We all know the recess rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We also know that’s one of the biggest lies known to mankind!
Words hurt. It’s crazy how long the effects of an unkind comment can last. Often, words spoken carelessly are as painful as a physical attack. Proverbs 12:18 compares such words to “sword thrusts.”
Scripture has a lot to say about the way we speak to one another, and it uses strong language to communicate its point. James 3:8 warns, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
How we speak to others is a powerful reflection of our walk with the Lord. If we are truly abiding and Dwelling (see what I did there), in Him, it will be reflected in our speech, because only through the power of the Holy Spirit can the tongue be tamed.
In Ephesians 4, believers are instructed to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). One of the ways we “put off” the old self (v. 22) is by refusing to speak in ways that do not reflect Christ. Paul writes in verse 29, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
The Greek word sapros, here translated as “corrupting,” is used in other places within scripture to describe bad fruit (Luke 6:43) or bad fish (Matt. 13:48). It means rotten. So, Gossip, slander, coarse jokes, insults—all of these things have no place in the life of the church. Our speech should, without exception, have the effect of edifying and building up our fellow believers.
When one Christian speaks to another, the hearer should walk away as a recipient of grace. Even when disagreements happen or rebuke is called for, the way we express ourselves verbally should have the ultimate effect of strengthening and encouraging our fellow believers’ faith. In his letter to the Colossians chapter 4, verse 6, Paul writes, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.” You see, we ourselves have been recipients of grace. God has spoken a gracious word to us in the gospel (Ephesians 4:32).
Make no mistake: obeying this command of Scripture doesn’t come naturally to us. It requires daily submission to God. We have to depend on Him to guide our conversations. We have to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, knowing that He is grieved when we speak poorly to or against another individual who He indwells (v. 30).
We must “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And we need to be mindful of the fact that what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of what is in our hearts. Matthew 12:34–37 says, "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
God has spoken a gracious word to us. We are called to speak gracious words to others.