E58: The power of words – What does the Bible say?
PODCAST: Is it even possible to tame the tongue?
We all know that the power of words is very great. And there is so much written in the Bible about how our words can be used for the evil. But when we take a look at what Jesus told us, we also find the key to making sure our words are used only to bless. Read through some of these verses with Milenko and Kathy and get excited about learning how our words can become a fountain of goodness.
Transcript: “Living the Gospel” podcast, Episode 58: The power of words – What does the Bible say?
Welcome to ActiveChristianity’s “Living the Gospel” podcast. Join us as we talk about how we can “live the gospel” every day, no matter who we are, where we live, and what our circumstances are.
Kathy: Hi everyone! It’s Wednesday again and we’re back with a new episode of “Living the Gospel.” I’m Kathy and today I’m here with …
Milenko: I’m Milenko. Hi everyone. And we’re continuing with our series on “What does the Bible say …?” And today the topic is, “What does the Bible say about our words?”
Kathy: So, it’s a very interesting topic: the power of words. And I think we all know that words are very powerful, right? And we have to be aware of the power of words and how they affect others around us and how they affect ourselves, actually, right?
Milenko: And affect our relationship to God as well. That’s a really important part of it. And you see actually, if you read throughout the Bible, there are very many verses that have to do with our words and our thoughts, which is our inner words, you can say. And it’s a really important topic.
Kathy: So, I think that probably, for a lot of people, some of the first verses that probably come to mind when you think about what does the Bible say about our words, are these ones in James. In James chapter three, I’m just going to start reading at verse 2-5. The whole section is actually a lot longer than what I’m going to read, but starting here. “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (James 3:2-5.)
Milenko: That’s pretty strong words.
Kathy: It is pretty strong words.
Milenko: And if you read further, it’s actually even stronger. And it shows how much effect our words can have, all around us. And it’s not just the words themselves, but it sets something going. There’s a process that starts and affects our surroundings in ways that we might not even have thought have.
Kathy: Yeah. I just think about, like, how often something someone has said to me, probably something that they said in passing without even really thinking about it, has sat with me, and can sit with me, for years and years, right. I think we’ve all experienced that, and we all know what that’s like. So, we know how important words are, and what they can do, right. But then the thing is that there’s two ways in which we can use our words. So, if we read further in James there, he talks about how “out of the same mouth can proceed blessing and cursing, and these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:10.) So, the tongue can actually be used in two ways. It can be used in a way, for the evil. But it can also be used for the good, right! And I think that the effect that it has when it’s used for the evil, it can actually have the same effect, when it’s used for the good. Like, it can have that same effect of spreading and speaking words of hope and faith that can stay with someone for years and years. So then it just comes down to learning to use our tongue for the good instead of for the evil.
Milenko: Exactly. And I think it’s good to see, like it says here, that words, they are compared to a forest fire, and it spreads. Whether it’s good or it’s bad, it has this effect. And then to think about that consciously. What am I saying? What effect do I have?
Kathy: Yeah. And to be very awake and aware to it, right?
Kathy: So, the Bible actually says a lot, obviously, about our words, and what we say. And there are a lot of warnings in the Bible, about how we can use our tongue for the bad, right? So for example, Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:16-17: “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer.” How would you explain “profane and idle babblings,” Milenko?
Milenko: This is obviously a very negative thing. He says, “they will increase to more ungodliness.” So, it is ungodly talk. It’s talk that breaks down rather than builds up. It’s talk that scatters rather than gathers.
Kathy: Well, I just looked up the word “profane,” and the definition is “something that is irreverent or disrespectful.”
Milenko: And it says here that “it spreads like cancer.” So it’s also things, talking about other people, telling the latest news, in a negative sense, and putting people down, and that kind of thing. We all know that kind of talk. And as it says here, “it increases to more ungodliness.” So, this is again, the same as James says, like the fire that gets kindled and a forest starts burning. And thoughts start building upon thoughts, and start spreading, and there’s suspicion, and friendships get broken, and all these kinds of things. It’s all because of this profanity, that you’re really not edifying.
Kathy: And then Paul also wrote in Ephesians 5:3-4: “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
Milenko: He talks about what’s “fitting” for the saints. So there’s something that’s fitting, that’s something that’s appropriate, and something that is not appropriate. And if we’re among the saints, the word says it itself, it’s something holy, it’s something consecrated for God. How can we then take these words willingly into our mouth? And he talked about here filthiness, foolish talking, coarse jesting. And you can think, OK, it’s not that serious, it’s just a joke; everyone understands it’s a joke … But what does it do? It doesn’t build up. It creates thoughts, it creates feelings that really don’t belong to someone who’s living for God.
Kathy: And then in Psalm 120:2 it’s written, “Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips and from a deceitful tongue.”
Milenko: And also in James 4:16, “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
Kathy: So you kind of see … And then James 5:9, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.” And you kind of see, it’s just bringing out all these different things that the tongue can do, right?
Milenko: There’s so many different things. It’s like, foolish talking, coarse jesting, profane and idle babblings, anger, filthy language, lying, boasting, grumbling. It’s all these negative words that tear down, they don’t edify, they create trouble, they create unrest, and it’s really, as James writes, we didn’t read those verses, but it says that it comes straight from hell. And it’s actually Satan that’s behind that. But when we read what we read from the beginning from James chapter 3. It says, “… we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man …” And that’s quite a statement. So, what are we saying here? Is it impossible to be free from these things?
Kathy: Right. Because, as disciples, we don’t want to be causing harm and spreading evil and using our tongue in this way, right? We want to be able to bless others and to encourage and to use our tongue – and our whole body, really – for righteousness, right? That’s what we want as a disciple. But in a way, you can almost be tempted to be discouraged when James says, for example, that no man can tame the tongue. I mean, you can think, then what am I supposed to do?
Milenko: Are we supposed to try to tame the tongue?
Kathy: Yeah, like is it just to put a muzzle on? Just try not to let these evil things out, kind of? Or how do we actually get to the root of the problem here?
Milenko: We can read further what it says in the Bible, because there’s a lot written about this as well. And I think some of the most well-known verses are Jesus’ own words. We can read that in Matthew 12:34-35. And Jesus says there, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” So here you see that what the mouth says has its source somewhere else. And that source, that’s in my heart, that’s what’s on the inside. So here we’re not talking about trying to “tame the tongue.” But we’re talking about the very source of those words, of those thoughts as well.
Kathy: Yeah. Well, and Jesus says that too in Matthew 23:26. He says, “First cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Right? So, I don’t need to try and “muzzle” my tongue, or muzzle what my words are, if what is on the inside is good, right? And then that’s what comes out. Then I can use my tongue to bless, if I’m cleansing the inside of the cup, like He says here. Which means that, for example, if suspicious thoughts about a certain person come up and thoughts of, oh, you know, they’re doing this and this, and then the temptation is to backbite and to gossip about it, right? And if I’m just desperately trying to, “Oh, I don’t want to say this, I don’t want say this!” then that’s when I can’t tame the tongue. But if inside, if on the inside I am overcoming those suspicious thoughts, and I’m not judging the others, then I actually overcome those thoughts and then it’s not even a temptation for it to come out, right?
Milenko: No, right. And we have to make this separation between what’s in our flesh, as the Bible calls it, the root of sin, where sin dwells, and my heart, which is my will, my decision to serve God, that connection I have with God. And what’s in the flesh does try to come into the heart, right? It tries to affect me and the way I’m thinking, the way my attitude is. The thing is that I have to be serving God. And when I’m serving God, I take up a battle; when that tries to come in, I fight against it, I overcome it, and as you say, the result is that there’s a new creation in me. Where there was a tendency to evil thoughts, suspicion, grumbling, boasting, all those things that we read about earlier, when I fight against that, and by God’s strength I overcome it, then God can create something new in me. And that new thing, that is, instead of boasting, it’s words of grace. Instead of angry words, it’s words of blessing. Instead of grumbling, it’s thankfulness. That’s what comes in me; that’s in my heart, and that’s what starts coming out.
Kathy: And Paul also wrote in Philippians 4:8; he said, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” So, it’s a conscious work for me to focus my mind in the good, right. I focus my mind in the word of God and I spend time there and I fill myself with that Spirit that’s in the word. But then what happens, is that I find that, just like what Paul wrote in Romans 7, when I go to do the good, I find the evil present. So those thoughts are still there, I’m still tempted to suspicious thoughts about the others, for example, to boasting, and all these things that we read about before. But now I have a decision to make and I have to consciously choose the good and put to death the evil that I find. And how does that happen? Paul also wrote about that in Romans 7. He said, “Who then will deliver me from this body of death?” So, who will deliver me from these evil thoughts that I am tempted to? And then he writes, “I thank God – through Jesus Christ my Lord.” So in that moment, when I’m tempted to those thoughts that want to come out as words as well, I go to Jesus – I go to the throne of grace and I ask for help. And then I receive that help that I need to deny those thoughts and overcome them. To the point that they are actually eradicated in my life. Then it becomes natural for the good to start to grow and come out in my words and actions as well, right?
Milenko: Yeah. And it is a battle and it’s a process and we have to be aware of that at the start too, that those good thoughts don’t come naturally. There to really take up a battle and to have this connection with God. That’s what it’s about. And when I do that, then something starts changing in my life. And it is really hopeful, when you begin to see that your reaction starts changing as well. And where it was natural for me to get offended and to snap back at someone or say something nasty or put them down. That reaction starts changing. And I notice that there’s a new source, a new fountain in me, which is good. And it is a new creation. That’s amazing. It’s God that works that in me.
Kathy: I know one of the best verses for me for this … or I have two verses, that have been really good for me in working with this. The first one is in Psalm 1:2-3: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season …” And for me, this just, this picture of someone who is just full of goodness and just spreads this aroma of goodness all around them, right?
Milenko: That actually reminded me. There’s this verse in Isaiah 55 which I’d like to read. It’s written there about that my thoughts aren’t God’s thoughts, and God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and His ways are higher than my ways. But it’s actually written, in context, that it’s a rebuke to those who have turned away from God. That they need to repent. That their thoughts need to come into that way of thinking. And then it ends up with these verses. In verse 13 it says, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:13.) And here you see that transformation, where that, what used to come up was thorns and briars and prickly stuff and people that were around me, they always got, you know, hurt and it was this natural reaction from me. That starts changing. And instead come up these new plants that are full of blossoming flowers. You said that tree, planted by the river. And it starts having these blossoms that smell really, really good, and they look nice, and it’s a blessing to be there. People want to come. And they want to be in that atmosphere. Think that that can be the way it is. No matter what happens around me.
Kathy: And then God is really glorified by our lives, actually. And then just, I was going to mention one more verse that’s been really good for me, has been Proverbs 31:26. It says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” So, I’ve had this verse, really, as a motto for me. That this is my goal, that when I open my mouth, it’s with wisdom and kindness. That my words don’t cause pain, they don’t bring down the spirit where I am, they don’t make it so that other people are uncomfortable around me. But that my words can be a blessing wherever I go. And then too, you can also be the kind of person that changes the conversation, right? Like, if you’re in a place where maybe the conversation is a little … it’s got a complaining tone to it, for example. People are complaining about something. I can be someone that, just with my words, I can turn … Like, you know, when you think about how James writes there, how, for example, the ship is piloted by this little rudder. So that can also be a positive thing. My words can turn that conversation. Just a few words, you know? Regardless of what it is. Complaining or backbiting or anything like that.
Milenko: And then those same words, “see how great a forest a little fire kindles,” it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can be the opposite. That this fire that is kindled is this fire of blessing and positivity and praise. And that is what is fitting for a disciple; for one of the saints. And for me, it’s really been, in relation to words, it’s got to do with my relationship to God. If I really love Him and if I fear Him, then this really becomes a serious area for me. I think, for example, of that verse in Psalm 19:14, it says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” If I have that relationship to God, He’s my strength, He’s my Redeemer, He’s the one I love above all else, then I want my words to be acceptable in His sight. That they please Him. And the meditations of my heart. There it comes again. That’s everything that’s in me. Then I have this fear of God. Not that I’m afraid, but it’s this fear to hurt Him, the One I love above all. And then my words, they become affected by that. Because my heart becomes affected by it. And when we’re thinking about words, it’s not just the physical words we say with our tongue, with our lips. It’s got to do with our thoughts. That’s also those words in us. And other things we share. For example, things we share on social media. Maybe we haven’t said it ourselves, but if we share it, we’re still saying it. This is something that we’re giving to other people. It can be in the way we look, things that we … you know, with our eyes we can say a lot. With our body language. So, the whole thing is our communication. I think that’s what we’re talking about here. That my communication should be pure and with grace.
Kathy: And acceptable in God’s sight.
Milenko: And acceptable in God’s sight.
Kathy: Yes. That’s a very good thing to set in front of your eyes. Is this acceptable in God’s sight? And that will actually keep me, it will guide me in life.
Milenko: I always think these podcast episodes, they’re so good for me personally, because as we talk about it too, I begin to get more and more enthusiastic about it. And I really see how I personally can do so much with that. And I really want to do that, in this coming week now too, to really be aware of this. What are my thoughts, what are my words doing? What effect do they have around me? What effect do they have on myself? And what effect are they having on my relationship to God? And I’d like to also challenge our listeners to that too. Really work with this. Are my thoughts, are my words acceptable in God’s sight? Is what I’m saying fitting for a saint, someone who’s got a heavenly calling?
Kathy: Well, I’ll take up that challenge. And hopefully all of our listeners are inspired to do the same. We have an article on ActiveChristianity called “What’s in a word: 20 Bible verse to think about.” So there we’ve collected a whole bunch of different verses where the Scriptures talk about how we use our words.
Milenko: That’s very interesting reading. It’s really food for thought.
Kathy: So we’ll put a link for that in today’s episode description. And don’t forget you can always email us if you have any questions or feedback for us, at email@example.com. We love hearing from you.
Milenko: So we’ll wrap it up here. Thanks very much for this episode and remember to tune in next week. Bye everyone.
Kathy: Bye everyone. Thanks for listening.