Words hurt. Let’s be honest, words can cut into our heart deeper than anything. And the closer a person is to us, the greater the impact. Even secular music reflects this.
In “Little Toy Guns,” Carrie Underwood tells the story of a girl hiding as her parents fight yet again. Part of the chorus goes like this—
“I wish words were like little toy guns
No sting, no hurt no one
Just a bang, bang rolling off your tongue
(I wish words were like little toy guns)” (1)
This alone should tell us something, but the Bible removes any doubt about the need to guard our words. Simply taking pain out of them won’t help anything. In fact, I believe it would only make things worse, but that’s getting ahead of myself.
In Romans, for example, Paul proves how all men are guilty before the Father. As he reaches his climax, he begins pulling in Old Testament quotations to demonstrate this. What is interesting is that the single most focused upon aspect is our words. He writes—
“Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips;”
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”Romans 3:13, 14
He doesn’t spare any words here, but James goes farther. He says that if a person cannot control their words, their “religion is worthless” (James 1:26). He goes on to describe the rebellious nature of our words, saying that “the tongue…is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Ouch.
But James doesn’t end there. After describing the good and evil we do with our words, he says, “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:10). Yes, our words can cut and do much harm, but we aren’t supposed to throw up our hands as if we don’t have any control over it. Not at all. Rather, we are called—commanded—to use them for good.
And this goes back to what I said earlier about taking away the pain of words. If words didn’t have the power to cut down, they wouldn’t have the power to build up. The less a thing costs us, the less we value it. So if harsh words didn’t inflict pain, there would be no comfort, no love, no encouragement either.
So what is our response? Ephesians and Colossians both have similar commands, but Ephesians puts it succinctly. Paul says—
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”Ephesians 4:29
That’s pretty clear. Our speech is to be gracious, upbuilding, edifying. The goal is the benefit of others, not our own justification or exaltation. It is others focused and gives thought to what glorifies the Lord.
Now that doesn’t mean we avoid difficult things. We are to confront believers when necessary (Matthew 18:15). But even in this, we are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). So with this also, our speech is for bettering others, not ourselves. We can be gracious in how we confront, for while some things are true, they will aid no one in dealing with the root issues.
So what’s the point? Well, if we’re honest, a mark of not fully following the Lord is harsh, grating, cutting speech. It has a lack of grace. But when we do submit to God and live for Him, our speech should reflect it. Again, that doesn’t mean we go around with superficial and flowery language all day, but it does demand we give thoughts to our words and direct them. Our words can have great power, and they are an incredible testimony. That should caution us, but also encourage us. If we could not control our words and speak graciously with the power of the Spirit, God wouldn’t have commanded it. We “can do all things through Him who strengthens” us (Philippians 4:13).
So will you join me in bringing glory to God in our words? We can do great good, or great harm, both to others and to His name in the world. The choice is up to us.
(1) De, Stefano, et al. “‘Little Toy Guns’ lyrics.” AZLyrics.com, 2020. https://www.azlyrics.com /lyrics/carrieunderwood/littletoyguns.html