Monday, March 20, 2017

Our words

Last time, I wrote about how we underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today, I am going to address how we underestimate the power of our words.

Words are powerful.

Unfortunately, we rarely begin to grasp the power of words until we come face-to-face with regret over careless words spoken.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us:  
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
     but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (ESV)

The NLT rendering of the same verse is completely forthright:
Too much talk leads to sin.
     Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

In Matthew 12, Jesus warned us that our words reflect the condition of our hearts:
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV)

This is serious business.  Our words are not simply sounds, carried on the wind.  Our words have meaning and power.  Our words get into people’s heads and touch their souls.

We must be careful what we say.  We must guard our lips and our tongues, for we will answer for what has passed out of our mouths.

Jesus taught, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person . . . do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11, 17-18 ESV)

Therein lies the key:  What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.  Our words reflect our hearts.

Angry words reflect frustrated hearts.

Grumbling words reflect ungrateful hearts.

Gossipy words reflect insecure hearts.

Judgmental words reflect prideful hearts.

Demanding words reflect greedy hearts.

Bossy words reflect tyrannical hearts.

Whiny words reflect dissatisfied hearts

Accusing words reflect frightened hearts.

Defensive words reflect selfish hearts.

Filthy words reflect lustful hearts.

Manipulative words reflect controlling hearts.

Deceitful words reflect wicked hearts.

Simply put, ugly words come out of ugly hearts.  If your words are unbecoming, your heart needs the Lord to clean it up.

For more on this, read James 3.  This passage points out how the tongue is a mighty little organ, steering a person’s life the way a tiny rudder steers a ship, wreaking havoc as a tiny spark of flame can set off an entire forest fire.

Oh, the regrets these truths stir up in me.  How many times have I uttered spiritually damaging words without thinking, simply because I was frightened, insecure and desperate to control some outcome that was outside of my control?  What a wretched person I am.  How much harm have I done, often stupidly having no idea of the power or significance of my words?

And yet, there are two points of hope.  One is that there is always forgiveness.  The Lord forgives all who will confess their sins to Him and ask for help.  He forgives and He cleanses.  The damage is done, and it will not be undone, just as a murderer can be forgiven for killing someone, but the forgiveness does not bring the victim back to life.  Still, we can be forgiven, and with forgiveness come freedom and hope.  God brings beauty from ashes.  He restores the years the locusts have eaten.  He works all things for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.  The landscapes of our lives are forever altered by our sins, but God can still make meadows blossom across them, even in the aftermath of shameful failure.  God is good, powerful, bountiful, and infinite in His creative genius.

The other point of hope is this: the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, replacing sinful words with His words of life.  Just as sinful words have sobering power to destroy, Spirit-filled words have awesome power to build up.  We can wield our words for good as we go forward.

Since the words we speak reflect our hearts, we need the Holy Spirit to heal our hearts.  Only then will His good words flow from us.  He will cleanse and heal our hearts if we let Him!  He promises that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  When we abide in Him and cherish the presence of His Spirit within us, these beautiful characteristics will well up in our souls and spill out of our mouths in good words. 

This is true for all believers, but sometimes it takes awhile for us to recognize it.  When progress is frustratingly slow, it helps to know what we are aiming for.  We are aiming for the powerful, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  Luke 11:13 promises that God will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask.

When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, it’s like inviting a designer-construction team into your house.  He isn’t going to simply move a few pictures around on the walls and buy a couple new pillows.  He’s going to knock entire walls down, tear out floorboards, maybe even replace the foundation.  It’s going to be messy and uncomfortable.  It will probably get worse before it gets better.  And—what is possibly the hardest part for some of us—it must follow His design plan rather than our own.  But at some point, the renovation will be appreciable—probably not completely finished (this side of heaven), but appreciable.

We start by pursuing the Holy Spirit’s presence.  We seek Him daily through scripture and prayer.  We dig deeply into God’s word, expecting to find Him, expecting to hear from Him.  We pray as we read, asking for clarification, understanding and help.  “Help me, Jesus,” is a good prayer.  “Help me Jesus, for I trust you because you are faithful and good,” is an even better one.

As God permeates our hearts with His word and His truth, His Spirit and His love, we change.  Our desires change.  Our attitudes change.  Our behavior changes.  Our words change.  This does not happen all at once.  It can be a slow process.  Thus, we should also pray that He will open our eyes so we can see what He is doing in our lives, even though He works quietly and virtually invisibly.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 (ESV)

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 (ESV)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,
bearing with one another and,
if one has a complaint against another,
forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, 
so you also must forgive.
And above all these put on love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in one body. 
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,
with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:12-16 (ESV)

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:6 (ESV)

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)

As our words become His words, we begin to brandish the power to heal the world.

May the Holy Spirit in us bless those around us through the word of God.  May we speak blessings and benedictions.  May our words be gentle, kind and humble.  May our admonitions be gracious and effective, and may our encouragements far outnumber our corrections.  May our love be palpable and magnetic, drawing people to Christ.  May God in us reveal the beauty of truth and the glory of forgiveness.   May we prepare our words with care, and serve them for the comfort, joy, hope and edification of those around us.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14 (ESV)

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