I have always enjoyed words; perhaps, at times, even more than I should, you know? Language is quite fascinating, though. Did you know that a new word is added to the dictionary every two hours? That means our vocabulary expands by nearly 4,000 words each year. There are also these words known as “ghost words” added to dictionaries on occasion. Essentially, they are words without any definition or meaning. For example, the word dord appeared in the dictionary for eight years, but it doesn’t really mean anything. This often occurs as the result of an error, such as a misinterpretation, mispronunciation, or misreading.
I have also been fascinated by what you can do with words. For example, a pangram, or a holoalphabetic sentence, is a sentence which contains every letter of the alphabet. If you were to open the font explorer on your computer, chances are that you would see the sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Why this sentence? you may ask. Well, it’s a pangram and gives a visual to how a font is represented by each character. Many of us are familiar with palindromes—words and sentences that are spelled the same forward and backward, like race car or taco cat. But, consider the word swims. No, it is not spelled the same forward and backward, but swims will be swims even when turned upside down. Crazy, right?
Here’s the thing: we could know all the intricacies of words and master the ever-expanding English vocabulary, but mastering our mouths and the things that come out of them is an entirely different animal. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times where I have said the wrong thing. There are the times where I have said things to the wrong people. Then, there are the painful moments where I have said the wrong things to the wrong people. The Apostle Paul encourages us in Ephesians 4:29, “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.” But, then, we read from James 3:8, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
The goal is not to just tame the tongue; the heart must be changed.
Well, if that isn’t enough to leave one feeling a bit defeated—a little hopeless, perhaps. The goal, however, is not to just tame the tongue; the heart must be changed. Scripture is not merely calling us to be a little more careful with our words and to suppress the bad ones. The change God is calling each one of us to is not superficial. It cannot be accomplished by further pushing down the bad thoughts and words but by surrendering them completely. It is a recognition that when we say the wrong thing, or speak to the wrong people, or talk about the wrong things with the wrong people, what we have is not primarily a mouth problem; we have a heart problem.
No human being may tame the tongue, but God can change the heart. As we surrender ourselves to God, He begins to pull these things out of our lives. He begins to take what we have surrendered to Him and instead replace it with the fruits of His character. It won’t necessarily happen overnight, but we will begin to see a shift occur. Where we once would have acted and spoken maliciously, things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control spill out of our lives instead. I want to take a quick look at a couple ways we use our words and at a way we may use them for something better.
HOW WE TALK WITH EACH OTHER
The Gospel of Luke records the famous words of Jesus, “…for out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). The way we talk with each other is supremely important. Honestly, what I have observed in our culture is that talking with each other is rather rare; we are more adept at talking at each other. We so often leave our good thoughts unspoken and eagerly and flippantly share our bad thoughts. We refrain from speaking about good but are eager to complain about the bad.
What is it that you most complain about? It’s probably pretty easy to come up with a list of things you have recently expressed your disapproval about to others. Here, in Wisconsin, if the winters aren’t too cold certainly the summers are too hot. If you’re single, you might complain about not being in a relationship. If you’re in a relationship, you might complain about how crazy he or she makes you. Maybe the Internet is down or too slow, or you have run out of things to watch on Netflix.
If you’re looking, you will always find something to complain about. If you’re looking, you will also find something to rejoice in.
The problem, of course, is not primarily the weather or relationships or technology. The problem is the object of our attention. Friends, if you’re looking, you will always find something to complain about. If you’re looking, you will also find something to rejoice in. But, the primary objective of the enemy is to take our eyes off of God’s goodness and onto everything else’s shortcomings. Listen to how you talk to one another. Your complaints may be a barometer for what most has your attention.
HOW WE TALK ABOUT EACH OTHER
It’s not just how we talk with each other; it’s also how we talk about each other. Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” Boy, do we love juicy gossip! We justify it by telling ourselves it’s true, and if it’s true, it must be okay to talk about! We justify our comments by wrapping them in good intentions. I mean, how can I pray for you if I don’t know all the gory details?
If you’ve ever been the victim of gossip, you know just how much it hurts the person who is being talked about. Being on the other side of someone else’s insecurities and smallness can be really painful. But, it could be worse. You could be them. See, the Bible is clear that gossip doesn’t only affect the the person who is talked about. It harms the listener, and it harms the speaker. What is it that you want to be remembered for? Proverbs 25:10 says, “Others may accuse you of gossip, and you will never regain your good reputation.” It has often been said talking badly about someone when they’re not around says more about you than it does about them. Your character and reputation is far more valuable than a cheap exchange of words. Is this what you want to be remembered for? No? Then, you better shut your mouth.
But just because you’re not speaking doesn’t mean you are off the hook yourself. Proverbs 17:4 says, “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.” It doesn’t matter if you were the one speaking the words or not; if you entertained them, the condition of your heart has been exposed. Besides, what makes you think that once they are done talking to you that they won’t turn around and start talking about you? Guard your ears carefully, and know that you are always empowered to ask the question: Why are you telling me this?
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WITH EACH OTHER
So, if no human being is able to tame the evil and poison of their tongue, what are we to do? Instead of being so eager to complain or to share the latest gossip, there is a better alternative. The Gospel of John speaks about the Word who became flesh. Jesus came not only to redeem our words and our mouths, but to create within us new hearts. No human being may be able to tame the tongue, but praise God that the Word has come to change hearts. When we trust not in the words from mouths but the Word who became flesh, a dramatic shift occurs.
Gossip claims, “I’m strong because they’re weak.” The Gospel proclaims, “I am weak, but He is strong.”
Pastor Craig Groeschel reminds us that gossip claims, “I’m strong because they’re weak.” However, the Gospel proclaims, “I am weak, but He is strong.” We don’t have speak harsh words about others. We don’t need to belittle people around us with complaints and gossip to make ourselves seem stronger and better. I no longer need someone to look weak, so I feel better. I can now rejoice in my weakness because I serve a God who is infinitely stronger. I preach the Gospel most effectively through my weaknesses—not my complaints.
I no longer have to be eager to share my latest complaint or the newest gossip with someone else. No, the transformed heart is eager for something new—something different. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul spoke of this new eagerness when he said, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you…” (Romans 1:15). May it be so with us. May we be eager to use our words to share the story of the Word who became flesh. May we put aside the complaints we share with one another and the gossip we share about one another, and may we change what we talk about with each other. Instead of complaints and gossip, may we speak of “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,” (Philippians 4:8) speak of these things. As we allow the Holy Spirit to create within us a new heart, our mouths will soon follow.