Does what you say to people matter? Even some off-handed, albeit snarky, comment to a total stranger? Don’t some people deserve our disdain or even condemnation? Really, who cares if you use your skill with words to put someone in his or her place? The answer just may surprise you.
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Spiritual Footholds: When Words Lead Us Into Sin
In our first podcast on spiritual footholds (episode 94, “The Danger of Discontent”), we talked about what footholds are and why we need to be so aware of and careful about them. Today we’re looking at another foothold that can open the door to the enemy, granting him access to our hearts and minds: our spoken words.
We all know that words contain power. They can breathe life or death into the world and into the lives of those around us. They uplift and encourage. And they tear down and destroy. Words, especially our spoken words, don’t just go out into the world and have no impact. God makes that clear in Isaiah 55, especially in verses 9-11.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Consider if we rework verse eleven a bit and apply it to our own spoken words: so are my words that go out from my mouth: They will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I spoke them.
The trouble with us, though, is that we too often speak words not fueled by a desire to water the earth and make it flourish.
Far too often, our words are fueled by emotions, especially negative emotions. And what happens when we speak those negative emotion-fueled words? They will not return to us empty. They will accomplish what we desire in the moment we speak them and achieve the purpose for which we spoke them.
And they’re not good purposes.
That’s not a good thing. Not for others. And not for us. When we let emotions fuel our words, we use the very gift God gave us—words—to sin.
We need to consider where our words stem from. In Matthew 12:34b, Jesus says, “…For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (ESV)
Jesus calls us to a higher standard with not just our words, but with our hearts that birth our words. Listen to what Jesus says in the sermon on the mount:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’”
It’s easy for us to say, “Great, I’m in the clear because I haven’t killed anyone today.” But Jesus knows us too well, so he follows up with:
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:21-22
So, let’s take a look at what can make our words sinful. What are possible sources?
1. Words that stem from anger
Angry words too often contain violence and are dishonoring to God and to His creation.
Anger in and of itself is not a sin, so long as it’s anger at things that anger God: Righteous anger. But when our anger comes from our self-focused emotions, and when we let those emotions build without seeking God’s work through it, it can become a cancer in our hearts and spirits. And it can lead us deep into sin, such as when it goes from anger to rage. Or violence, sometimes in actions, sometimes in words.
Consider James 1:20-26:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you…Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
Did you catch that? Our human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires! There’s a word planted within us that can save us but if you don’t control your tongue, your religion is worthless! Hard truths that we need to take to heart.
Then there’s Ephesians 4:26-31:
“Do not give the devil a foothold…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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
When our words stem from those negative emotions, they can grieve the Holy Spirit! And they give the devil a chance to establish a foothold in our hearts and minds.
Even worse, those spoken words can give the devil that same opportunity in the hearts and minds of those to whom we speak those angry words. When we say something in anger, it can bore into a person’s heart and spirit and change their lives. But not for the better.
Two more verses about anger:
“Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools.” Ecclesiastes 7:9
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” Proverbs 16:32
Anger, friends, can be a powerful weapon against others when we let it spark words that hurt and destroy. And when we do that, we give the devil an opportunity to form a foothold.
2. Careless Words
When we write, we’re so purposeful in what we put on the page. That book is going to be out there for a long time, right? We analyze our written words. We edit and revise to make sure what we write says what we want it to say, and that it’s clear in communicating what we want. But let’s face it, we’re seldom that careful and purposeful with our spoken words.
In today’s world, people seem to be more careless with words than ever before. Remember how in Ephesians 4 we’re warned not to let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths? But nowadays, criticism, sarcasm, even obscenities are everywhere. Even among God’s people. And all of that is unwholesome.
Webster’s defines unwholesome this way:
: detrimental to physical, mental, or moral well-being : UNHEALTHY
The second description is :
: CORRUPT, UNSOUND
: offensive to the senses : LOATHSOME
How often have we laughed at a sarcastic comment without considering the feelings of the person that the sarcasm is directed at? It doesn’t feel good to them. It’s detrimental to their well-being.
Have you noticed how profanity seems to have seeped into everyday conversation? Again, even among believers. So many today say it really doesn’t matter if you use profanity. But it’s clear it does matter. To God. And to us. Profanity doesn’t belong in the life of a believer. At all. Why?
Because, according to Colossians 3:8, it belongs to our baser, earthly nature, not our new nature in Christ. “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
According to Matthew 15:10-11, it defiles those who use it. “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’”
The bottom line of careless words, no matter what kind they are, is that each of us will have to give account for our words, and—get this—we’ll either be justified or condemned by them. Matthew 12: 34-37 says, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 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.”
3. Words that stem from contempt
Words that stem from contempt give the picture of our heart. And it’s not pretty.
Here’s what Romans 3:13-18 has to say about people who speak such words:
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness…ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Let’s go back to Matthew 5:22:
“…whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Why is the judgement on these kinds of words so severe? Because what’s in our heart when we say, “You fool” is judgment. It’s Pride. It’s Contempt. It’s us saying, “I don’t value you. I’m better than you.”
There is nothing more arrogant than that, because all people are created in God’s image. He values them, they belong to Him. We have no right to place our own judgments ahead of God’s truth.
Judgment belongs to God, and we need to trust Him. Just because someone has insulted us or hurt us or cut us off in traffic, or whatever we consider wrong or unforgivable in the moment, that doesn’t give us the right to speak words of contempt. Or to let ourselves become bitter and judgmental. We’re not perfect either.
Psalm 37:7-8 says, “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm.”
4. Words from the enemy
Words that stem from the enemy wouldn’t be a problem if we didn’t listen to them. But for some reason, we seem oh-so-attuned to what he has to say. And what’s more, we take those words in and turn them into negative thoughts (John 14:27) and negative self talk. In fact, negative self-talk is so prevalent, and so pervasive, that we’ve developed an online workshop, Overcoming Damaging Self-Talk, to help people get rid of it. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
Practicing mindful speaking
How do we become better stewards of our spoken words? How do we ensure they don’t stem from any of these potential footholds?
First, the moment you start to let such words escape your lips, stop. Pray. Seek God’s truth.
And second, in place of such words, speak God’s words. For example:
- In place of anger, speak peace
You can make it a prayer, here’s one you can adapt from Romans 15:13:
God of hope fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in You, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- In place of hurt, speak restoration
Memorize this: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
- In place of pride, speak appreciation
Focus on what touches you in others. Focus on seeing Jesus in others.
- In place of criticism, speak God’s delight in them
Focus on the good things in that person or in what that person did.
“For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” Psalm 149:4
- In place of fear, focus on confidence
“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4
“I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
- In place of regret, speak praise
Instead of fretting over the past, praise God for the path He’s put you on, for the way He’s working in it. The way He’s been present.
- In place of discontent, focus on gratitude
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1
- In place of self-focus, focus on God
Think about God’s goodness, God’s character. Think about who you are in Him, and that without Him, we are nothing.
Confidence in God
The good news is we don’t have to do this on our own. Ezekiel 36:25-28 gives us an amazing promise:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”
we want to hear from you!
Have you ever regretted words you’ve spoken? What steps do you take to guard your mouth?
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