It’s hard to speak kindly to a person who has failed you time after time after time.
It’s much easier to lash out or at least to moan about it later behind their back. People are frustrating and our words reflect the frustration and conflict that is part of living in this fallen world.
But words are powerful. God made the world with words. Satan spoke to Eve and his words had the desired effect. ‘The Word’, Jesus Christ, became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Words are powerful. Words create and words destroy. ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Prov 18:21).
What your words say about you
‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Matt 12:34). Your words show what is in your heart or, put another way, your words show what you love. And, if I’m honest, I love myself really quite a lot. I’m clever enough not to blabber on about myself all the time though; I listen to other people’s problems, I say nice things about them, I give sympathy or advice as appropriate, I write nice comments on other people’s Facebook posts or photos. People who are closer to me get a clearer view of what’s really going on in my heart though when I’m snappy and self-righteous; I love myself a lot. I want people to like me, to think I’m kind or wise or funny, I want people to respect me, I want my husband to see that I’m right (again) and I’m annoyed when he doesn’t (again). God knows my heart and my motives and he can see even more clearly than I can that so much of what I say is tainted with a deep-seated self-love. Maybe you can relate. It doesn’t mean that everything we say is bad or that we don’t love other people: it just means that we love ourselves too much and our words show it.
What God says about your words
When asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matt 22:37-39). Imagine how different our words would be if we really did love God with all our heart and we loved our neighbour as ourselves. How would that affect the way we spoke (or typed)? Here are some ideas.
Hold your tongue. ‘When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent’ (Prov 10:19). We know our hearts are sinful; we know we have a tendency to use our words sinfully, so it is wise to err on the side of not speaking. (If you know me, you will know how ironic it is that I just wrote that sentence!) Do we love God enough to hold our tongue, in kindness and wisdom, even when our love for ourselves would drive us to speak?
Be gracious. ‘Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body’ (Prov 16:24). God is gracious to us. He gave us Jesus when we deserved hell. Do your words reflect his generosity and grace?
Serve others. ‘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’ (Eph 4:29). Instead of using our words to serve ourselves, we are to use them for the good of other people: to build them up, to give them grace. Loving God goes hand in hand with loving our neighbour because God is a God who loves others and speaks for their good. Do your words serve others?
What the Word says about you
But you will fail. Your heart isn’t right so your words won’t be either. James says, ‘If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man’ (James 3:2b). There is only one perfect man and that’s Jesus. He is the only human who never stumbles in what he says. Jesus succeeds where you fail and he did it to save you.
Jesus held his tongue when he was accused by the chief priests and elders in Matthew 27:12. As Isaiah says, ‘Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter… so he opened not his mouth’ (Is 53:7). Jesus’ words are gracious – just take the cross as one example where Jesus says, ‘Father forgive them’ (Luke 23:34). And Jesus serves others with his words. He has done this in so many ways and he is still doing it now: ‘Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us’ (Rom 8:34). Jesus was silent like a lamb led to the slaughter for you and he speaks to his Father for you.
We said at the beginning that it’s hard to speak kindly to a person who has failed you time after time after time. You are that person and Jesus still speaks kindly to you. Out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth speaks kind and gracious words to you, words of forgiveness and words of hope. You are deeply loved. Why did the Word become flesh? So that he could die for you and pay the price for all your sin, for all your careless, ungracious, self-centred words. He speaks to you now in his written Word. He speaks for you now to his Father. Listen to him, speak to him, ask him to forgive you, ask him for his help and go and speak wisely. The Word became flesh and died for you; the Word speaks on your behalf to the Father – you have everything you need.
Next in this series: Worldliness: A rich person’s problem? »