If I was to ask you what your favorite quote is, what would you say? Whether words from a favorite book, beloved speaker, or treasured loved one, we all have heard words that resonated with us deeply. On the flip side, most of us have heard words that we wish we could forget. Taunts from middle school or a lash out from a parent or significant other can hit harder than beloved quotes. Why? Because words can wound. They cut deep, and even though time brings healing, they have a lasting impact.
It is no wonder Scripture describes the tongue as being the most powerful weapon. James describes it as a fire and a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:6-7). Once words have left our mouths, we can never get them back. We see the ramifications of this on social media. Popular celebrities and other well-known people have received backlash when words they have said in the past are brought to the surface. Or maybe it is the words in a tweet or Instagram caption that cause issues. Even if deleted or edited, the ability to screenshot causes one's words never truly to be gone. They now follow the person that said or wrote them wherever they go.
It is not just other people who misuse their tongue. We, too, have spoken words we wish we hadn't. Though those in Christ receive forgiveness for the words they've said, God's grace does not give us a license to continue speaking however we please. It also doesn't mean that our words are harmless to other people. Knowing that our words wound and carry weight should make us consider the ramifications of our tongue. What we say affects everyone around us. The things we say now have the potential to impact others for years to come. We may have heard someone say before, "I couldn't help it; it just came out!" But there is no excuse for the painful words we say. While dangerous, God can tame our tongues. We all have a choice in the words we speak. If our tongue is a fire, we have a choice in letting our words burn or be extinguished. We can choose to use our words to either inflict poison or impart life. So how do we learn to speak life?
Look at your heart
At its root, the misuse of our tongue is a heart issue. Jesus says in Luke 6:45, "A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart." What is on your tongue reveals what is in your heart. Our tongue and heart are intimately connected. Our sinful tongues reflect our sinful hearts, for the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).
The heart is often used as imagery to describe the core of a person or who they are. For those of us in Christ, the grace of Jesus has cleansed the wickedness of our hearts. We are made new because of Him. But we still have a sinful nature which means we will daily struggle to put sin to death. The need to tame the tongue reflects this battle. For us to tame our tongue, we need to examine the sin that is tainting our hearts. By looking at what leaves our mouths, we can diagnose what is plaguing our hearts. Pride and selfishness in our hearts come out through words that are self-seeking and self-promoting. Passive-aggressive language reveals anger and bitterness inside our hearts. It may be painful to do this self-examination, but we must change the way we speak. However, it is important to note that we can not make this change on our own. Only God, through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, is capable of changing our hearts. This is why it is essential to repent and allow God to put to death the sin we struggle with. When we allow God to do His heart-altering work in our lives, our sinful words are extinguished before they get the chance to burn.
Fill your heart
If you want to speak words of life, you must fill your heart with the Word of life. Storing God's Word in our hearts keeps sin from festering. We expel sins such as pride and anger when we come before God, asking Him to shape our hearts according to His Word. When I find myself saying hurtful things, this often signifies that I'm not spending time in God's Word. The more we spend time in God's Word, the more God will fill us with peaceable and loving words. From the overflow of our hearts will come words that speak life instead of death. Without God's Word, we can remain unaware of the sinfulness of our tongue. We need God's Word to convict us and lead us to repentance. We need the reminder that the Holy Spirit is inside us, ready to help us fight the battle against our tongues. Reading God's Word and prayer also helps to fill our hearts. Following the example of David, we can pray, "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalms 19:14). Or we can pray, "Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips" (Psalms 141:3). God stands ready to tame our tongues. He gives the Word and the Spirit to shape us into Christlikeness in all ways, including how we use our tongues.
Like the quotes we treasure, we have the potential to leave a legacy of words that bring life. And ultimately, our words of life point to Jesus, who gives life. We have the potential to either point people to or away from the gospel. May we reflect the goodness of Christ and speak life.