by Josh Liu
Our lives are filled with words (e.g., speech, communication). Many of us acknowledge the power and influence–and source of problems–speech and communication have. However, very few of us discipline our speech with careful discernment. Paul Tripp has said,
…even though we aren’t always aware of it, every day of our lives is filled with talk. Every moment is infected with talk. Every relationship and situation is dyed with words. We’re word-ish people. You could hardly identify a more formative aspect of our daily lives than our world of words. Yet whenever I begin to think, speak, or write about this topic, I experience a bit of frustration. What frustrates me is the vocabulary of communication. The terms are so mundane–words, talk, dialogue, conversation, communication. They just don’t seem to carry the freight of how profoundly significant and important this area of life actually is. (The Power of Words and The Wonder of God, 23)
Words are ultimately significant because of what God reveals in Scripture concerning our words (the Book of Proverbs contain over 100 verses related to speech). Our words are a window into the human heart. We speak thoughts, intentions, desires, wishes, beliefs, and so on contained in the heart (cf. Prov. 18:4; Matt. 15:18; Luke 6:45; Mark 7:21). Our words command power and can be a source of destruction (cf. James 3:2-12). Our words are so important that Scripture describes controlling the tongue as one of the keys to a successful life (cf. Prov. 21:23; 1 Pet. 3:10). Frighteningly, God will judge our words (cf. Matt. 12:33-37).
So, how aware are you of your speech and communication? Do you think before speaking, or do you more often find yourself regretting your words? Is there any sinful speech you need to repent of and work to root out of your life? Is there any edifying speech that you to include more in your life? What are some helpful communication skills to practice in applying biblical principles on speech? These are important questions to reflect on.
Christ’s servants are commanded to silence sinful speech. In other words, believers are to silence, put away, stop, mortify, mute, reign in all speech that dishonors or disobeys Christ and tears down others (cf. Eph. 4:29). This is not exclusively about profanity; this is any speech dishonors Christ and tears down others. E. Bradley Beevers says,
Evil speech isn’t just talking when you should be silent or saying things you immediately wish you hadn’t said. Some things we say are bad for other reasons. For example, with some speech, we determine whether it is evil or good by asking when, to whom, under what circumstances, with what tone of voice something is said. At the other extreme, we distinguish “foul language” from the rest of language; “foul language” is inherently bad. It’s not a matter of saying something at the wrong time or to the wrong person. Such “evil talk” is always wrong, always to be avoided by the believer. (“Watch Your Langauge!”, 24)
Believers’ speech is not to be characterized with the world’s speech. The Bible describes a variety of sinful speech that must be silenced. Below is a summary of a personal study on sins of the tongue with questions for reflection.
|Sinful Speech About Others
||The spreading of unfavorable information about someone,
even if that information is true.
|Prov. 11:12-13; 18:8; 20:19
- Do you sweetly cherish secrets so that you can talk about it with others?
- Do you inappropriately pry for information so that you can talk about it with others?
- Have you said, “don’t tell anyone else” for fear of repercussions by sharing something that was shared with you in confidence?
- Will you betray anyone’s trust by sharing?
||Speaking about another person (whether false or true, an accurate or inaccurate/misrepresentation) that defames or damages the person’s reputation (or character).
||Prov. 16:28; Eph. 4:31-32
- Would what you say impugn someone’s reputation or character?
- Would it cause conflict if discovered?
||Making a false statement; exaggeration for selfish reasons
(e.g., greater recognition); intentionally withholding the whole truth for sinful reasons.
- Do you lie or exaggerate truth claims to create a certain perception about yourself or someone else?
- Do you intentionally mislead because you rejoice in deceit (for compulsive liars)?
||Negative comments about someone that may actually be true but doesn’t need to be said, but said for the purpose of tearing that person down.
||Prov. 21:9, 19
- Do people seem to walk on eggshells around you, afraid of provoking you to typical negative comment?
- Do you mostly criticize and not praise?
||Stirs up strife or conflict; to provoke.
||Prov. 17:9; 23:9
- Do you call out individuals to specifically set a certain context? (i.e., romantic relationships)
- Are you a hype-man just shooting out “oh” to any comment that would normally be regarded as innocuous?
|Sinful Speech About Others
||Words spoken inconsiderate, thoughtless, reckless, imprudently, impetuously.
- Are you brash or rough in speech?
- Do you excuse bluntness as simply a personality trait or basis of perceived intimacy of friendship, excusing a lack of discernment in words and tone?
|Joking or sarcasm
||Crude or coarse humor (words or actions/pranks) intended to amuse oneself at the expense of others (ridiculing, putting down, belittling, provoking a response, etc.).
- Do you find your jokes often hurting others?
- Have they been the source of conflicts or misunderstandings leading to conflicts?
- Do you often excuse the shock value of your words by saying that you’re only joking?
||To wound, put to shame, humiliate, disrespect, dishonor.
- Do you directly insult others without remorse?
||To put down, shut out, or sadden
- Do your words remove biblical hope from someone?
||To exalt self above others, and to belittle others
- Are you the hero of your stories?
- Do you make comments to compete with others (e.g., you slept for 5 hours? I slept for 3 hours)?
||Communicating a choice, decision, or expected response as biblical yet purely based on opinion, preference, experience, or worldliness.
||Job’s friends; Prov. 18:2
- Do you misrepresent or misapply God’s Word to someone’s situation?
- Do you counsel out of personal opinion, preference, or experience and place it as God’s standard?
||Indicting God’s character, entertaining sinful fantasies (e.g., immorality, vengeance), excusing or justifying sin, or internal complaining
||Prov. 20:22; Mark 2:6-7; Phil. 2:24
- Do you think about what you would say as a comeback to insult someone?
- Do you rationalize or make excuses to sin in your mind?
Christ’s servants are also commanded to speak sanctifying speech. In other words, as a servant or disciple of Christ, you seek to do all things, including communicating, for the glory of God. Seek to not bring reproach or stain upon the testimony of Christ with your words. Rather, be known as one filled with the sweet words of your Lord and Savior. This is not about saying sweet nothings, tickling people’s ears with what they want to hear or what makes them feel good. This is about honoring Christ and loving your neighbor. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
Some examples of sanctifying speech about others are giving the benefit of the doubt (cf. Prov. 18:13), believing (or speaking) the best about another (cf. 1 Cor. 13:7), commending others (cf. Rom. 16:1), and giving thanks to God for one another (cf. Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3).
Some examples of sanctifying speech to others are words that build others up (cf. Eph. 4:29; consider the timing, Prov. 27:14), encourage (cf. Acts 11:23), exhort (cf. Prov. 27:6; Heb. 10:24), comfort (cf. Prov. 15:4; 16:24; 18:23; 2 Cor. 1:3-4), confess (cf. Prov. 28:13; James 5:16), and seek understanding (cf. Prov. 15:1; 18:13). Do you build others up and encourage? Kevin DeYoung helps to describe encouragement,
Encouragement means highlighting the evidences of God’s grace in the gospel or in a gospel-centered person to the glory of God. Each part of that definition is important. Encouragement is not spotlighting a person but underlining God’s grace. It is not about commending nice people to make them feel good but about commending the work of the gospel in others to the glory of God. The definition above can help differentiate encouragement from flattery. Encouragement is based on what is true about a person. Flattery affirms through exaggeration or falsehood. Encouragement keeps human praise in proportion, lifting everything up for God’s praise. Flattery gives too much influence to human agency. Encouragement blesses for the sake of the blessed and the Blessed One. Flattery harbors ulterior motives and looks for favors or reciprocal affirmation. While God despises flattery, He delights to see Christians encourage each other. (“Encourage One Another”)
Be careful of becoming the tongue or speech police. This is first and foremost an opportunity to examine your own life and heart to discern any spiritual logs in your eyes. Take this as an opportunity for you to consider how to honor Christ with your words and love your neighbor.