Words . . . one of the most powerful forces for good in our world.
Unfortunately, one of the most powerful forces for evil as well. The Bible says a lot about words. In the New International Version, 92 verses specifically mention the tongue; over 200 more reference the mouth. Apparently, words are important to God.
Here’s a taste of what the Bible has to say about words, our tongue, and our mouth:
- Proverbs 18:21: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
- Proverbs 18:6-8: “A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”
- James 3:6: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
Wow . . . just . . . wow.
The tongue possesses the capacity to create life and destroy it. Our words can both quell or ignite relational fires. It’s hard to undo the damage done by carelessly spoken (or written) words.
Words can create relational closeness or distance. Words produce trust or mistrust. Foster peace or anxiety. Create unity or division. Words can pierce like a sword or bring healing. The tongue is likened in Psalm 52 to a sharpened razor.
So if words are so powerful, how can we use them more responsibly?
We can learn from the game of golf. I’m a below average golfer. Golfers like me use mulligans occasionally. If you’ve never played golf, you may not know what a mulligan is. A mulligan is a do-over: You hit a bad shot, and with permission from your fellow golfers, they pretend that shot never happened. Then you hit another shot with no penalty. Mulligans are a golf hacker’s good friend.
Do you ever wish you could use mulligans when it comes to words? That you could have a do-over? You know, when you’ve said something you regret . . . to a friend? A church member? Your spouse?
Unfortunately, when it comes to our words, there are no mulligans. Once a word leaves my mouth, I can’t stuff it back in there.
Words matter. What person alive today hasn’t felt the negative impact of undeserved, untrue, and un-thought-out words? Similarly, who hasn’t been helped by encouraging words coming from a dear friend at just the right time? Words play a prominent role in relationships. How many marriages are wrecked by a steady stream of unkind, unfair, and un-called-for words? Apologies help, but they don’t reverse the effect of poorly chosen words.
Let’s face it: We all struggle occasionally with our words. We say things we shouldn’t say. We occasionally use a condescending tone. Or we communicate rejection with our body language. And consequently, our relationships suffer.
So, what can we do about it? Is it possible to tame our tongue? To get better with words? To leverage their power in a positive way? To avoid hurting people, often those we love the most? Here are four secrets to getting control of our tongue. Four things we can and should do before we open our mouths:
Psalm 141:3 says: “Lord set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” And Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, oh Lord…” I’m thinking these words would be good to say to God every morning before we whisper a word to another human. I like this prayer as well: “God help me to speak when I’m supposed to and be quiet when I should be. Help me to be kind and gracious when I do speak.” Prayer helps us tame our tongue. Here’s a second practical behavior:
Before you speak, ask yourself: “Will what I’m about to say build up or tear down? Heal or wound? Bring life or kill?” Before speaking, zip it for 30 seconds . . . and ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a minute and ask yourself, “If someone said this to me, how would I react?” Careless words spoken in anger or frustration damage relationships—sometimes permanently. Careless words have ruined marriages, careers, ministries, and countless people’s lives.
When it comes to our speech: garbage in . . . garbage out. What we feed on mentally or visually or audibly eventually finds its way into our hearts and then out of our mouths. Our heart is the fountain of our speech. If you’re struggling with using words properly, try modifying your intake. Deal with your mouth problem at the root level—your heart. I think the more time we spend hanging out with Jesus, the more we allow Him to shape our inner man, the more control we’ll gain over our tongue.
Sometimes we try to use an apology as a crutch for our careless words. We think, “Oh they’ll forgive me; they always do.”
Before we speak, it helps to understand that apologizing doesn’t undo the damage caused by words. It doesn’t reinstate trust. We can misuse an apology as way of pretending our hurtful words never happened, but for the injured person, it doesn’t work that way.
So when it comes to words . . . pray, think, feed, and understand.
Why do all of these words about our words matter? Why should we care about taming our tongue? Because words are one of the most powerful forces for both good and evil in our world. God used words to create the universe. Words are the seeds that start relationships. Unfortunately, they also can be the poison that kills relationships. I remember unkind words spoken to me decades ago from people who should have known better. Those words shaped the course of my life until a counselor helped me reframe them many years later.
Your words matter. If you’re a leader, they matter even more, because of the platform you’ve been entrusted with. Use words wisely, and good things usually follow. Use them poorly, and well… you know what happens.
When it comes to words. there are no mulligans.
Rooting and praying for you,