“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” ~ Deut. 30:19
As I continue on with this series, “Choose Life”, it is time to explore what it means to choose life in our words. Something to remember throughout this whole series is that it’s all about choice – we have the power to determine the type of life we live through the choices we make. The last post in this series was about choosing life in our thoughts. We saw how important it was to take our thoughts captive. And we know that our thoughts lead to our words. Now we will find it is equally important to control our lips, words, mouth and tongue. This is made pretty clear in Prov. 13:3, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
All day, every day, we have the chance to speak words that bring life or death. Whether we are talking to our families, peers, co-workers, strangers, or even ourselves, the words we use will either tear down our build up. It says in Prov. 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” This means everything we say, either leads to life or to death and that which we choose, we will receive. If we choose to speak in a manner that is harsh, hurtful, condemning, gossipy, dishonest, or deceitful, we are then choosing death. But, if we choose to speak words that are encouraging, peaceful, healing, kind, lovely, and uplifting, then we are choosing life. We find this to be true in Prov. 12:18, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
It often seems that negative words are easier to say, take root much deeper, and are far more common. However, that doesn’t make it right. Most of us probably beat ourselves up a bit verbally, from time to time, but we shouldn’t. Whenever we tell ourselves, I’m so fat, stupid, lazy, ugly, boring, or sinful, we are choosing death. Anytime we call ourselves names or put ourselves down, we are speaking death over ourselves, and worse we are insulting God, who created us in His image and loves us with an everlasting love. This type of verbal assault isn’t usually only directed inward at self, but it typically is directed outward at others also. When we insult others, lie, speak maliciously, or gossip, to or about other people, we are speaking death not only to them, but to ourselves too! We should be ever mindful to control the words we speak, as it says in Prov. 4:24, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.”
On the other side of this, there are words that build up. When we compliment praise and affirm, others or ourselves, we are speaking life. When we do the right thing verbally, like tell the truth or put a stop to gossip, we are choosing life. When we say positive affirmations to ourselves or speak the Word out loud, we are choosing life! (I mention positive affirmations because it’s been said that it takes ten positives to erase one negative.) None of us really have any idea of the power we hold to impact another’s life – a kind word, a sincere compliment, or a gentle affirmation might be exactly what someone needs to make it through another day. The Bible confirms this in Eph. 4:29, “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 further, in Prov. 15:23, “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!”
Just as it is important to guard the words we say, we must also guard the words we receive. Unfortunately, there will be times that mean-spirited or hurtful words come our way and there is little we can do about it. But, we do not have to receive them, accept them or give them credibility. We should tell ourselves, I reject that, and then move on. Do not let them take root within you.
Generally speaking, we must use words to correct, and, or, resolve conflict. There may even be times we have to take a stand for righteousness. However, it is possible to speak truth in love, correct with gentleness, give constructive criticism and rebuke with restraint. If we are not mindful of that, and choose our words, and our tone, carefully, we can hurt others and escalate the situation. Again, the Bible confirms this in Prov. 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And too, in Prov. 17:27, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.”
Another way we use words is for praising God and telling others the Good News. That is good. That is as it should be. But what about the times we are going about our life, talking about or praising God, then in a snap something happens to change the course of our words. I confess this is something I battle… when I drive! I’m going along, minding my own business, driving correctly and within the confines of the law (honest!), listening to K-Love and singing to and about God. Then another driver does something to irritate me and all of a sudden I’m no longer praising God. All of a sudden, my mouth goes from being an instrument of life to an instrument of death. Now, I’m not actually speaking profanity, but it is cursing nonetheless. Does the Bible mention this? Of course it does! In James 3:9-10, we find, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, 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.” (Emphasis mine.) I am working on this, and in truth I’ve gotten much better, but I know I have to remain diligent in this or I will easily slip back into a pattern of cursing others.
We are known by our actions and our words. Whether we like it or not, if we are a Christian, we are a walking testimony. If we say we are Christians, but don’t act or sound like a Christian, what does that say about our testimony (and our Jesus)? When we speak death to others, we chink away at the integrity of our conversion. We destroy our witness. This is beautifully and picturesquely addressed in Luke 6:44-45, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” We are known by the fruit we display. What kind of fruit do we reveal when we talk?
The Bible is literally filled with references to the tongue, mouth, words, lips, etc that pertain to the way we speak. I’ve only chosen a few. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are to control our speech, because the words we say lead to life or death. The Bible shows us how to speak in a way that gives life, Eph. 5:19-20 says, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So please, join me in thinking before speaking, so that with our words, we build up, encourage and choose life, always.
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