“You’re gonna be a nobody.” These words cut straight into the heart of a scrawny fifth grader, nervous about entering middle school. Even though they were spoken over twenty years ago, I still remember where I was and the punch to the gut that these words had. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can cut deeper than either of these.
We all have memories of words that were spoken to us that lifted us out of darkness, encouraged us, thrilled us, and gave us life. Unfortunately we have just as many, if not more, memories where the words were poisonous, painful, and cut us to the core. It’s been said that you need ten complements to offset one cut. Words are powerful and as Christians we need to be hyper aware of how we use our language. We must ask ourselves if our language is full of life and love, or is it lethal and destructive?
James 3:1-12 affirms that words are a huge deal, both internally and externally. Internally, our words reveal our heart. If we are spewing poison we often blame it on our circumstance and others, but both here and in Jesus’ teaching, we are warned that it’s a problem with the source. “Does a spring of water bubble out both fresh water and bitter water?” If there is bitter water coming out of the spring, there is something wrong with the spring. In the same way, if we find bitterness flowing from our mouths we should be hesitant to remove ourselves from being the issue. Oh, how guilty I am of this very thing. Frustration builds to lethal language of people and situations, which I so easily blame on “them.” Now I’m not suggesting, nor is James suggesting, we live in ignorant bliss, not paying attention to frustration. What we need to be aware of is if our language is building up and leading to life. If I have a frustration with a co-worker am I spending my language on beating them down, entrenching myself in the negativity, or am I lovingly speaking the truth of my frustration that is leading to healing and health? Am I conversing with them in an effort to solve the frustration, or is my “venting” only fanning the flame of frustration?
But let’s not just focus on how painful and entrenching words can be, for in the same way that words can hurt, they can also bring restoration and life. God’s motivation for helping us reform our language from lethal to loving is life! You want to know how powerful words can be for amazingly beautiful and life giving things? Look no further than the first chapter in the Bible. God created by speaking... by words!!! Stop and imagine the creation of all known beauty, of the ordering of the chaos by God’s language. I’m pretty sure He didn’t use English, but perhaps the word God used for mountain somehow included all languages ever. As He formed mountains, imagine the words weren’t just wavelengths of vibrations of the air, but in some unknown way to us, God’s language was both spoken and actual mountain. All this to say, language can be used, and should be used to build up, speak truth, give life and affirm beauty. As Christians we should have a perspective on life that sees beauty and joy on a whole other level and our language should reflect that.
As God’s ambassadors our lethal language should be replaced with loving, life-giving language. What if a ratio of ten compliments or encouragements to one criticism was something that those we know never had to worry about because we were keenly aware of the opportunity to use language to build up, and we allowed the Holy Spirit to speak the love of God through us? May our hearts be transformed to equip people with hundreds of stories of life giving language.