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  • Adam Butler

What Our Words Say About Us

We have all undoubtedly heard the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” We are also all undoubtedly aware of the foolishness of the slogan. There is no question that words are powerful, and words can, in fact, hurt.

But perhaps the words we speak say a lot more about us than we may be inclined to think. In fact, a person’s words can often be an indicator of what is truly within him.

The Bible has a great deal to say about the power of words. Namely, the tongue is compared to the bit in a horse’s mouth, a ship’s rudder, a wild beast, and a spark which can set an entire forest on fire (James 3). James uses this imagery to justify the fact that not many within his audience were to even consider being teachers. The reasoning for this stark claim is that teachers of God’s Word are held to a higher standard of accountability. Scripture says that those who teach the Bible will actually be judged more strictly than others (James 3:1).

But what about those who do not teach? Words are still just as important. Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). In fact, the book of Proverbs alone has more to say about the importance of using our wisely than any other subject!

Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Returning to James, he says, similarly, “Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:10)! In other words, our tongues can be used to build up or to tear down, and often we do both.

James makes an important point by asking the rhetorical question, can a fig tree bear olives? Neither can one draw fresh water from a saltwater spring (James 3:12). Our words are indicators of what we believe and value. Therefore, to speak in two different ways is a contradiction, or even hypocrisy, such as someone who speaks gently and fervently on Sunday, but curses and uses foul language throughout the rest of the week. This is an example of condemnable language, which the Bible also speaks heavily about, along with lying, slander, wickedness, boasting, harshness, and blasphemy, among others.

It is imperative to remember that our words, in addition to being markers of our beliefs and character, also indicate the desires of our hearts. Jesus says “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Where do our true passions lie? One way to discover this is to examine the things about which we speak, and how we speak about them. Imagine a husband who claims to love his wife, but never tells her this. She would rightly begin to wonder if his claims are true! Likewise, our words are an outpouring of our hearts; will our worlds accurately reflect Jesus? Or, will they be the spark that sets ablaze a forest, ultimately burning those we wish to reach?

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