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Generally we all have ideas of what is right or wrong, good or bad, helpful orfree speech 1 damaging.  We all have ideas of what we need to do to grow the good and slay the bad.  The Bible sometimes shocks our sensibilities and surprises us with connections between right thinking, correct behavior and the way to make good flourish and bad to die on the vine.

Some examples.  I was reading the book of Hebrews and came across this verse in chapter 3. “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness”.  When we think about  being hardened by sins deceitfulness, we usually don’t connect that with encouraging people everyday.  But that is what the author of Hebrews says.

Another example.  We, as Christians all strive to be perfect or mature before the face of God.  We want to have control over our bodies.  What is the best way to accomplish that?  Read the Bible a lot?  Pray an hour or two a day?  Attend church a couple times a week?  What does James say in chapter 3 of his letter that we need to do to be perfect?  He says that the person who is never at fault in what they say is perfect.  It’s just that easy – control the tongue.
“We all stumble in many ways.  Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” James 1:2.

Both of these verses refer to goals every Christian should have, and they both refer to our speech, the words that come out of our mouths.  These verses remind me of what Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians.  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…” (4:29)

Chapter four of Ephesians is primarily about the unity and maturity of the church, and how to make it strong and keep it strong.  A critical aspect of reaching and experiencing unity, maturity, and strength in the community of faith is being careful about our words.  Unfortunately, many Christians think little or nothing about the words that come their of our mouths.  We as North Americans are rooted and grounded in the idea of free speech and free expression, and feel justified in saying whatever is on our minds, and if people don’t like it, well, they just need to deal with it.  It’s their problem.  That is true if we are citizens of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico.  But the Bible tells us Christians that we are first and foremost citizens of heaven, of the Kingdom of God, and that we owe our allegiance to King Jesus.  Instead of encouraging free speech and free expression, the Bible places many limitations and restrictions on our speech, as seen in Ephesians.  “Do NOT LET ANY wholesome talk come out of your mouths.”  Big restriction!  “BUT ONLY what is helpful for building others up.”  Big limitation!  So much for free speech.

As we consider the admonitions from Paul, James and the author of Hebrews, let us strive put put a holy filter over our mouths and think before we speak, so that we build up the body of Christ.  Let us realize we fail God daily in this regard, and be quick to confess the sins of our speech, and reach out to our Savior for the help and guidance that only He can supply, to make sure our words are encouraging and are building others up.  God loves us and wants us to be happy, and controlling our tongue goes a long way towards living a life of peace and contentment with our King and our fellow man.

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What is this thing, this action, that in and of itself is not a sin, but when most people attempt it, they usually end up sinning?  What is it that people do millions of times a day, and usually do it wrong?wordsmouth1

The answer is talking.  Of the multitude of sins that are chronicled in the Bible, none is more common or more destructive than the sin of words and talking.  The apostle James speaks much of this in all five chapters of his little book.  Most forcefully in chapter three, where he calls the tongue a wild fire, a poison, something straight from the pit of hell.  Our words can poison relationships, burn out a community of faith and destroy years of good work.  Who can tame the tongue?

And even if a person never gossips, slanders or badmouths another person, their words can still be sin!  Paul, in Ephesians four, tells the church that every word uttered should only be for the uplifting, edification and strengthening of the body of Christ.  If not, it’s a sin.  The last two letters Paul wrote in his life that we have in the Holy Scriptures are written to Timothy.  Paul knew his time on earth was short, and his last instructions were of utmost importance, so he emphasized  the most important truths to his young charge.  In both letters he told Timothy to “avoid godless chatter”.  What is “godless chatter”?  It is any conversation with another person that does not in some way include or point to God.  If we talk a lot about the weather or sports, or other people or events,  and that discussion does not have its basis in  God, then we are skating on thin ice.  We are probably sinning.

Back to the book of James.  He says that anyone who controls his tongue is perfect.  We all want to be perfect and mature before God and man, so we need to control our tongues.  The best way to control our tongues and thus be perfect is to not talk at all.  Never utter a word.  Most people are probably aghast at the thought of not being able to voice their opinion, tell the world what they think, or stand up for themselves with their words.  They are probably sinning.  We have all  heard of monks who take a vow of silence; who don’t talk.  Perhaps we think them crazy.  We should think them very wise.  Perfect.  They have tamed the tongue.

Of course the Bible talks about good words.  Happy, encouraging words can be like medicine to a broken heart.  Doctors don’t hand out any type of medicine to their patients in a helter skelter kind of way.  First they diagnose the problem and then give out the exact prescription that is needed to bring healing.  We should be like that with our words. Paul writes in Romans ten that people need to hear the words of the gospel to be saved.  We need to offer life saving gospel words to lost people in a sick world.

In order to speak helpful words and not sin words, we need to put a filter over our mouths and carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully think before we speak.  All of our cars have air filters, oil filters and gas filters to keep harmful particles from going in the engine and causing destruction.  We need the same kind of mental and spiritual filters between our brain and our mouth to keep harmful words from going out and causing harm.  The Psalmist writes “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! ” (141:3)

If we are careful to maintain these filters or guards or doors between our brains and our mouths, we will speak words of life and not death, words of health and not poison, words of hope and not destruction, words of righteousness and not sin.  If we watch our words we will glorify God and enjoy him all the more!

Words about words from Proverbs –

12:18   There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
12:19   Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
15:2     The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
15:4     A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
17:4     An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
18:21   Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
21:23   Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
25:23   The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
26:28   A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
28:23   Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.
31:26   A virtuous woman opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

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In our chatty world, in which the word has lost its power to communicate, silence helps us to keep our mind and heart anchored in the future world and allows us to speak from there a creative and re-creative word to the present world.

Henri Nouwen – The Way of the Heart

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