One of the convicting things about being around little kids is that your words come back to you in ways that you may not anticipate. A phrase that causally slides off your lips sounds different when it is uttered out of the mouth of your two-year old niece. Instructions that you have given and have long-forgotten are brought to mind by their seemingly insatiable memory. Lessons that were meant for them echo in your heart as you realize their applicability to you.
Although I don’t have the opportunity to be around little ones all that often, I face a similar experience sometimes with my students. Many times as I am giving exhortations or instructions, I am issuing a call to myself as well. Every once in a while something that I said which has long escaped from my memory, lingers in theirs.
This happened recently as a student wrote to tell me how once I shared with them my belief that we needed to be more careful in our selection of words. We tend to use words flippantly, and words that were once reserved for describing our great God and King are now pilfered to describe anything from a sunset to a stellar display of athletic prowess. The word “awesome” is a great example. This word has become so much part of our vernacular that we use it in place of simpler, less profound words on a regular basis. “Want to go to the park?” we are asked. “Awesome” is our reply. Yet, very rarely is our pronouncement accurate. In all likelihood, they are completely devoid of any awe. We are simply co-opting a word, lessening it of its power and using it to describe mundane things.
However, words do have power. Words like “love” mean something beyond our affection for a good sandwich. Therefore, when choosing the words that we use, there should be at least three things we ask:
1) Are our words empty? – In I Timothy 1:3-7, Paul is warning the young pastor about the tendency of false teachers to engage in idle talk. He describes them as having no “understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” In other words, their words, while perhaps sounding profound, are devoid of significance because they themselves do not understand the meaning behind what they are teaching. While using words like “awesome” to describe a sunset may be unlikely to lead to heretical views, when we take words that are rightly reserved for describing God to describe something that is less than Him, we (often subconsciously) diminish our understanding of who God is and the magnificence that is centered in Him. Emptying words of their rightful meaning results in having less of an ability to convey the majesty of our Savior.
2) Are our words wasted? Scripture tells us that the words that come out of our mouth should be “good for building up, as fits the occasion” (Eph. 4:29). We are also commanded to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We utter many things throughout the day that accomplish neither of these purposes. We would do better to speak less, in order to build up more. Truth may be more apparent to our hearers if it is not surrounded by a lot of other, lesser things. Let us be careful with not only what words we utter, but how those words are used for the benefit of God’s children. Let us be careful that we are not wasting our words on foolish things, but that instead, like the Corinthian church, we can be commended for excelling in everything, including our speech.
3) Are our words particular? – Proverbs 25:11-12 says that “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.” In watching our words, we need to be careful that the words we choose are fitting for the occasion we face. This is true when issuing a reprove to a brother or sister in Christ, and it is true in the myriad of circumstances that we encounter during the day. Earlier in Proverbs we read the instructions that “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Being particular about the words we say and when we say them, will help ensure that our speech is “always full of grace, seasoned with salt,” useful for the body of Christ and to the benefit of those who don’t know Him.
It’s a difficult thing to watch our words. Even as I thought about this post I caught myself using a word that is full of power and meaning when a lesser one would suffice. However, we would do well to more carefully guard our speech. As James 3:1-12 makes clear, our tongue is a powerful instrument and we would be wise to ensure that we are using it for His Kingdom’s purposes.