Words are like bullets.
At the recent church fellowship shoot out (which sounds like anything but a good time of fellowship!), we had a lot of fun shooting clay pigeons with shotgun shells. For the sake of illustration though, let’s think in bullets. Bullets can be used for good and for fun because they are powerful. However, they can be used powerfully in a destructive sense as well.
The words we speak are also a lot like bullets. Once they’re fired out by pulling the trigger of our tongues, there is no stopping them, no getting them back, and they can do a lot of damage if not used properly. That old riddle about how “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” is painful in light of the fact that many have taken their own lives because of the harmful words said to them or about them. The book of James says the tongue can be like a small spark that starts forest fires, a small rudder but that steer the whole ship, or a little bridle that controls the whole horse!
Even though words are so powerful, this world doesn’t do well with words. That was made very clear by the 1st presidential debate or can be evidenced by simply scrolling through any social media thread. But as believers in Jesus Christ who have been born again by the Spirit of God and made new creations, we are now called to speak in a way that is totally different from the general way of the world. Our speech is to line up with who we are already in Christ as a way to honor Him and glorify Him. Part of being born again is just learning how to talk again! The health of our relationships depends on it.
In Ephesians 4:21-32, Paul talks about the use of words and how important they are in our relationships. In the context, Paul is talking about how now that we know the Lord, we are to walk differently. He says lay aside the your old self, your old manner of life, which was corrupt, and instead, starting in verse 23, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” The point is that in Christ, you possess perfect righteousness and holiness in the sight of God. You are a new creation before God positionally. But our practice, our day to day living, should be changing and catching up with our position in Christ! And part of putting on the new self is changing the way we speak.
Verse 25 continues, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth to each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."
Let's glean from this 3 simple principles for the words we speak: replace, restore, reflect.
1. REPLACE: Godly communication is to replace unwholesome speech.
One of my friends told me that one of the weirdest experiences in coming to Christ was learning to develop a new vocabulary. He has to replace his old vocabulary with a new one! Instead of lying, Paul says speak truth. God is not a liar and since we are to reflect Him, we aren’t to lie. Put aside falsehood, bitterness, anger, clamor, slander and malice. Putting something aside is like saying throw it in the trash! Clean out of your ammo box ammunition that you don’t need anymore.
The new ammo we need is ammo of kindness and forgiveness – words that are only good for edification according to the need of each moment. Colossians 4:6 says to use words that are seasoned with salt, giving a preservative and purifying grace to those who hear. When you start speaking like that, it’s like preventative maintenance on your car. You’ll have less relational issues to begin with. I think that’s why Paul squeezes that sentence in there on stealing. It’s like he’s saying look, just as someone who replaces stealing with working won’t have to worry about stealing anymore, so if you replace bad communication with godly communication, you won’t have all these relational problems to begin with.
2. RESTORE: Godly communication restores broken relationships.
What happens when we get angry? Everything Paul just said comes out: slander, gossip, abusive speech., etc. Anger is not a sin. It’s an emotion. But if we don’t respond to it rightly it can lead to sin, causing bad bullets to be fired out. Learn to be angry without shooting off bad bullets.
He also says "Don't let the sun go down on your anger." We should keep short accounts or stay current by graciously coming back to each other with gracious words and forgiving one another for harsh words. He warns us that if we don’t, the serious consequence is that we might give the devil a foothold in our lives. What does he mean by that? Well, just think of how many times have you got in a foolish argument about something and went to bed with a bitter spirit over it and when you woke up the next day you were fine… until you remembered you were mad at someone! That’s not fun. It steals your joy and the anger starts to consume you. If prolonged, Satan can do some serious damage in our hearts and minds and lives because unresolved anger leads to bitterness, then revenge, then hatred, then a totally ungrateful spirit and eventually depression, maybe even death. I think a lot of our problems today are actually the result of unresolved anger. We haven’t learned to work through things with wise words and so some foolish argument became a giant wedge between us and each other, and us and God (Mt. 18:35). Bitterness is like a root and the longer we let bitterness sit in our hearts the harder is it to uproot.
3. REFLECT – Godly communication reflects Christlikeness.
"Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Godly communication is tender and kind like what we see in Christ's sacrifice for us. He didn't come with wrath, but kindness, and that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Christ, who forgave us of all our sins, even when we didn't deserve it, is the model for us to reflect. We extend the forgiveness Christ has forgiven us with (Col. 3:13). As one man said, "If we are totally forgiven by God, how can we not then forgive others?"
This year, with the holiday season upon us, my prayer is that you might be able to restore some of those fractured relationships you’ve had with family members or friends and really reflect the patient, forgiving, kindness of Christ to them.
P.S. Don't forget that just as there were rewards at the shoot out for those who did well, so there are future rewards for those who do well with words in this life.
Yours in Christ,
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