This month we are going to be taking a closer look at the things that we say, the power and influence our words have, and how we can harness this power for the glory of Christ.
Don’t think your words have power? The author James describes it this way, “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” (3:3-6 NIV).
If you have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness and brought into God’s kingdom of light, then you must care about the words you speak. You might not think it is much, but it matters far more than you may think! This is because our words are an overflow from our hearts (Luke 6:45). In fact, the things we say are a revealing diagnostic test for the spiritual health of our hearts.
What’s at the Source?
Amy Carmichael (If, 1991) says, “If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love. For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”
James also uses this metaphor of water later on in chapter three when talking about blessing God, yet at the same time cursing man made in God’s image (3:9). He asks the question whether fresh water and salt water can flow from the same spring (3:11). I believe that as we cultivate a heart that is more in tune with the heart of God, then our speech will reflect Him in a genuine way.
Else we may try to hide the bitter waters in our hearts and call it “a filter”. Now I am not advising we don’t speak with a filter. However, the term ‘filter’ has become a polite way of excusing our lack of integrity. Many times our language changes depending on the people around us, yet “before a word was on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely” (Psalm 139:4). Lasting transformation only comes when we no longer conform to the ways of this world, but are changed by the renewing of our minds in the truth of God’s Word. When the love of God fills our heart, then the love of God will overflow into our speech.
A beautiful grid to filter our words through is the description of love itself, 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”(vv.4-7 NIV). We can measure our words against this description to gain an accurate view of where our hearts are at. It’s interesting to notice how many aspects of that list directly involve speech. As we conform more into the image of Christ, then our words will reflect His unconditional love.
A Change of Heart
All of us can admit to speech that is neither helpful, nor builds others up (Ephesians 4:29). Instead of owning our guilt, we point fingers in every direction, blaming others for the things that bubble up through the channels of our inner beings, and escape like steam from our mouths. This is not just in the ‘bad’ we say, but also in the ‘good’ that we don’t say! We avoid opportunities to share the gospel, and don’t speak out against wrong, express thanks, or speak life-giving words to people because of fear, rejection, indifference or ungratefulness. It seems like an insurmountable task to “tame the tongue”.
Be encouraged! God is in the business of changing the heart, which runs far deeper than the symptom of our speech. His Holy Spirit is able to purify the polluted source. Slowly God works that process of change, despite our weak efforts. As we press on in surrender, we come to a place where we see that He has indeed done a good work in changing the attitudes and affections of our hearts. We notice that our speech has changed, because our hearts have changed.
This is true for all our behaviour as Christians, but is particularly noticeable in the area of our words, because most of the things we say are not carefully processed. Our words are usually instant reactions in conversation, or expressions of emotion.
Join us this month, as we pray, along with King David, that God would “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NIV). Just like most things in life, this process is a slow and steady change which requires intentional action. We must guard ourselves from outside influences that would negatively affect our speech, but we must also recognise that we are responsible for the words we choose to use.
I want to challenge you to think about God’s holiness as we approach this series on speech, offering your hearts to Him, and asking Him to change you from the inside out, so your speech reflects your heart, and your heart reflects Christ.