(Originally posted 7-12-18)
And among all the parts of the body, 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. James 3:6
In thinking of ideas for this blog, I usually have a couple of primary go-to’s that are my sources of inspiration. One is just daily life stuff…what I’m going through and what I’m dealing with from my own perspective. My hope and prayer is that what I write resonates due to a commonality and a unity that comes from being a Christ-follower. Some of you are older than I am have a much greater perspective than I do. And some of you are younger and have less life experience. Either way, I share wisdom and nuggets of truth that I have come across (not that I am wise in my own eyes!) And by the way, I’m 42, have been married 17 years and have 5 kids. That’s the short bio and the one that matters the most to me.
The other main way I get inspired for this blog is just by reading Scripture and being in prayer. I’m no scholar and I’m not a person who has any greater advantage than anyone else looking to examine the Bible and apply it to their life. It’s really just a habit you have to develop that then becomes a longing and a desire. The more you dig into God’s word, the more you want it to be part of you and allow its truths to spring forth. I’ve seen it in my own life and in many amazing examples around me; most notably my wife who has love for God’s word that inspires me.
A topic I’ve been meaning to do a column on has simply been the power of the tongue: the words we speak and the weight that they carry. For me, there’s some dual inspiration as I read passages like James 3 and then also know first-hand the power of my words as a parent and a husband. Words can either build up or break down. Our Christian testimony can be destroyed through our words. Or those words can point people to Christ.
We can speak life or death.
James talks about this:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:9-12
In an age where communication is everywhere, how can we incorporate the truth of Scripture into our lives and make an impact that looks different from the rest of the world? We have an opportunity to show others the love of Jesus by our words and what follows are some ways I believe we can understand more fully the power of the tongue:
1. Sometimes it’s not the words you say, but the ones you don’t say
An unfortunate trend I’ve seen within the body of Christ has been the creeping in of coarse and unwholesome speech which really sets no Christian apart from the rest of the world. I’ll admit that growing up one of the mottos I heard in Sunday School was a “Christian boy does not smoke, drink, chew or go with girls that do.” That holiness thinking stretched readily across from not just abstaining from smoking, alcohol, bad movies, etc but also to include avoidance of swearing and cuss words. If I’m honest, the pendulum in our younger generations is swinging back the other way and it’s not doing the Body of Christ any favors in reaching a broken world. In other words (no pun intended) we aren’t winning any souls to Jesus by talking like an unbeliever; swearing and otherwise being vulgar with our lips.
Does this make sense? I hope so and here’s where I appeal to that older generation. You knew words that were no-nos. Flat out swear words. It seems Christians are much more ok with those words now. I’m not sure if it’s because they think that’s somehow “being real” or “more relevant”? I don’t know but I don’t see it that way and I don’t think the world takes note when we use the same words everyone else does. In fact, I think it’s the regular avoidance of unwholesome talk that stands out and leaves an impression.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
2. Gossip is a killer in any situation
I cannot believe how often gossip, especially within the local church, brings ruin and heartache…even after we’ve heard the sermons, know the Bible verses, and understand God’s heart about gossip. If James compares the tongue in its ability to set a whole forest on fire, it is gossip that has the potential to burn and ravage most clearly. We hear the stories around the water cooler at our jobs. We listen in and participate in group chats or texts and talk about so and so behind their back. We even discuss certain people by offering well-meaning “prayer requests” knowing that the ultimate motive is not lifting up a prayer but in sharing someone else’s misfortune.
The church is not perfect. It is a hospital for the broken and hurting. That being said, it has to be a place where people feel safe. It has to be a place where the hands and feet of Christ are shown and vulnerability and honesty are welcomed. Again, we look different to the world if we don’t readily participate or advance gossip. It does nothing but tear others down and in the process, it destroys our witness. Gossip can be a one-time mistake with a life-time of consequences. The Christian is called to avoid it at all costs. It’s a killer.
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. Proverbs 16:28
3. We are called to speak the truth in love
If we’ve discussed 2 areas in which there are “do not’s” this is a clear point of what we must “do.” The world around can take notice of our avoidance of certain things. But if we are silent about the Gospel, we won’t really be any better off. It’s like keeping that little light under the bushel, hiding it from plain view. What good does the light do if it is not brought out into the open? What good is our testimony if it is not shared?
I’ve heard the old phrase “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” I love the heart behind that phrase and the idea that actions can speak louder than words. It’s just that at the end of the day, actions are not enough if they don’t eventually lead to words. It’s like the wife who tells her husband “You never say you love me anymore” and the husband’s response “I said ‘I love you’ on the day that we were married…if that ever changes, I’ll let you know.” It’s not enough to just act out of love. We have to speak out of love as well. Speaking the truth in love means we care about people enough to tell them about the realities of heaven and hell and of a Savior Who came to bring us life. Actions can help foster that conversation but at the end of the day, the conversation has to happen. We have this one life. We only get so many moments. Why do we not say the words that need to be said?
My springboard for this week and hopefully yours as well is to harness the power of the tongue in a way that is good, pleasing and uplifting. If we focus on point #3, points #1 and #2 will resolve themselves. In other words, if we are so caught up in speaking the truth in love, we will have no time for coarse speech or gossip. That’s a reminder to myself today as I know where this begins in my life. It is in the home around the ones I can build up or break down most clearly. From there, it extends to other family and friends and to my church and beyond. If we get this right at the most basic level, it will spread outward with God’s blessing. In taking down giants and understanding the identity we have in Christ, there is a need to guard our tongues. I’m with you in the fight and want only to encourage and strengthen one another.
God bless and please feel free to reach out.