Let me get straight to the point with this post (that is, let me not waste any words): what we say matters. That reality means we must consider our words, be careful in what we say, and be ready to apologize when we harm with our words. James reminds us that the tongue is not easy to tame (James 3:1-12) – but still we must. Here’s why:
- The gospel is expressed through words. Jesus called us to proclaim the good news to the nations (Luke 24:47). The very word from which we get our word “evangelism” assumes a verbal announcement of good news. If we want people to trust our words when we speak the gospel, we need them to trust our other words, too.
- Our words reveal our heart. Our Lord was clear as He spoke to His opponents in His day: “Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matt. 12:34). When we speak ungodliness, we reveal ungodliness in our heart.
- We will be judged for our words. Again, Jesus spoke in undeniable terms: “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). Tomorrow’s possible judgment should change today’s speech.
- The Bible tells us how we should speak. These verses are only a sample, but following just these verses would often drastically change the way we speak: “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (Prov. 15:1); “The mind of the righteous person thinks before answering, but the mouth of the wicked blurts out evil things” (Prov. 15:28); “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29); “Coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks” (Eph. 5:4).
- Sinful speech is contagious. It usually takes only one person to lead a conversation in the wrong direction for others to join in the pattern. A conversation can move so rapidly into sin that we often don’t recognize it’s happening.
- Words have a lasting effect. Some of the greatest pain I’ve seen in my ministry is the result of what believers have said to each other. Even when I wasn’t the recipient of the verbal wrath, I still remember the woundedness the words caused. On the other hand, I also remember with joy the times when believers affirmed me and others with their words.
- Our ministry is built around words. Even if you’re not a minister, your witness as a believer in Christ is based on words. We speak His words so others might trust His words. The more godly and truthful our words are, the more likely it is that others will listen to what we say when we speak about the one who is Truth.
If you’re interested, I also wrote today’s devotion about Simon Peter’s conversation with Jesus that rellected the disciple’s own issues with speaking the words of God and the words of Satan.