Whether they be used in a poem, a song, a professor’s lecture, a presidential speech, or those of a casual conversation between two friends, words have tremendous potential to be powerful communication tools. Words have the power to comfort or depress, encourage or demoralize, enlighten or confuse, help or hinder, build up or tear down, cause joy or sadness, and stir up love or hatred. Words have started wars and ended wars. Words have led to the saving and killing of innocent lives in the emergency facilities of hospitals. Words have helped hold some marriages together while destroying others.
Just as they are for every other person in the world, words are a major part of the life of God’s children. Realizing the potential for our words both to do great damage and great good, we ought to take our speech seriously. When it comes to the words which we employ, here are four reminders.
What we say is important. When I was a youth, I attended a state-wide gathering of those that identified themselves as “Christian” athletes. During one of our discussions/“Bible studies” in a small-group setting, one of the adult men leading the discussion told us that God does not care what we say. He sought to persuade us that our choice of words does not matter, so if we use profanity, well, that simply means that our vocabulary is limited.
The Bible gives a message that is far different from the one that the above-mentioned guide gave to vulnerable young men. The Bible says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:28). This verse makes it plain that, in God’s sight, some words are appropriate, and some are not. It is also written, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10). Yes, our words really do have meaning. And, yes, what we say truly is important. Thus, let us choose our words carefully, being “slow to speak” (James 1:19). Once words come out of our mouth or we put them in writing, they cannot go back. One might apologize for the harm done, but the word(s) that came forth from us will be a permanent part of human history.
How we say what we say is important. Professional writers understand that truth. Teachers and coaches do, too. Christian parents, gospel preachers, and Bible class teachers must not forget it. It is not enough to speak the truth; our Lord wants us to do so “in love” (Ephesians 4:15). The principle of Proverbs 15:1 is a relevant principle in every generation: “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” When we teach someone the gospel, how we express the truth that all of the redeemed are in the Christ (Romans 3:24) has the potential to influence one’s response to that truth.
Our motive in saying what we say is important. On more than one occasion, the Pharaoh who ultimately released the Israelites from Egypt confessed, “I have sinned” (Exodus 9:27; 10:16). Good words, lousy motive. That man had no remorse for his transgressions and no desire to please Jehovah. He said what sounded good in order to receive relief from his misery. Parents, it is not enough to scold a child. Words spoken to the young lad or young girl need to come from a heart of love (Hebrews 12:5,6). Speaking to rebuke those who are in error is what God prescribes, but He wants us to do so that the erring ones “may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Let us also not forget that when we sing spiritual songs, our desire is not to impress or entertain, but to use the words of the songs to praise the true and living God and pour out our sincere reverence for Him (Colossians 3:16).
Our action before and after we say what we say is important. The strong words of Romans 2:21 should catch our attention: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” If our action before and/or after our instruction to others is inconsistent with our words, people will not be willing to accept what we say, even if it is true. In order for our words to have a maximum positive effect, people must also see clearly that we really do care about them – that our words of concern are backed up with action.
Did you feel like you often make mistakes in your choice of words or in the way that you express yourself? Join the crowd. Jesus is the only one that never said any inappropriate words or failed in the way that He used proper words. Let us all make a commitment to do the best we can in choosing and using our words. What we say and how we say it have a big influence in life. In fact, our words can even determine our own eternal destiny. Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
— Roger D. Campbell