Last week I ended my prayer letter in this way, “Redeemed Christians still have a sin nature. We have a new spiritual nature through our union with Christ, but sin still dwells within us (Rom. 7:13-25). When I use harmful speech, it is not someone else’s fault. It is mine! We create trouble for ourselves and others through ungodly words. This is such a destructive force – harmful words – that I am going to dig deeper to the heart of the issue (no pun intended!) next week. The temptation to use harmful words for ‘fun,’ for vengeance, for approval, etc… will be a continual one. It is something, like all sins, that we must put to death in our lives with the Holy Spirit’s help (Rom. 8:12-14).”
Why do we use harmful speech? As mentioned above, we still have a sin nature. We still have the ability to choose to sin (Rom. 7:13-25; 1 John 1:5-2:2). Scripture calls us to put sin to death in our lives (Rom. 8:12-13). This is the theological reason for why we use harmful speech. But, why do we actually use harmful speech? The answer to this question is multifaceted. Sometimes we use harmful speech because we are angry, and maybe not even with the person we lash out at. The unfortunate person “inconvenienced” us when we were angry or tense. So, they have to “pay the price” for their “inconsiderate” actions, at least in our minds we think so. On the other hand, maybe we use harmful speech because we are angry with the person we lash out at. Again, we think the person “needs to pay for his/her actions” that led to our anger. Do you see how our hurt led to anger, then bitterness, and then vengeance? Scripture says, “Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:17-21). Christians are to forgive as they were forgiven (Eph. 4:31-32).
On other occasions we use harmful speech because we don’t feel good about ourselves, so we “cut others down” to make our selves “feel better.” Scripture calls us to, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Php. 2:3–4).1 When we use harmful speech that hurts others for our own “benefit” we are not considering others as more important than ourselves. As God works in our lives through His Holy Spirit applying His Word to our lives, He is conforming us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-30). Look at Jesus’ example, “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php. 2:5–11). The Lord Jesus humbled Himself in obedience to His Father’s will. He did not use His title and authority as God the Son for His own advantage. In obedience to the Father, He esteemed sinners more highly than Himself. He died for undeserving sinners. Ultimately, He esteemed His Father most highly, which is why He obeyed the Father’s will to go to the cross. We need to ask this question of ourselves, “When I cut someone down, am I considering him/her as more important than myself?” I think the answer is clear.
At times we use excuses like, “Well, I speak that way with _________ because that is just the way we talk with each other.” Or a slight variation, “My family has always talked that way.” I am not doubting that either one of those statements is true. But, it is indicative of a problem in our hearts. When born again Christians repented of their sin and placed their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit came to indwell them (Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Lord began a spiritual transformation process called, “progressive sanctification2.” God is transforming the hearts and lives of genuine Christians, molding them to become more like His Son3. One of the (many!) areas He begins to transform is our vocabulary. Just as a thief, adulterer, or liar is transformed by the grace and power of God, so is the person who uses harmful or cutting speech. If this is an area of temptation for you – confess it as sin to God and ask for His help to say things that are helpful to others spiritually. Let these principles guide you:
Use words that are helpful for strengthening someone spiritually (Eph. 4:29-32)
Esteem/recognize others as more important than yourself, as Christ did (Php. 2:3-11).
Brothers and sisters, Christians should not have ungodly speech flowing from their mouths. It doesn’t matter if it was a “joke” that we heard from someone else. If it is ungodly, we should have stopped the person before he/she finished telling it. We should focus on God-honoring things (Php. 4:8-9). Listen to God’s perspective on the issue, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. Therefore, do not become their partners. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light — for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth — discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret” (Eph. 5:1–12). Another thing, profanity should not be a part of a true Christian’s speech either.
One last thing in regard to speech, Christians let’s not take God’s name in vain in our speech (Ex. 20:7). This refers to misusing God’s name. We should not say God’s name in a way that is disrespectful or dishonoring to Him. You will find unbelievers take God’s name in vain frequently. They will say, “Oh _____!” or “Oh my ____!” and insert God’s name in the blank. They will use Jesus Christ’s name as a swear word. These statements do not show reverence to God. Instead such statements are a misuse of His name. As Christians we should not say, “I swear to _____” (insert God’s name) to ensure people believe us. People should know we are being honest based on our character and trustworthiness. Jesus said, “But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37). James said, “Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your ‘yes’ must be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ must be ‘no,’ so that you won’t fall under judgment” (Jas. 5:12). When you say such things you are actually taking an oath before God (Matt. 5:33-37). The O.T. warns of how serious God takes oaths/vows (Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21). Speak the truth and do what you said.
As you have seen many troubles result from the use of harmful or careless speech. Ungodly speech destroys marriages, families, friendships, and churches. Our words should strengthen others spiritually (Eph. 4:29-32). Our words should be guided by considering others as more important than ourselves (Php. 2:3-11). Next week I will address what Scripture says about troubles we experience as a result of Satan’s lies.
1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, HCSB®, and Holman CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).
2“Sanctification” is a word meaning to “set apart as holy; or set apart for special use.”
3This process will be complete when we stand in the presence of Christ in heaven. This is called “final sanctification” or “glorification” when our sin natures are removed.