I've been struck very much lately by the power of words. Written, spoken, heard, passed on- words have such weight in our lives. Parenting foster children has shown me a whole new level of the cutting action of our words. Many of my 'kids' over the years have come from homes where they heard a lot of words- many angry, many condemning, arguing and full of complaining. Many many without love or wisdom. Often even years later, these children will have moments of reflection, terror at times, sadness at others, remembering words that were spoken to them. Some haunt them in their sleep and waking hours, other are a balm to their little souls.
But all have weight.
All cut deeply.
Whether by cutting apart frail self-images or skillfully cutting away unneeded lies from a soul- the ability to separate things within a person is a powerful thing.
My kids are no different than anyone else though. All of us can remember harsh words spoken to us, or high praise from a loved one. Each make their own mark do they not?
Our tongues have the power to uplift and encourage, to correct and refine, to promote and enhance ourselves and others. Our words can shed light, give freedom, and even give life (Proverbs 18:21).
Alas, they also have the power to do just the opposite. Words on a sharp tongue can cut down, discourage, hurt, abuse, condemn, belittle, and destroy. Words can lie, hide, ridicule, and inflict life-long wounds.
What power we wield when we open our mouths!
And yet, I would guess that many of us don't particularly have any major issues with evil tongues. I'm not sure many of us (myself included) give enough forethought each time we utilize our voice boxes. I myself am not known to cuss, or to verbally abuse people. I work hard on not being a gossip or slander anyone. I imagine many of you are similar. We've worked hard to keep clean mouths. And yet, there is so much scripture given to minding our mouths that I am continually amazed at the instruction for using these voices of ours.
Look at just a few of the things the Word would say for when we open our mouths (or in other cases, keep them closed.)
1 Peter 3:10 (NIV) For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.
Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be ALWAYS full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. (Anyone else get hit right between the eyeballs on this one?)
Ephesians 4:29 Do not let ANY unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Proverbs 15:4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
Matthew 15:11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes OUT of their mouth, that is what defiles them.
Proverbs 21:23 Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.
Psalm 34:13 ...keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
Proverbs 12:13-14 Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk, and so the innocent escape trouble. From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward.
Proverbs 12:18-19 The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
Proverbs 15:1-2 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.
Proverbs 18:1-8 An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels. Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach. The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream. It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice. The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating. The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
Oh dear friends, so much of this is convicting to me. I may not be erring on the side of 'bad' but am I intentionally pushing towards the honeyed wisdom, discernment, and knowledge that is spoken of? We can do more! May we of gentle tongues and wise words! This is so much more than not cussing or using the Lord's name in vain. It is not simply not being mean to people, gossiping about them, or spreading rumors. It is the chance to be totally set apart from all the noise that the world hears day in and day out. It is the opportunity to be radically different in our communication. It is the ability to speak LIFE into others! It is the chance to change someone's moment, hour, day, season, job, stress-level, outlook...for good. Better, yet, for GOD! Our mouths are swords, and yielding in the right way, with the the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be a force for change in people. We can use His words to cut out sin, to help separate lies, to excise bad thinking and the speech of others that may have taken root in someone's soul. We have a cutting edge! But we must use it with One who can wield such a mighty thing- our Great Physician. As the Psalmist (141:3) writes, "Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips." May it be to us too!