September 30, 2020 | Family | Counseling by Mike Greene
You have most likely heard the words “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Perhaps you uttered these words yourself in a playground dispute or a spat among siblings. This is a flimsy retort suggesting that we didn’t really know how to respond to the conflict. At the same time, it is one of the biggest lies ever spoken out loud. We know full well that words can be very hurtful, even devastating. It is common and unfortunate that people who profess to be Christians perceive that they are doing well if they “talk nice.” As long as we don’t cuss or sound too mean in front of certain people, then it’s all good. That line of thinking is exactly how the Pharisees interpreted life and law, and that did not go well for them when Jesus showed up. If you are in Christ and desire to grow in Christ, then it is critical to understand that our words have purpose, and our words are indicators.
Being created in the image of God, we have a unique ability to communicate. Our everyday speech, public and private, ought to reflect the purposes of our Creator. Three overarching commands in Scripture explain why we are still here after we are saved – our purpose is to love God, love people, and make disciples. Our words ought to match our ambition. They are tools to accomplish God’s purposes when we are led by the Spirit, and our words have eternal consequences. We should use them wisely and graciously.
Dr. Paul David Tripp uses the term “speaking redemptively” to describe how our words matter. He defines speaking redemptively as “refusing to let our talk be driven by passion and personal desire but communicating instead with God’s purposes in view.” The words we choose not to say are just as important as the words that we do say. When we say them, how we say them, and why we say them matter just as much as the words themselves. It also includes speaking when something needs to be said. Speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) is a characteristic of the Spirit-led believer.
So, what do redemptive words look like? The Apostle Paul connected speech and grace when he said, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6). Paul provides more specifics in his letter to the Ephesians. In Eph. 4:29, we glean that our words should not be “rotten.” They should build others up, not tear them down. Our words should be appropriate for the need of the moment, chosen carefully, spoken at the right time, giving grace to everyone who hears them. If you look at all of Ephesians 4, you will see that speech is a critical component of the Christian’s walk. God’s Word clearly and frequently commands us to love one another. Our words function to express that love and to glorify Christ. Of course, our talk and our walk have to match. “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…” (1 Thess. 5:11).
Our words have purpose, but they are also an indicator. Just as automotive gauges and warning lights indicate if your car is operating correctly, your speech indicates how your “heart-engine” is running. If your typical speech pattern tears others down, if your words do not show love and grace to others, if they do not sound like the words of a new creature in Christ, then there is a big red light flashing on your dashboard. This is not a communication problem, as many people want to think; it is a heart problem, and it is a worship problem.
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:13-15)
We are free to choose our words, but choices have consequences. If you look at the context of this passage by reading all of Galatians 5, you will see that our words are indicators of a decision to walk by the Spirit or a decision to pursue the deeds of the flesh. In Luke 6:45, Jesus made it clear that our words reflect what is really in our hearts.
If your words are destructive rather than constructive, more selfish than loving, there is good news for you. There is hope, and help! First, throw yourself upon the mercy of God in prayer and confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Believe and trust in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Devour His Word and commit to obeying it. Confide in a trusted believing friend, a Life Group leader, or a pastor for encouragement and accountability. If the struggle seems too difficult, consider allowing one of our trained biblical counselors to walk with you in “intense discipleship.” Our relationships are not just meant for our pleasure. They are instruments of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification in our lives.
Our words have purpose. Will your speech serve God’s purpose or your own? Our words are also indicators. Do you have a red light flashing? The regular pattern of our speech reflects our nature. Satan speaks lies because that is his nature. The Lord speaks truth and righteousness because that is His nature. Our words will reflect one realm or the other.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: The next time you are faced with a difficult conversation, step back and ask yourself, what do I really want to accomplish? Do you want to get your own way or win an argument, or do you want to save and preserve the relationship? Which would bring glory to God?
“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” (Prov. 25:11)