“Words matter.” I am a firm believer in thinking before you speak, so much that we have dedicated a series to the subject. And, for good reason. Words are that powerful. Plus, with the age of constant emails, tweets, media, and—yes—blog posts and sermons, Christians must find a way to use words wisely in the many  seemingly insignificant or in significant communication moments that we have with one another.

As in every facet of life, the Bible has a lot to say about words and their power.  Let me share a few of them with you.

Start with Proverbs 6:2: “…you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth.”  For someone like me who makes his living with the words of my mouth, that is a pretty scary thought.  And it should be. It is critical that we realize the power of our words before they snare us.  And Proverbs 12:18: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.   Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.” (Prov.17:27-28)

In Genesis 1, the world was set in motion with the power of words.  God spoke. “Let there be light…” and there was light.  God spoke. “Let the land produce living creatures…” and the world was filled with living things. God saw the result of his words and called it good.  That should be the purpose of our words.  The spoken word had the power to make the world a better place, certainly not on God’s scale, but within our sphere of influence.

And finally consider the parable of the wise and foolish builder found in Matthew 7:24-27. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built this house on a rock. In other words, knowledge is good, but unapplied truth is like paint. It doesn’t do anybody any good until it is applied. As a Christian, I know that the Bible is God’s word and the foundation upon which I order my life.  But, I also know that translating that truth into daily living is not all always easy. Especially when it comes to curbing the tongue and the words we speak.

There are so many times when it is hard to “bite the tongue” and say nothing. The urge to say “something” seems so overpowering that the words sometimes erupt before we have a chance to think them through. Unfortunately, those words have consequences. The minor occurrences result in temporary awkward or relationship damaging situations.  The more serious occurrences result in years of regret and heartache, or perhaps broken relationships that take years to rebuild.

No wonder James had such strong words of praise concerning the person who is always able to control what he says: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” – James 3: 2-10

During the month of June, I encourage you to come hear the words of God and then speak them to others. Pause and reflect before you speak in anger or in an emotional moment.  Ask yourself what consequence do you want your words to be? Do you want them to be remembered? To be quoted? To be acted on? To be thought about?

The key to using your tongue in the proper way is to understand it is God’s will for us to build others up – not tear them down. We have the choice. We can build others by encouraging them, lifting them, re-directing them, giving them a vision for their lives they currently do not have or, we can tear them down by gossiping about them, shunning them, and nitpicking their faults.

You get to choose how you will use the one and only tongue that God has given you, and my prayer is that this series will help you act on what you have learned and choose your words wisely.