“You’re a coward,” she told me, “afraid to speak the truth.” The woman thought I should take a more public position about current political issues. Her words were like a punch in the gut even though I know they are not an accurate reflection of who I am. In another conversation, I heard a person recount how words spoken in rage continued to echo days later. The damage was done and making it right is going to take work over a long time. On Sunday, while preaching, I made an attempt at humor that ended up backfiring, creating the possibility of offense. Almost as soon as I said it, I knew I had made a mistake.
Has your mouth ever gotten you into trouble? Ever said something in anger, in jest, or in an unguarded moment that you wished you could reel back in and erase? Yes? Me, too!
The wisdom of God counsels us to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)
“Full of grace!” Chose words that encourage the best, that bring hope, shaped by a rich acceptance of others. It’s so easy to criticize and condemn, isn’t it? Why do we so readily find ourselves speaking of the failures of others instead of celebrating successes? From time to time we will have to bring correction but even then we can find graceful words instead of condemning. God, help us!
“Seasoned with salt!” is one of those interesting phrases that we find a bit difficult to bring into our context. Salt was a much more precious item in Bible times. It was used carefully and sparingly, both as flavor and preservative. So the command is to make our words valuable, in a way that enhances life.
James instructs us with practicality. As you read this inspired text, ask God to help you to integrate it into your life. “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on.” (James 3:5-10, The Message)
Sometimes I think that only answer to my unruly mouth is to stop talking altogether. Of course that is both impossible and impractical. The real solution is to let the Holy Spirit change the source of those words. “Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.” (James 3:11-12, NLT) Jesus reminds us that words are the overflow of our heart, our inner person. Our prayer is that the Lord will root out pride, hate, prejudice, unforgivness – replacing those things with love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. Will we still make mistakes from time to time? Of course, we are growing in grace. Begin to pray, “Lord, change my heart,” not “Lord, filter my words.”
Here is a word from the Word. May it live in us, making us more like Jesus. “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NLT) “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:14-15, NLT)
Father, let the words of my mouth
And the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.
As you change my attitudes and ideas,
May I not say, “Oh, this mouth,” with regret,
But rather give thanks for the gift of words that
Build and bless!
Lord, begin to change our national conversation.
There are so many harsh, ugly, condemning words
Being hurled by us these days.
Teach us, as Your children, to speak words
That are full of grace and life enhancing,
For the glory of God.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.