Words Mean Things
Scripture consistently speaks to the nature of words. Words can build up or tear down. Words can help and hurt. Words are the lifeblood of communication and must be chosen carefully. So powerful is the impact words can have that James speaks to the problem of taming the tongue and warns about becoming teachers:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:1-2, ESV).
Like ships guided by small rudders and horses guided by small bridles, “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” The danger is seen in that with our words, we can both bless and curse: “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (vv. 7-12).
Because words have the power to hurt or heal, Christians need to take extra care in what they say and how they say it. Jesus taught directly about the fact that what we say, good or ill, comes out of the heart, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:34-37)
This means that we must speak — or not speak — with intention, for “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Prov 17:28). What will be the impact of what I say? How will what I say help or hurt the situation? Will what I say be a blessing or a curse to those made in God’s image? Will I speak words that edify or words that tear down? It matters. “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov 12:18).
Words encourage those who need to be lifted up. This is a proper use of what we say. It is amazing how occasionally what someone says to encourage is perfectly timed. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov 25:11). When feeling a bit of a struggle, a good word that builds up is exactly what is needed to refresh and strengthen the soul. And we may not know when that might be. If you have something encouraging to say to someone, say it. The timing of a good word of encouragement can be just right and needed at a time of difficulty. God blesses us through the encouragement of 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).
How we use our words also matters when it comes to presenting the gospel message. The “word” is communicated through words that have the power to persuade or to cause people to turn away. Paul asked for prayers to do it well: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison — that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col 4:2-6).
Words mean things. The word of God must be communicated with appropriate words, seasoned with salt. And the word of God comes from the ultimate Word who was manifested in the flesh (John 1:1-18). When we communicate the word with appropriate words, we are giving people the Word who can save their souls. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)