I heard a story about a blind boy who sat on the busy steps of an office building every day. He kept a hat by his feet with a sign that said, “I am blind, please help.” One morning a business man walking by noticed there were only a few coins in the hat. So he pulled some coins from his pocket and dropped them in. Then he took the sign, wrote a few words on the back, and set the sign down with the new message for all to see. Soon the hat began to fill up! Later that afternoon, the man came back to see how the blind boy was doing. “Mister,” the boy asked, “are you the one who changed my sign? What did you write?” The man answered, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said—but in a different way.” The sign now said, “Today is a beautiful day and I cannot see it.”
This story illustrates how words, used in the right way at the right time, can change someone’s day—and maybe even their life.
What we say matters.
To each other—and more importantly, to the Lord.
Studies show that the average person spends 70% of their waking hours communicating with others. Not just verbally, but also through texting, email, tweeting, and all types of social media. In fact, some people use digital communication so much that it replaces face-to-face communication—even with those we’re closest to!
We are constantly communicating. So it’s no surprise that the Bible has a lot to say about our words. In Proverbs alone, there are more than 100 verses about the right—and wrong—ways to use our words.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” This is something that I often need to be reminded of, and I am teaching my kids how valuable or detrimental their words can be as well.
As James points out in his letter to the church, learning to use our words in a positive way is a sign of spiritual maturity. James uses three word pictures to illustrate that the tongue is small but powerful.
A bit in a horse’s mouth (James 3:3). I have a friend whose daughter, Chloe started riding horses when she was thirteen and only weighed 90 pounds. Now she competes in English riding and show jumping. She rides every day and her horse weighs 1200 pounds. Even though Chloe is only a fraction of the size of that horse, she controls it. She commands the horse to stop, to go, and to jump. All Chloe needs is a small bit in the horse’s mouth to turn that huge animal any way she wants.
The rudder of a ship (James 3:4). The SS France, one of the world’s largest ships, is over a thousand feet long (that’s four football fields) and weighs 83,000 tons. The rudder itself weighs 74 tons, but that’s less than 1% of the ship’s full weight. And yet, that’s all it takes to steer that massive ship.
A wildfire (James 3:5). We’re familiar with forest fires, especially here in California! Every year in the U.S., wildfires burn more than five million acres. It only takes a tiny spark to cause a lot of tragedy!
Words are powerful.
As women, think how powerful our words can be.
We can build up and encourage our husbands. We can instill confidence into a child’s heart. We can bring hope and inspiration to a friend who needs it.
We can use our words to share the gospel, or encourage the hurting. We can use our words to praise the Lord, to pray, to speak of the things He has done and is doing.
Proverbs 31:26 says that a virtuous woman, “Opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
Do you know someone who opens her mouth and out pours wisdom and kindness? I do! Let me tell you, I love being around women like this. They inspire me to keep growing and use my words to honor the Lord and make an impact for Christ.
We all want our words to be life-giving and point others to Jesus. With that in mind, let’s briefly consider a few of the kinds of words we want to avoid.
Words that Criticize. We women can easily slip into this trap, can’t we? If we’re willing to examine ourselves, we can see how a critical spirit filters out into our words. Are we quick to correct others or show them the “right” way to do something? Do we have a habit of “evaluating” things and people by whether (or not) they measure up to our own likes and preferences?
In my college chemistry class, we learned how acid burns everything it touches. Acid eats holes through wood, etches dark graphs in metal, and permanently distorts plastic. Critical words do the same thing. Criticism eats holes in relationships. It etches dark scars in the people we love most. Just like acid on plastic, words that criticize will distort the intended trust and hope and love we should have in our relationships with one another!
Words that Gossip. Proverbs has much to say about gossip. It betrays a confidence (Proverbs 11:13). It separates close friends (Proverbs 16:28 and 17:9). It goes down into the inmost parts (Proverbs 18:8). Gossip is destructive and often subtle. Not just speaking it but listening too! It steals a person’s reputation which is nearly impossible to restore. “Those who guard their mouths and their tongue keep themselves from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
Lying words. This includes half-truths and exaggerations. “The Lord detests lying lips” (Proverbs 12:22). Lying destroys our credibility and our witness. Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37). In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say.
Complaining words. We may not always look at it this way, but complaining is a bold accusation against God’s goodness. So when we’re tempted to complain about people or circumstances—and face it, we know this happens to us all—we need to express this honestly to the Lord and remind ourselves that God is working in our life (Philippians 2:13-18).
It almost goes without saying, but we need to guard against using angry or disrespectful words. Sometimes it’s not even the words we use but the tone we say them in. Most of us aren’t even aware of how we sound to others. For example, I’ve noticed when I’m impatient, defensive or disappointed, my tone is short and sharp. I have to be careful of that.
Careless words. We can dishonor the Lord when we talk too much! Proverbs 10:19 (NLT) says, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”
It’s wise to hold our tongue when:
- We don’t know what to say (Proverbs 17:28).
- We are maligned or wrongly accused. Jesus is our example: “He did not retaliate when He was insulted nor threaten revenge when He suffered” (1 Peter 2:23 NLT).
- The timing is wrong. Sometimes it’s the right word at the wrong time (Proverbs 25:11).
- When we have nothing to say that gives grace (Ephesians 4:29).
Careless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal. James reminds us to consider our words.
From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Let’s challenge ourselves to consider where we need to go to the Lord and ask forgiveness. Are there people we need to connect with and ask forgiveness? Do you need to forgive someone who has hurt you with words? Don’t wait, do it today. The Lord is faithful to help us with this!
Let your words be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.