“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” All of us have probably heard this playground comeback and we know all too well that it is not true. Words can be very powerful and at times they hurt far greater than anything we physically experience. As a boy I won my first physical fight with one punch. I thought I was champion of the world until about a week later. In my second fight, I got my clock cleaned! I haven’t been accused of being the most intelligent man on the planet but I have figured out that physical fighting is just too unpredictable. I decided that I would use words as my weapon of choice. During the years I spent running from God, I became a black belt master at using words to hurt and, at times, destroy people. I destroyed friendships and relationships without ever resorting to a single physical blow. I justified my actions by believing the person had asked for it and so they deserved what they got. I hid behind the idea that I had only spoken the truth and therefore if they couldn’t handle the truth then that was their problem. Boy, does God’s Word have a message for me! I thought I would share it with you just in case you could benefit from what I have learned.
James tells us “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselve, and their religion is worthless.”1 OUCH! I used to talk about people in the church being such hypocrites until I realized I was guilty of the same thing I accused them of doing. Too many of us are practicing religion instead of developing our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. How many times have we let our tongue get in the way of our testimony? Think about this for a moment … The only person that can take away your testimony about your relationship with the Lord is you! In today’s culture one of the greatest deterrents of spreading the gospel is “religion” and the wagging tongues of people claiming to be religious. If we could just get people to move from being religious to being Godly we could certainly advance the Kingdom of God with much greater success.
Unfortunately God’s men are often trying to live up to the false expectation of perfection so they can never admit that they have allowed their tongue to be a roadblock to representing Jesus. “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”2 The passage of scripture gives us word pictures of how something as small as the tongue influences the rest of the person. It also shows that when the tongue is harnessed and directed, everything else follows its lead. It completes the description by talking about what a great forest fire can be started by a small spark. A careless match or cigarette dropped on the ground can set off a chain of events that will destroy an entire forest. Likewise a careless or uncaring word can set off a chain of events that can bring great harm to the speaker and those who hear it.
This is one of those areas where men get very confused and believe that they can change their “tongue” all by themselves. This is music to Satan’s ears because anytime we believe we can do something on our own, we leave out the most important and critical part of the equation … GOD! “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”3 While no human can tame the tongue, God certainly can. It is through our complete reliance upon Him that we can overcome the power of the tongue!
Proverbs is often described as the “book of life” and it gives great reminders to the value of harnessing the tongue and the harm that can be done by failing to do so. Following are valuable reminders concerning the tongue.
Proverbs 10:18-21: “Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense.”
Proverbs 13:3: “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.”
Proverbs also gives guidance regarding how “words” can be used positively.
Proverbs 12:18: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Proverbs 12:25: “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”
Proverbs 15:4: “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”
God’s men can and must use words to assist with emotional and spiritual healing. Just as we can physically help someone who has fallen down back to their feet, we can use words to assist someone who has emotionally or spiritually fallen down to get back on track with the life God intended for them.
The Apostle Paul tells us “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”4 God’s men must work diligently to develop habits of using words to build others up rather than tear them down This totally contradicts today’s culture so success is dependent on partnering with the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our thoughts, words, and actions. The ability to meet the expectation that Paul defines requires that we not only develop a positive vocabulary, we have to develop the communication skills to effectively deliver the words. We must develop the ability to build rapport and relationships with those around us to gain influence with them. Otherwise, they will not have the desire to listen to what we have to say. It is also critical to develop excellent listening skills because this is the only way we can successfully determine the needs of a person so we can use the right words to build them up.
What an incredible opportunity to impact the lives of those around us by partnering with our Heavenly Father to use words to positively influence those who are hurting physically, emotionally and/or spiritually! So what about it? Are you willing to be that kind of God’s man? Words are indeed powerful and they can be used for evil or they can be used to uplift and encourage. It’s time for God’s men to step up and partner with the Holy Spirit to use the power of words to influence a dark, hurting, and dying world that God’s plan offers an abundant life that includes joy and peace that cannot be found anywhere else!
1 James 1:26 / All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted
2 James 3:2-6
3 James 3:7-8
4 Ephesians 4:29