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The Dangerous Power of Our Words

Today we begin a series on righteous speech. Scripture has a lot to say about this topic and we want to dig into some of this. We begin with a general overview of our need to tend to this issue in our lives.

James 3:5-10 says, “. . .  the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

Our words are powerful

We’ve all heard the saying – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve heard this, but as we know, this just isn’t true. Our words do have power in them -often to hurt.

This is why the psalmist describes the words of his enemies as swords and arrows – Psalm 64:3 – talks about those, “who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows.” But on the other side  Proverbs 15:4 says, “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.”

Our words can be weapons of destruction or they can give life to others. As Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” We can use its power to build up and bless others or we can use its power to tear down and curse. Not only is our tongue powerful…

Our words tend to be a destructive power

More often than not, they are prone to be a negative power; prone to sin. James 3 says of the tongue that it:

  • is a world of unrighteousness
  • stains the whole body
  • is set on fire by hell
  • is a restless evil
  • is full of deadly poison

That’s why Proverbs 10:19 can say “when words are many, transgression is not lacking . . ..” Words and sin just seem to go together. If you ask, “Why is this?” Its because  . . .

Our words simply reveal what is in our hearts

And given the condition of our hearts, whose default position is evil, its no wonder that we speak out evil words.

Jesus makes this point in Matthew 12:33-35 – “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”

If the tree is evil, it will bring forth evil fruit. If the tree is good, it will bring forth good fruit. In the same way if our hearts are evil, we will bring forth evil words and if our hearts are good, we will bring forth good words. There is an intrinsic and unfailing connection between the two – our heart and our words.

When we speak out words of, slander, gossip or deception, we show the true spiritual condition of our heart – that it has hatred and bitterness against others. Our speech simply reveals what is in our hearts. And because this is so . . .

We will be judged based on our words

Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” – Matthew 12:36-37.  Can you imagine it? Every careless word you utter? You will have to give an account for each of these!

And God hears and knows everything we say. That’s what Jesus says in Luke 12:2-3 – “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” What you have whispered, will be exposed for all to hear. What you have said in secret so that others can’t hear will be heard.

This is why speech is such a dangerous power. It is not just that it can harm others. It is dangerous to us. For when we stand before God we will have to give an account for every word we have uttered, yelled, whispered, written, emailed; each one of them!

When we understand that this is true we immediately recognize that we are in trouble before God! Beyond asking God for forgiveness, we realize that . . .

We need to act to control our words

Here are three general guidelines:

1) Don’t talk a lot. Proverbs 10:19 says, “when words are many transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.” Proverbs 17:27 says, “one who spares words in knowledgeable.”

2) Be slow to speak. Proverbs 29:20 says, “Do you know someone who is hasty in speech? There is more hope for a fool than someone like that.” James 1:19 says, “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.” In other words, think carefully before you speak.

3) We have to guard our mouths. We must make sure that when we do speak, we speak words of righteousness. Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives.” Peter taught, “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit” – I Peter 4:10.

As we go through the series – we will look at what righteous speech is, so that we can restrain ourselves within the bounds of righteousness.

William Higgins

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