One of the areas where there can be a struggle to fully live out our lives from our ‘new man in Christ’ is in the area of our speech – what comes out of our mouths. The Bible makes it clear that words are extremely important and have great power. ‘the tongue has the power of life and death.’ Proverbs 18:21, which can be true literally, but is often true more broadly in words that refresh, encourage or build up, as opposed to words that pull down, diminish or destroy.
James is very clear about the power of words, in his discourse inspired by the Holy Spirit, on the power of the tongue to bring life and build up or bring death and destruction, James chapter 3. Jesus’ words too are very challenging when He said that ‘out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’. Matthew 12:34. Our words can be very revealing about where we are actually at, inside, below our British politeness!
I had a dream the other night in which I was looking through a small hole in a wall, like a child peering through, and on the other side was a beautiful garden, so green and so peaceful, such a happy place. And the strong feeling I had was that this peaceful, happy, beautiful place was a place where no one was saying anything unkind, critical or judgmental about other people, nor were they thinking those sort of thoughts about themselves. How is that possible given the human condition? It was because the grace of God, the redemptive love of Jesus, and the flowing life of the Spirit were dominant in that garden in all the people’s conversations with each other and themselves.
In contrast it is interesting that the book of Revelation describes the devil as the accuser of the brethren, and points out that he does it a lot – day and night – Revelation 12:10. He loves to use words to accuse us, and I think he is also likely to incite us to accuse or attack each other. Jesus told us that he is a liar, the father of lies, and when he lies he speaks his native language, John 8:44. Clearly the devil understands the power of words to destroy.
I have felt recently challenged to consider how easily and subtly we let ourselves off the hook in some of things we think and say about each other, say to each other, and think and say about ourselves. It’s interesting to me how often the New Testament letters remind us to avoid, leave behind or to stop gossip, slander, malicious talk etc. (e.g. Ephesians 4:25 & 29 on and 5:4, Colossians 3:8-10, 1 Timothy 3:11 & 5:13 ). Were the early Christians so bad or are we being a bit too soft on ourselves?
By the way we are not saying we shouldn’t be truthful with each other, or not be involved in God’s training and growing programme, encouraging each other to leave behind stuff that belongs to the old man, as we have reflected in recent blogs. And of course a genuinely loving, well motivated critique to improve something is not the same as being critical, as it is commonly understood. But we really don’t want to cooperate with the devil in his devices in being accusers of each other, or ourselves, as he is.
James gives a clue as to how thanksgiving can really help in this growth journey, of leaving the words and conversations of the old man behind and living and speaking as new men and women in Christ; building each other and ourselves up in our faith and life, and glorifying God. Paul adds to it in his letter to the Ephesians 4:29 writing “Do not let any unwholesome word come out of your mouths, only what is helpful for building up others according to their needs”, and in chapter 5:4 he goes on to contrast the bad stuff in conversation with thanksgiving.
Whilst it is absolutely true that gratitude can show itself clearly in our actions and even in the expression on our face, nevertheless words are frequently the main way in which we express thanksgiving and our gratitude. Thanksgiving not only changes how we speak to each other and the Lord, but also the more we do it and believe the truth of what we are saying in our gratitude, the more our core, our heart, is changed. Then surprise, surprise, as Jesus said, out of the overflow of my heart my mouth speaks. So it can become a glorious circle. And then we can see and taste more of that place of joy, peace and healthy growth with each other, ourselves and the Lord, that I saw through the small hole in the fence in my recent dream.