The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).
The Hebrew word that is translated “pierce” is the same word for running a person through with a sword. What a vivid image of the power of words! We sometimes use words like daggers or swords. You know what I am talking about. We have all been on the receiving end of a verbal assault that cut right through us. And, if we are honest, I suspect we have all let the arrows fly from our tongues as well. Words are, I have been learning, are the most underestimated of weapons.
Words can pierce like a sword but they can also bring healing. The Hebrew behind the words “brings healing” literally means “an effective medicine or cure.” Words can be the most precious of gifts. All of us have, I hope, experienced this as well: words from a family member or friend that were so well chosen and well-timed that they seemed to breathe new life and energy into your soul: “I forgive you,” “I believe in you,” “There’s nothing you could do or say that would make me stop loving you.”
Words are very powerful things. They can bring life, or they can bring death. How we speak has a definite and profound impact not only on ourselves but the people around us.
Our words need to be life-giving and not life-draining. This attribute of speaking well of others is clearly expected of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments.
Proverbs 4:24: Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Ephesians 4:29: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
James 1:26: If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
I don’t know about you, but when I read passages like those, I get two very distinct sensations: First, God makes it very clear that I am supposed to keep a tight reign on my words and make sure that when I speak I am bringing life into the person or persons I am speaking to. And second, I am very joyfully humbled at God’s forgiveness because I am guilty of wounding many people with my words.
- When this attribute of speaking well of others is absent, God withholds His blessings. Consider Jesus’ own words in Matthew 12:36-37:
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
God has not forgotten even the least hurtful word you or I have spoken. You say, “Pastor Dan, I thought we were justified by faith, not by works. How can we be saved or condemned by how we speak?”
When you have the Spirit of God living inside you, He reveals Himself through what you say and do. Speaking well of others does not earn you forgiveness. Earned grace is a contradiction in terms. But speaking well of others is a sign that you do have God’s Spirit living inside you. Speaking well of others does not earn forgiveness but God’s forgiveness always works to produce the habit of speaking well of others.
When we do not work with God’s Spirit by learning this habit, we are inviting certain things to happen:
First, by not making the effort to speak well of each other we are breaking the cardinal rule of human relations: people thrive under praise and deteriorate under criticism. When we are not in control of our tongues, we are literally inviting stress into our lives and the lives of those around us. We limit our effectiveness in our relationships and influence with others. We stunt our ability to lead and to work together. We are inviting God’s discipline because we are basically saying that we don’t believe God when He says:
Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.
Proverbs 16:27 A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.
Matthew 5:8 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
I have said before that when someone comes up to me and says, “Brother, I need to share something with you in Christian love,” what follows is usually neither Christian nor loving! This is because sometimes we get so caught up in “truth” that we forget about “grace.” We sometimes adopt this “the end justifies the means” mentality when we talk to each other. We are so driven by the conviction that “they need to hear the truth,” that we don’t stop and think about the cost our words come with.
It doesn’t matter how right you think you are, or how wrong you think someone else is, if you speak to them without a double dose of grace and mercy, you will almost certainly make things worse instead of better.
Speaking well of others means…
- Thinking before speaking. Proverbs 10:19, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. We all give lip service to this truth but we often give ourselves a pass from following it ourselves. I remember a few years back when I was in the middle of publishing my first book, Finding Freedom in Forgiveness, I received an endorsement for my book from a nationally known author and speaker. As soon as I got it I sent it to my managing editor at Harvest House and asked them to let me know if I could use it. I did not hear back from her right away, as I usually did. I started to get annoyed. After a week I was beginning to feel ignored. As I was thinking about writing something to find out what was going on, I thought about how I was not the only project she had and I should be patient. I decided not to write anything and wait a while longer. About three weeks after my original email I got a response. She apologized for not getting back to me. She had not been in much in the last three weeks because her oldest sister died three weeks ago and her mother died last week. Boy, was I glad I held my tongue. She did not need to hear from a high-strung, want-to-be-author, she needed love and support. Think, really think, before you speak.
- Choosing words to build others up rather than words to break them down. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, encourage one another and build each other up. Easy to say, hard to do. Yes. But God is concerned about what is best for the people we are in relationship with, not what is easiest for us. The Holy Spirit’s job is to correct and convict. When we do that, we are putting ourselves in His place. Our job is to encourage and build each other up. That saying in AA is very good Scriptural advice, “Let go and let God.”
- Focusing on what is good and positive. Philippians 4:8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Look for the good in others and praise them for it. We are masters as catching people in the wrong. We need to be twice as proficient at catching people doing right. Everyone is a sinner. No one is perfect. But everyone has good qualities that we can highlight. Everyone has talents and gifts that we should admire and thank God for. I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself, “Yeah, well you don’t know so-and-so, and the sooner God takes them out of my life or out of my church, or out of my business the better.” Bah! That is foolishness! They are made in the image of God, that alone is praiseworthy. Every person you meet God placed in your life for a reason. And chances are, one of those reasons is so that you can be learning to love and appreciate them.
(Edited and expanded from a post back in December 8, 2013).