Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
How important are words? They are so common that we don’t realise their significance.
But ask any father whose daughter has been married, and he hears her say, I do. Those two little words mean a lot. Or ask a mother about her child’s first words. They are very significant words. It’s so true that words have a powerful effect on the way we live.
I’m sure you have felt, like I did, the effect of cutting or sharp words—words of criticism, destructive gossip or cursing. You probably have seen the effect of lies, slander or careless speaking. Our ability to speak is something uniquely human—a God-given gift which we can turn to either good or evil. With our words we can do good—like encourage those who need help, or bring comfort to the suffering.
Our Words: A Vehicle for Good—and Evil
As Christians we can bring the good news of Jesus Christ to others as well. Think of all the heroic speeches recorded in the annals of history; notable words that have inspired a generation to go in the face of hardship; to battle discrimination and to dream of a better future. Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, maintains that “our search for meaning in life is found in the power of words. Words have the power for good or evil”.
We need to admit that our words sometimes have not been helpful. We can easily destroy someone’s reputation or tell untruths or half-truths that can spread rumour and gossip. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what we say doesn’t matter. It does! The tongue may be small, but it is powerful. And what we do with it does matter.
Do I think before I speak?
Only God himself can control our speaking. If my speech is uncontrolled, it’s a good sign that my heart is out of touch with the God of Heaven. Scripture says: “if anyone is joined to Christ he is a new being; the old is gone, and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Do I think before I speak? Proverbs 17:27-28 says, “It makes a lot of sense to be a person of few words and to stay calm. Even fools seem smart when they are quiet”.
In the Bible, when James wrote his letter, he wrote to Christians who were having trouble in their own lives and in the church. People’s tongues were out of control and he wrote “Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak” (James 1:19). Later he said: “if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
A Measure of Our Spiritual Maturity
James writes with such fervour on this subject it makes me wonder if his words are motivated by his own struggle with this issue, or maybe he had been the victim of harmful words, gossip or innuendo. He warns his readers, time and time again, of the danger of an uncontrolled tongue. He calls it a fire; a world of evil among the parts of a body, a restless evil full of deadly poison, and something which is almost impossible to completely tame.
Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame. And the tongue is like a fire…It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself.
For James, the measure of our spiritual maturity is our ability to control our tongue. After all, Jesus said: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:18 -GNT). The Apostle Paul said: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talking or coarse joking which are out of place” (Ephesians 5:4 – NIV).
It’s obvious that what we say, and how we say it, is the most obvious reflection of who is in charge of our life. Is it Jesus Christ or ourselves?