“So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”
– James 3:5-6 (NLT)
Do you understand this? Do you grasp this truth? Words can do far more than just hurt or cause misunderstandings. Words can do enormous damage and many times lasting damage. Words can burn to the ground years’ worth of work that was invested to build a thing up. Just as a person driving drunk can bump into a wall in a minor fender bender, they can also smash into your car while you are driving and leave you with a severed leg, or a permanent brain injury, or back injury for life. I say this in all honesty, I do not think as Christians we take this truth with the great seriousness and sober consideration that God intended.
I have a confession to make. This passage of Scripture is probably one of the scariest in the whole Bible to me. It truly frightens me, it shakes me up and the longer I have walked with the Lord, the more it scares me as I ponder its deep implications and the huge responsibility attached to my words.
I have experienced firsthand not just the hurt words can cause, but I have experienced the enormous, lasting damage words can cause to a person, the tremendous destruction to a person’s whole life that wicked, foolish words can inflict. Words are far more powerful than we want to take responsibility for or consider.
In America, we prize and exalt the freedom of speech. We treasure it above all other rights. The ability to say, tweet, text, write, post, or sing whatever we want, whenever we feel like it. The internet is filled with the bile and wicked, destructive words of billions of people. The internet has given a dangerous weapon to human beings! Do you realize that the new technologies and apps of the last 20 years have created a tool, a weapon, to make the most destructive force in the world, our words, even more destructive than at any previous time in history? Think of a nuclear warhead for our words! In other words, do you grasp the tremendous responsibility given to us by God to be responsible for our words and how we use them? Of course, I realize the internet and new technologies have also given us a powerful weapon and tool to destroy lies with truthful words, wisely put. It has given us a great tool to build and lift people up! I am thrilled to have access to this great tool in the work that I do, to spread the messages God gave me all over the world. However, please, please do not miss the vital, incredibly important truth this article is trying to convey to you concerning your words in your marriage, in your parenting, and your relationships.
As a father, as a husband, as a Christian, as a pastor, I have to tell you that I have spent a great, great deal of time considering and thinking through the power and impact of words and how I say things. Does that mean I am perfect at it or never make mistakes? Absolutely not.
It means I understand the enormous power for good or great harm that words are capable of. It sobers me tremendously, it shakes me up, to be honest. I have had to apologize many times to a loved one for how I spoke, or for something I said. I have had to apologize or clarify to hundreds of people at a time for something I misspoke or said without careful thought.
I have written approx. 100,000 emails over the last 21 years. Many of them were short, sometimes answering simple questions. Others were quite long and involved, and not one of these did I ever just click and send without carefully trying to ponder the ramifications of what I said, how I said it, and the impact it would have on the person I was sending it to. I’ve tried with all my might to ascertain, how will this come across? Is this said lovingly? Is this said wisely? Will this give grace and a blessing to the person it is sent to? Will it help their understanding? Is it said in the way I would want someone to say it to me? Will it hurt them or help them? Will it damage them? Will it damage their trust in me or increase their trust in me? Would this email or conversation with my loved one be one I would want shown during the film of my life?
I am being very serious with you. It scares me how much damage my words can do. As a father and a husband, I have worked so hard on this area of my life, and I realize I still make mistakes. But oh, the enormous damage and lasting destruction I would have caused had I not been so scared of my mouth, worked so hard on my words, and prayed over my mouth and my life with such fervent desperation. I cannot tell you how many times in the early years of my marriage I had to take Mark Darling out behind the woodshed and wept tears of sorrow and grief at the words I had just spoken to my precious wife. Oh, how I’ve cried out to God, “Help me God with my mouth, with my words!” You have no idea.
I’ve poured over the scriptures, underlining many passages on words, speech, the tongue of the wise, the speech of a fool. I spent much time pondering them, meditating on their implications, burning them into my psyche and my patterns of thought and belief. I prayed and prayed over my life, my self-control, my mouth, and my words. Every message I ever preached over the last 33 years was immersed in prayer, much prayer. Those of you out there right now, who think “Oh, I want to be a Bible teacher of some kind”. Do you not understand James says “not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged by God with greater strictness”??!!!!! If that does not give you serious pause, you better think again.
I ask myself, will these words soothe and comfort? Will these words encourage or discourage? Will these words give life and hope to the person I speak them to, or will they bring sorrow and grief? Will my words inspire or rip the heart out of them? Will my words provoke the listener to love and good deeds? Will my words make knowledge attractive and help them better understand and embrace God’s truth? Will my words honor God? Are my words accurately representing the truth? Will my words help their faith? Do my words build them up or tear them down? Do my words preserve the dignity of the person I am speaking to or do they degrade them? I have been in situations with other Christians, where things were said to me in such a thoughtless or deliberately degrading way that they might as well have stripped all my clothes off and made me stand in front of them naked. They were so humiliating. It was that destructive to my dignity. Do we deeply consider, how will these words, spoken or written affect the person hearing or reading them?
I have known men and women who have done great damage to their spouses and children by the things they have said to them. Real lasting damage was done. I have also known men and women whose words gave such life. Whose words made their marriage strong, and helped their children thrive. Over the years I have observed first hand the words of wisdom and kindness from my wife’s lips. I have watched her words, her written notes, give life to our children. I have experienced them give life to me. Her words have built me up and sent my spirits soaring. Her words have given me the confidence to face a particularly difficult challenge I was facing. You ladies who may be reading this, is the teaching of wisdom and kindness on your tongue? Are they gracious? Women can do such lasting, enormous damage with their words. I have seen them destroy lives with their words. They can also do such tremendous lasting good with their words.
Dear friends, I implore you as a husband and wife, as a father and mother, as a friend, please give this article tremendous thought and consideration. Please give careful thought to the words you use with your spouse and your children. It makes all the difference in the world.
Let me suggest this spiritual assignment to you. Go through the entire book of Proverbs in The Living Bible or New Living Translation Bible. Highlight in orange every single verse on the tongue/speech/words, of both the wise person and the foolish person. Then go through the New Testament, and highlight all the verses there in orange on the tongue/speech/words. Pray over them, ask God to show you exactly where you are at and where you need to grow. Let God shine his spotlight of wisdom and truth on your life regarding how you use your words, your mouth, your texts, your talk, your emails. You will be amazed at what he shows you. Don’t be overwhelmed thinking you could never find all the verses. Use Biblegateway.com if you like, to assist you. Then highlight them in your actual Bible. Ponder them deeply and often. Pray fervently over your mouth. God will change you.