James 3:3-12 (NLT2) 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.
6 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.7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
The average person speaks 11,000,000 words a year. That would be 715,000,000 words at the age of 65.
Our Words Matter
Words are incredibly powerful. They can build up, encourage, and motivate. Words can also tear down, hurt, and cause horrible scars. Remember the saying many of us used as kids, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." It isn't true. Words can hurt. Some of us are living with the scars of the hurtful words of others. The Bible reminds us that "Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit."
Proverbs 18:20-21 (NLT2)20 Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.21 The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.
Words matter to God. He keeps a record of our words. We say some words carelessly, without concern for their impact on others. Why would God care about those? We assume that the sins of our tongue are minor sins, sins that God will overlook. Jesus was fully aware of the devastating nature of our words.
Matthew 12:35-37 (NLT2)35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (emphasis mine)
What Does The Bible Say About How We Should Use Our Words?
The Bible has a lot to say about how we use our words. Here are a few biblical principles about the use of words.
Refrain from attack words
Words can be used as a weapon to lash into people. Sometimes our goal is to hurt people by what we say. The first thing some people do in the morning is brush their teeth and sharpen their tongue. Words can cut like a knife and we want to stick the dagger in deep. God does not want us to use our words as a weapon. He wants us to use our words to bless others.
Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT2)43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Refrain from gossip
We need to be careful about the news we share concerning others. You can’t unscramble eggs and you can’t “unspread” a rumor. Gossip is destructive, and it is subtle. Don't believe everything you hear. "A gossip usually makes a mountain out of a molehill by adding some dirt."
Be careful about listening to gossip. There's a saying, "He who gossips to you will gossip about you." The Bible warns us;
Proverbs 20:19 (NLT2) A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers.
Proverbs 16:28 (NLT2) A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.
Use clean words
Some words are just not proper to speak. When we were kids our parents would wash our mouths out with soap if we said such words. Having a foul mouth is not something to be proud of. Some words are not supposed to be said.
Ephesians 5:4 (NLT2) Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.
Use truthful words
Matthew 5:37 (NLT2)37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
People need to believe what we say. Lying destroys our credibility. Chances are that we'll eventually be caught if we make a practice of lying.
Be honest. Let the words that flow from your mouth be truthful.
Leviticus 19:11 (HCSB) “You must not steal. You must not act deceptively or lie to one another. (emphasis mine)
Proverbs 12:22 (HCSB)22 Lying lips are detestable to the LORD, but faithful people are His delight. (emphasis mine)
Proverbs 14:5 (HCSB) An honest witness does not deceive, but a dishonest witness utters lies. (emphasis mine)
Ephesians 4:29 (NLT2) Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
The Bible challenges us to use our words to help people, to build others up, not to tear them down. A popular Zig Ziglar saying is, "He climbs highest who helps another up." Our words can have an incredibly positive effect.
Transforming the tongue begins with a change in the heart.
Matthew 15:16-19 (NLT2)16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked.17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.(emphasis mine)
“The Bible stresses that what you say is an accurate indication of what is in your heart. If your words bless and encourage others, they give evidence of a compassionate heart. If you often share the good news about Christ, you demonstrate a heart that is grateful for your own salvation. When others are in a crisis, do they know they will find peace and comfort in your words? Do you frequently and spontaneously offer prayers for others? Do your words and the manner in which you say them reveal a patient heart? All of these behaviors indicate a heart that is like the heart of the Father.”
The problem is not somewhere out there, it's within us. Something needs to change within us. Our focus needs to be transformed. Instead of looking for the bad in a situation, we need to look for the good. Instead of being preoccupied with self-interest, we need to focus on the interests of others. Changing our hearts is a good place to start.
We need to think before we speak.
James 1:19-20 (NLT2)19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. (emphasis mine)
Guard against engaging the tongue without engaging the mind. Take a moment before you speak. Before you speak ask the following questions:
T - is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it inspiring?
N - is it necessary?
K - is it kind?
Sounds sort of like this doesn’t it?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT2)4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
If what you are about to say does not pass this simple test, then don't say it. Think before you speak.
Tap into God's help. This help is available to us. Who can tame the human tongue? Jesus can. Jesus is in the business of transforming lives.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NLT2)16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (emphasis mine)