“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me“
Above is a familiar playground rebuttal we were often taught as children, to recite to those who had said hurtful things. Yet as we become older and more experienced in the ways of life, some of us come to understand how words can actually be much more damaging, for while physical wounds generally heal, hurtful things left uncorrected can cause damage that lasts much longer than a wound to the flesh would.
The power of words is impressed upon us right from the start in the bible we see how God used His words to create everything (Genesis 1).
Jesus taught us that it is important to watch what what we say, as if we are good, we should be saying good things “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. (Matthew 12:33-35).
This is confirmed by James 1:26 ” If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless“.
As the words we speak are an indicator of what lies in our hearts, we had best ensure that they reflect the Godly changes that should be taking place within us: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Jesus was clear about the consequences of not guarding what we say “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.” (Matthew 12:34-37). This highlights the importance of working on improving what we say, if it is not glorifying to God.
James helps to clarify why speech is given such significance for followers of Christ and why it is not an optional part of the Christian walk:
“And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 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? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring (James 3:6-12).”
With words, we can create or destroy, bring love and healing or hurt and destruction. The bible guides us in how God would like us to communicate with each other and is clear about the consequences of not taking care to ensure we bring our tongue into submission of our spirits, rather than our flesh.
The bible instructs us that when we speak with others we should seek to: edify (Ephesians 4:29), comfort (1 Thessalonians 5:10-12), confess (James 5:16), teach (2 Timothy 2:24), rebuke/reprove (2 Timothy 4:1-2) and to be honest (Ephesians 4:29), discrete (Proverbs 11:13) and controlled (Psalm 141:3).
These ways of communicating, shown above, edify God and help to establish the type of community amongst His children that He desires. But what are the negative uses of language the bible tells us to avoid?
Types of Speech condemned in the bible:
Lying/deceit – Proverbs 6:17; Mark 7:20-23; Romans 3:13; Colossians 3:8-9
Malicious/cutting/hurtful – Proverbs 12:18; Jeremiah 9:2-5; Ephesians 4:31; 1 Peter 2:1
Proud/Boastful – 2 Timothy 3:2-5; Psalm 12:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:2-5
Cursing/filthy language – Psalms 109:17; Romans 3:13-14; Colossians 3:8-9; James 3:10
Blaspheme – Colossians 3:8-9; 2 Timothy 3:2-5
If we agree that God’s way is better than our own, then surely we want to follow the guidance He has given us, all else is vanity. It is a daily, even minute by minute, walk in which we are called to consider our speech before pouring it out upon others in such a way that you glorify the father of sin rather than our Heavenly Father. While it may not be an easy thing to do, it is worthwhile, so let each of us determine to be mindful of our words and seek to bring them more in line with the will of God each day.
Other Christian sites discussing controlling the tongue:
- worthydevotions.com – collection of daily devotions based on controlling the tongue
- biblebelievers.com – sins of the tongue article
- sermonlinks.com – links to printed or audio sermons