A Powerful yet Dangerous Tool

It is probably safe to say that I am not the only one glad Election 2016 is now complete. Let me assure you that this is not going to be a political post, except to say I was compelled to write on this subject because of the most recent political cycle. It has little to nothing to do with the actual candidates, but just some observations about the discussion that has taken place over the last year or so. I was reminded about the power of our words and how we use them; how they can be both encouraging and discouraging, helpful and unhelpful, edifying and sinful. James describes our words as having the ability to bring about blessing and cursing “out of the same mouth” (James 3:10).

The political dialogue and other social interactions remind me that we must diligently consider our words, both verbal and written. We live in an age where it is easier to disseminate our thoughts than ever before. Such a reality can bring great good but also great harm. In all of our “speech,” we must remember the many exhortations from Scripture concerning our words.

1. It is probably wise to limit the quantity. Solomon reminds us that “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Please remember that not everything we think needs to be said, and even less needs to be written, tweeted, texted, etc.

Proverbs 17:27-28 puts it this way, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” My friends know that I am on the extreme side of the extrovert scale, but I promise you God is able to silence me when I walk close with Him, and He strengthens me not to wade into the murky and mostly useless waters of online debates. Jesus warned, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).

2. It is certainly wise to examine the content. Paul has much to say in his writings concerning our words. He exhorts the church at Ephesus when he writes, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). His words seem even stronger in the following chapter when he warns his readers to avoid certain sinful behaviors. In the same context as fornication and idolatry, Paul warns to not let “filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting” even be named among the believers (Ephesians 5:4).

3. It is imperative that we consider the impact. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” We learned this simple phrase as children, but somebody lied to us. I have rarely been hurt by sticks or stones. However, words have caused me great pain, and unfortunately, my words have oftentimes caused pain for others. The book of Proverbs has much to say as we consider the impact of our words. One of my favorites is Proverbs 15:1—“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The content and even the manner in which we use our words can have a great influence on whether they have a positive or negative impact.

The tongue can be a great tool for glory or a great weapon for destruction; it depends on how we, as God’s children, use it. Our words, whether spoken or written, must be submitted to the Lord. So the next time you get ready to post that blog, tweet that tweet, or even just make that passing comment, consider these questions: Should it even be said? Is the content edifying to others and glorifying to the Lord? What impact might this have on the relationships I have with those who hear or read it? I think we would be wise to heed the words of James when he wrote, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 3:19–20).