However, are we truly giving better testimonies with our lives?
What about the times that I gossip about that other person? What about the times where I vent my frustrations about others with a few choice words? What about the times where I let my anger overcome me at church business meetings? What about the times where I cut down those I love, let alone those I struggle to love? What about the comments I write on blogs? What about the sharp snippets I post on Facebook or Twitter? What about…
Maybe one of those statements describes you, or maybe several of them do. Maybe the struggle of your tongue is different than mine or the people you sing with on Sunday mornings.
With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so. ~ James 3:9-10
I want my life to give a better witness. I want people to be encouraged by what I have to say, and not torn down. I want people to see Christ magnified and exalted. I want my words to be the sweetness of a honeycomb. I want even my rebukes, when necessary, to come seasoned with salt.
And what a blessing the church could be to the brokenness of our culture if we began to truly practice the disciplines of a tongue not set on fire by hell, but purified by the fire of the Spirit in holiness, love, and grace.
Sovereign Lord, give us tongues and mouths that honor you and show grace to others. Forgive us our lackadaisical concern for holiness and purity in all that we say. Empower us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and steadfast in speaking words of wisdom and love. Our mouths can result in mighty things, both good and evil. May our words be only for the glory of you through Christ. Amen.