My two oldest sons are two years apart. They’re adults now, but when they were younger, I remember an argument they had. I can’t specifically remember what the argument was about, something silly and insignificant. It was one of many, like all brothers have.
What I do remember was how harsh their tone was, how their words were laden with accusation, and how their choice of vocabulary was personally damaging. Their sentences were designed to tear down, not find a solution to the conflict.
I had never taught my boys how to speak like this. Had they heard their father speak poorly to their mother? To them? Yes, regrettably. But I never sat them down and said, “Boys, if you want to win an argument and get your way, this is how to do it.”
In this mundane moment, God reminded me: the natural tendency of the human heart is to selfishly employ words to get what we want.
Listening to the same argument, God also opened my ears to hear how powerful words can be. Since I often don’t listen to what I say, or understand how my words are received, God was giving life and breath to the famous passage on the power of words in James 3.
"The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness ... It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison ... With it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God."
More than 25 years removed, that argument still gets me reflecting today: how often do I naturally employ powerful words to selfishly get what I want? How often do I threaten, manipulate, accuse, guilt, or slander those in my life with what I say?
If you’re anything like me, I know you do the same. Be honest, but don’t be discouraged. God never reveals our hearts to discourage us. Convicting us of sin is one of the most profound ways he demonstrates his love for us.
Additionally, God never sets a lofty standard for our speech and demand that we reach it on our own, sitting back and waiting for us to fail. Rather, he gives us everything we need in life for godly speech (2 Peter 1:3).
How does he do that? He sent the Word – Jesus Christ – to become flesh and blood (John 1:14) and help us with our words. We have power and glorious riches at our disposal through Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
This week, listen to yourself talk. Take note of how natural it is for you to employ words for selfish gain. Be aware to the powerful vocabulary at your disposal. Grieve and confess how you threaten, manipulate, accuse, guilt, or slander others with words.
But take hope. The Word came to release us from the power of sin. We can experience a new direction with our words!
- What was the last argument you engaged in? Rewind the audio of that conversation.
- Did you attempt to use words to repair conflict, or were your words chosen to "win" at the expense of another?
- How can you use powerful words this week to build up and restore?
- What practical steps can you take to "dwell" with the Word? How might that help with your words?