Excerpted from The No-Nonsense Biblical Man.
“With (our mouths) 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.” (James 3:9–10).
Because of the influential position many men occupy in the lives of others, it is important to take a hard look at the power of our words. James, whom I’ve just quoted, called the tongue “a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (James 3:6) and “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). To him, the potential for great harm being done by our words is obvious. Yet many men feel otherwise. They find angry, vengeful, spiteful, or hateful words appropriate for communication. Make no mistake, our words can decimate lives, especially the lives of the people who are closest to us.
Instead, “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” (Ephesians 4:29). Our speech should be filled with blessing. Those who listen to us should receive grace, edification, and be built up. Our words can “exalt” or “overthrow” a city (see Proverbs 11:11), while with lies and deceit, we can destroy our neighbor (see Proverbs 11:9). I am continually learning and trying to comprehend the power behind my words, especially with my wife, my children, and men who might look to me for guidance. In one sense it is scary, but in another sense it is an incredible opportunity.
One major form of destructive speech is deceitfulness. Indeed, “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 12:22). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) who produced the original lie (Genesis 3), so whenever we lie we are following in his slithery footsteps. When an employer lies about the poor performance of one of his employees, and instead chooses to gloss it over and make that person feel like he or she is doing a wonderful job, it can become a sore spot for the entire organization and a difficult situation to remedy down the line. When an employee lies about an ability, making it seem as if he or she is qualified for a task he or she knows little to nothing about, the productivity of the entire team will come to a screeching halt. When a man lies to his friend by refusing to confront him over poor habits that are destroying his marriage, he is actually aiding in the deterioration of a family. When a husband lies about the pressures he is experiencing in the workplace, instead telling his wife that everything is just fine, things will eventually boil over and get ugly, perhaps in the form of an extramarital affair or flashes of anger. Obviously, it is important to be truthful with those we love.
Another form of destructive speech is slander, which is obviously a form of deceitfulness. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Proverbs 20:19). Gossip is indeed a killer, and in this digital age, it can wreck a person in no time at all. The slanderous man is looking to take down those above him and around him by telling tales. He is constantly looking for dirt and trying to expose sin. His wife, children, and friends are often targets of his whisperings. No word is safe with him, so the people in his life refuse to confide in him.
Anger-filled words are another form of incredibly disruptive speech. Biblically, we are told to “make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man” (Proverbs 22:24). Once an unrighteous anger takes over your heart and conversation, whatever you were trying to communicate gets hijacked and a different message altogether is delivered. Your actual words might even be incredibly instructive and helpful, but in your anger and wrath all you can do is destroy. No matter how reasonable your argument might be, if we can see the vein popping out of your forehead while you say it, we likely won’t receive it well. I have often heard the Holy Spirit ask me the same question God asked of Jonah, “is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4, 9). And, even though there is such a thing as anger without sin and righteous anger, more often than not, the correct answer is no. Losing your cool in any conversation is like derailing a speeding train. It will create disaster that is difficult to repair.
As God’s men we have an opportunity to speak righteous and good words in a timely and controlled way in order to build up our hearers. We must “let (our) speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Words that are filled with grace and full of the Gospel will edify the people around us, which will bring incredible glory to God. Remember, “the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11), so you and I have a great opportunity to give life with our words. Let me give you three examples.
One way to use our words constructively is by speaking pleasant and good words to others. Words like this can bring “health to the bones” and lift the anxiety and depression of others, instead causing gladness (Proverbs 16:24, 12:25). We are presented opportunities quite constantly where a person’s heart is on the verge of heading in one of two directions: either being encouraged and helped or heading into depression and despair. In these moments it is important for us to speak pleasant and good words into the heart of this person, rescuing that soul from the abyss of despair.
Another way to use our words constructively is by delivering a timely word. A timely word is the right word at the right time. “A word in season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23). Although I’m not entirely sure what apples of gold in settings of silver look like, I’m fairly certain they’re worth a pretty penny, and Scripture tells us they compare to aptly spoken words (Proverbs 25:11–12). Knowing when to speak and what to say is an absolute gift and skill. When your children are discouraged, your wife is distraught, or your coworkers are stressed, you have an opportunity. At that moment, use your words for good. Finally, measured words are another wonderful way to use our speech for constructive purposes. To give a soft answer with a calm spirit is to use knowledge rightly (Proverbs 15:1-2, 17:27). Make no mistake, there will be moments our words sting a little. Every constructive word that comes out of our mouth won’t be initially positive. Especially as we talk to those whom we are in positions of authority over, it is right for us to, in a tempered and measured way, speak the truth to them in love (Ephesians 4:15).
In any case, it is important for us to consider our words in every important relationship we will carry here on earth. We will give an account for every word we speak, so we ought to speak them as if God is listening. We have such an incredible opportunity with so many people, and, as our words can build up or tear down, it is important for us to use our words to encourage and help the kingdom of God advance.