We’ve all been hurt by what someone has said to us. Sometimes it’s not even the words they use – it’s their tone.
In another way, we’ve all hurt someone else by being careless with what we have said. Every one of us has sinned against our neighbor by saying something that shouldn’t have been said or saying it in an ungodly way.
And worst of all, we’ve all blasphemed God with our words. How many times have we expressed distrust in the Lord? Used his name in vain? Or spoken sacrilegiously?
I hope by now that you can see that this is a problem both internally and externally. Both in our own flesh as well as our neighbor’s. Both toward one another and toward God. And it is a problem that must be addressed.
The book of James explains that a small fire can burn down an entire forest. And the tongue is like a fire (James 3:4-12). We should understand from the Bible that our speech is important.
We often lack wisdom. The problem is not always that we don’t want to speak well, it’s that we don’t know how to. We can gain wisdom simply by asking God. Earlier in the book, James tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God and it will be given to us (James 1:5).
The Bible must govern our speech.
Where can we go to gain the wisdom that we need? We must go to the word of God, which God has given us for our instruction. We must search the scriptures. The Bible gives us all the direction we need to speak in a godly way. Let’s examine a few biblical passages that help guide our speech.
Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another… No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear… Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:25-32
Let’s take this one piece at a time.
Put Away Lying: Jesus is the truth. Every word God says is true. Every promise he makes is fulfilled. And unlike us, God knows everything. We sometimes unintentionally communicate false information because we speak of things we are ignorant of. Other times, we intentionally give false information because our sin has convinced us that a lie is better than the truth. In an effort to be godly, we must put away all lies. A lie is never more helpful than truth. And it is much better to say nothing if you are uninformed than to speak falsely.
No Foul Language: Our words reveal our hearts. We should beware of topics and language that give the stench of death rather than the aroma of life. Christians should avoid using profane and blasphemous speech at all costs. The word foul in the original language is strong. It conveys the idea of rottenness, like sour milk or rotten meat. This is what it is like for a Christian to use foul language.
What is Good for Buiding Up: Our words should have a purpose. We don’t speak needlessly. When we speak, we do so in order to benefit those who hear. Everything we say must then be edifying. This is not an overstatement. Christians possess life-changing good news. Our message and our words have the power to build others up. Our speech should reflect this.
No Bitterness, Anger, or Wrath: These ideas have to do with our attitude as we speak. We see here that not only is our word choice important, but our heart’s attitude in speaking the words. For example, it is a good thing to call out sin in one another. It is not a good thing to do so out of bitterness. It is usually most wise to withhold our rebuke to our neighbor until we have dealt with the anger in our own hearts.
No Shouting, Slander, or Malice: Again, we see the importance of our tone and intent. Shouting is counterproductive to our goal when we speak. We intend to influence one another and build one another up. Shouting puts the hearer on defense. This is why Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away anger,
but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Shouting turns the exchange from a discussion to a debate. Moreover, we must speak from a place of love. Malice wishes harm on our neighbor. Love wishes the best for our neighbor.
Be Kind and Compassionate: Lastly, love requires kindness and compassion from us. In fact, we grow in these things as the Spirit of God continues to sanctify us. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. As such, it should be an identifying marker of Christian communication. Those who hear us should be awestruck by our charity, graciousness, kindness, and compassion.
The one who has knowledge restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a person of understanding. Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent—discerning, when he seals his lips. – Proverbs 17:27-28
It is wise to speak less. Those who are quick to speak generally prove themselves to be foolish. The Bible teaches this in almost every passage about our speech. The old adage silence is a virtue is biblical wisdom.
Like most wisdom, it doesn’t apply to every situation. There are many times the Bible calls Christians to speak up. We aren’t called to a life of silence. In fact, one of the most pressing commands in scripture is for us to share the gospel, which requires us to speak up. We are also commanded to encourage one another, to speak up against injustice, and to defend the faith.
But we learn from these proverbs that it would be wise to speak less and consider our words before speaking them.
The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. – Proverb 27:9
This verse tells us that words can sometimes hurt us for our good. Sometimes a convicting word is exactly what we need to hear. For instance, as we read these biblical commands about speech, we should be convicted of our sin. At first, conviction can hurt. Only once it turns to repentance is it a joy.
We can’t let one another live in sin without saying something. We are called to encourage one other toward holiness. And part of that is being willing to call out sin.
I believe all of these passages can be summarized like this: We must always consider how our words will affect others. And we must always speak in the way that is best for them.
Being harsh is almost never necessary. The Bible calls us toward gentleness, kindness, and grace. And sometimes it is best to say nothing at all.
Expect people to be imperfect. Don’t justify it, but know that it will happen.
What is our response when people sin against us with their words? Forgiveness. This is the same response that our gracious God gives us when we sin with our words.
If someone sins against you, it would be helpful to their soul if you could point out their sin in a spirit of gentleness. And keep in mind that you also struggle with the same sins. This is why Paul wrote that nothing has overtaken us except what is common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We must be both quick to forgive others when they have sinned and quick to repent when we have sinned.
Let your words give life. Build others up. Speak for the glory and honor of God.