How we are to use our words, according to the Bible
Words are powerful. God spoke our entire creation into existence. Without God speaking, nothing would exist. God doesn’t talk meaninglessly. Every word He speaks is intentional, powerful and accomplishes His purposes.
Psalm 33:9 ESV For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
Isaiah 55:10 ESV so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
It is not surprising that the Bible says that words have the power of life or death. And because we are all made in the image of God, that rings true for us too. With our words, we can build up someone (life) or destroy them (death). We can ruin reputations, families, relationships and even national security by our words.
Proverbs 18:21 ESV Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Every careless word recorded
God hears every word we speak and records them for eternity. And He clearly remembers if our words honour or dishonour His name.
Malachi 3:16 ESV Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.
Matthew 12:36-37 ESV 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.
Does this cause us to pause and reflect on our own words? How will we feel when all our words are eventually replayed back when we meet God face to face?
Warnings and promises from the Bible
The Bible has a lot to say about how we use our words and speech. When we use our words in God honouring ways, we are promised good days. But when we use our words in defiling ways, we are told that we have no inheritance in heaven, our religion is worthless and we will be destroyed! It’s hard to imagine that our words can have such grave spiritual consequences, especially when most times, we don’t really think about what we are saying.
1 Peter 3:10 ESV For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;
Ephesians 5:4-5 ESV Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
James 1:26 ESV If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Psalm 101:5 ESV Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.
Our modern culture is littered with discriminating phrases, mockery, self-glorifying words and expletives. We just have to listen to any secular conversation, pop song or movie and pick up numerous examples. As consumers, we can mindlessly pick up empty phrases and destructive words, and repeat them like a mimic, without giving much thought to them.
As a result, we may end up slandering our leaders at work and in church, criticising our relatives, cursing our governments, telling demeaning jokes and making careless remarks – bringing death rather than life in our words.
Speaking to give life
God loves us too much to leave us stumbling and second-guessing about how we are to use our tongues. Even Paul, the apostle who was also a great orator and writer, talks about how hard it can be to tame our tongues.
James 3:2, 7-10 ESV For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
Praise God that the Bible is filled with so much valuable advice on how we can use our words.
What we should do
God keeps His commandments on how we are to use our words simple and short. The aim is always to speak the truth in love and encourage His people, including ourselves.
1. Do speak the truth
Ephesians 4:15 ESV Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
2. Do be gracious to others in our words
Colossians 4:6 ESV Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
3. Do encourage others
1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
4. Do encourage ourselves
1 Samuel 30:6 ESV And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.
What we should not do
Because we have so much difficulty taming out tongues, God’s Word makes it very clear what we are to avoid when we speak. May the words that come out of our mouths be gentle, sincere and worthy of praise.
1. Do not break others’ confidences
Proverbs 11:13 ESV Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.
2. Do not break our promises
1 John 2:5 ESV But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:
3. Do not speak against others
James 4:11 ESV Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
4. Do not gossip
Proverbs 16:28 ESV A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
5. Do not tell lies
Exodus 23:1 ESV “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.
6. Do not corrupt others with our words
Ephesians 4:29 ESV 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.
6. Do not curse others
Psalm 109:17 ESV He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!
Leviticus 20:9 ESV For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.
Exodus 22:28 ESV “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.
7. Do not quarrel with others
Titus 3:2 ESV To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
8. Do not accuse anyone without reason
Proverbs 3:30 ESV Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.
9. Do not resort to backstabbing
Proverbs 25:23 ESV The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
10. Do not use obscene words or foul language
Colossians 3:8 ESV But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
11. Do not engage in foolish talk
Ephesians 5:4 ESV Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
12. Do not pry into other peoples’ business
2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 ESV For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
13. Do not use false flattery
Proverbs 26:28 ESV A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
14. Do not think we can just say “just kidding” to cover up wrongful words
Proverbs 26:18-19 ESV Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”
15. Do not engage in disrespectful nonsensical talk
2 Timothy 2:16 ESV But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,
16. Do not speak vaguely
Matthew 5:37 ESV Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
What we must never do in relation to God
Before we became followers of Jesus, we may have followed the world in the way we spoke about God and His people. We should be careful not to make the same mistakes again because these have especially severe consequences.
1. Do not mock God
Galatians 6:7 ESV Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
2. Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit
Mark 3:16-27 ESV. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
3. Do not use phrases like “oh my god” or “Jesus Christ” as casual expressions – do not use His name in vain
Deuteronomy 5:11 ESV “‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
4. Do not ridicule supernatural beings
Jude 1:8 NLT In the same way, these people–who claim authority from their dreams–live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings.
5. Do not engage in meaningless religious controversies and debates
Titus 3:9 ESV But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.
6. Do not use words that cause division in church
Titus 3:10-11 ESV As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
What we should do in relation to God
God loves to commune with us and will never reject us when we go to Him in prayer. Let us honour our Father in Heaven with the right attitude when we approach His throne of power, grace and love or share the gospel with others.
1. Do tell God our complaints and grievances
Psalm 142:1-2 ESV With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
2. Do give thanks in all circumstances
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
3. Do praise God for all things
Psalm 59:16-17 ESV But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. I my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.
4. Do teach and advise one another based on God’s word
Colossians 3:16 ESV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
5. Do share the gospel with others
Romans 10:13-15 ESV For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
How to use our words in God honouring ways
The list above is not meant to be a restrictive list of do’s and don’ts. Quite on the contrary, it is highly instructive in terms of how to build healthy relationships. Too many times, we speak words that have had an unintended impact on others.
Here are some final tips on checking on our attitudes as we speak to others.
1. Don’t rush to speak
James 1:19-20 ESV Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
2. Ask God to reveal any unclean areas in our hearts
Mark 7:20-23 ESV And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
3. Put away divisive words
Ephesians 4:31 ESV Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
4. Choose to speak lovingly
1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
5. Ask God for wisdom
Luke 21:14-15 ESV Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.
6. Seek to make all our words a fragrant sacrifice to God
Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
May our words always be fitting and loving – as a lovely display of God’s beauty.
Proverbs 25:11 ESV A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
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