Learning to Speak Right
God has much to say about the importance of our words—what we say and how we communicate with others. In Matthew 12:34, Jesus Christ warns that in the day of judgment, men will give an account of every idle word. A time is coming when man will understand God’s view of the wrong speech. Christ explained that words are the product of the heart.
In this connection, note Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Words are an expression of what is in the heart. In our day, every believer should be greatly concerned because so many words being spoken—even by professed Christians—are impure, untrue, and unscriptural. Therefore, it is essential that our hearts are right with the Lord and that our thinking is grounded in His truth.
What kind of words comes from your heart and lips—not just when you are in church but throughout the week and not just when things are going well but when everything seems to be falling apart? Is your vocabulary of abundant praise to the Lord, or is it easier to express complaint? Have you become desensitized to the vulgar, profane language of the world to the extent that it seems less objectionable or less offensive?
Let us take time to consider some of the important things the Bible teaches concerning our words. We must remember that lip trouble is a symptom of spiritual heart trouble. The fact that those around us, even other Christians, may not be careful of their speech does not excuse any believer from seeking God’s cleansing of his heart so that his own speech will be sound and edifying to others. Be careful as to both how you talk and what you say, for one’s speech can affect one’s usefulness to God.
The Right Kind of Words (Psalm 19:7-14)
Psalm 19:14 provides the standard by which we can test whether or not our words are right words. Right speech is that which is “acceptable” in God’s sight. This immediately raises the question as to how we can know whether or not our words are acceptable to God, and the answer is found only in the written Word of God, the Bible. Anything apart from or contrary to the Bible will lead us astray. We also can conclude from this text that our speech has the potential to be displeasing to the Lord.
He hears our words and is concerned about what we say. If we are to speak the right kind of words, we must first find out what God has to say to us. His Word is perfect; it converts the soul and makes wise the simple (v. 7). God’s Word is always right, always pure, always enlightening (v. 8). The Word of God brings joy, endures forever, and is infinitely valuable and satisfying (vv. 9-10); it also warns and cleanses, even from secret faults (vv. 11-12). It reveals to us what we really are before God. If we, as believers, want our words to be the right words and acceptable in God’s sight, then we must meditate in His Word day and night (1:2). We also must be careful of the company we keep, not walking in the counsel of the ungodly (1:1). Finally, we must let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). If we do these things faithfully, our words not only will please the Lord but also will be used by Him to bring help and blessing to fellow believers. In addition, they will strengthen our testimony before the unsaved. Only then will we be able “to speak a word in season” to those who are weary (Isa. 50:4). Only then will our words be the right words.
The Wrong Kind of Words (Proverbs 18:6-8)
The Scriptures give many warnings that instruct and protect believers against the wrong kinds of words. Consider the following examples: Contentious words identify the speaker as a fool (v. 6). Wrong, foolish words are a snare of the soul (v. 7). The words of a talebearer (a gossip) produce deep, lasting wounds rather than spiritual blessing (v. 8). Proverbs 29:20 sets forth the folly of hasty words. Psalm 55:21 gives a warning concerning hypocritical words. The deceptive speech also reveals the fact that rancor and blasphemy lie within the heart (26:23-28). The Bible reveals that when wrong words are spoken, the source of the problem is always from within. Psalm 14:1 identifies the one who says there is no God as a “fool,” and yet so many people today embrace the foolish words of atheistic scientists or scholars rather than the Word of God. The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5:3-6, warns believers against the use of “foolish talking” and calls attention to the inevitable deception of vain words, which contain man’s erroneous opinions rather than God’s perfect and eternal truth. Second Timothy 2:14 commands believers to avoid the use of and attention to “words to no profit.” Why? Because such conversations lead “to the subverting of the hearers.” Yet, many Christians today are intrigued by almost every new idea they hear and end up spending precious time and money “intruding into those things which [they have] not seen, vainly puffed up by [their] fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18). We must ask God to help us not to use nor to heed the wrong kinds of words. They will rob us of God’s best and spoil our testimony before others. The Spirit must control our tongue.
Dangerous Words (2 Peter 2:1-18)
The words of false prophets are dangerous words, “feigned words” (v. 3), hypocritical words spoken with the intent to deceive the hearer. Because of these false words, the words of truth are “evil spoken of” (v. 2). This text is prophetic and clearly indicates the fact that error will infect the churches in the last days. These false teachers “privily” (secretly) bring in their dangerous words, which God identifies as “damnable heresies”; in so doing, they “bring upon themselves swift destruction” (v. 1). Divine judgment lies ahead for all who speak against the Lord and His Word. Sadly, 2 Peter 2:2 reveals that “many shall follow their pernicious ways” (and words). Part of the reason why these false teachers enjoy such great success is because of the attractive manner in which they present their damnable heresies. They speak “great swelling words” that have a tremendous appeal to the flesh (v. 18). Colossians 2:4 explains that “enticing words” are designed to beguile the unwary, and Romans 16:18 warns that “good words and fair speeches” deceive the simple. The believer must exercise spiritual discernment so as not to be taken in by these words. God warns that evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse in the last days, “deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). The child of God can observe this fact on every hand today, yet most believers show little or no concern about these false teachers and their dangerous words. Indeed, the majority of Christians today actually find fault with those who expose the unbiblical rhetoric of deceivers within and without the church. But if the Lord speaks against dangerous words, then so should we.
Vow, Oath, Swear and Pledge
Words to Ignore (Ezekiel 2:1-8)
Sometimes the Lord instructs His children that they are to ignore certain words. In Ezekiel 2, the prophet Ezekiel faithfully proclaimed God’s Word to a rebellious generation. His message from God was unpopular, and the people were quick to show their displeasure through their bitter words and angry demeanor.
We have a natural tendency to be intimidated by others. It is not easy to endure harsh opposition, but the Lord’s order to Ezekiel is also His order to us today in the age of grace: “Be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words … nor be dismayed at their looks” (v. 6). In other words, God wants us to ignore all the mean words and angry looks that are bound to come from the hearts and lips of those who rebel against our faithful proclamation of God’s Word. All too often, however, believers are overly timid about declaring the truth, whether it applies to salvation or godly living. Why? Because they fear the words and faces of rebellious, backslidden Christians or those who are dead in trespasses and sins. But the Lord Jesus Christ “endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself” (read Heb. 12:1-3), and we need to follow His example. Only as we yield ourselves completely to the Holy Spirit, seeking to do God’s will as revealed in His Word, will we be able to ignore the intimidating words of the rebellious generation in which we live. It is dangerous for believers to base their actions and words upon what people may think or say. Our primary concern is simply to obey and faithfully proclaim God’s Word, no matter what others say or do. Are you enduring taunts and hostility today? Ignore it! Turn your eyes and ears to God.
Words to Shun (2 Timothy 2:14-19)
WHAT HAVE YOU BROUGHT TO JESUS?
Second Timothy 2:14-19 gives two specific commands to all believers. First, we must study and rightly interpret God’s Word so that we can understand it properly and apply it correctly (v. 15). Second, we must “shun profane and vain babblings,” recognizing that such words “will increase unto more ungodliness” (v. 16) and will “eat as doth a canker” (v. 17). This is why it is so important to avoid the teachings of anyone who promotes error. Even though an individual may say some things that are biblical, the error that is present in his message will produce wrong thinking and actions, and doubts regarding God’s will and Word will gradually eat away at the soul. It is no wonder that the Lord commands His children to shun such words. Nevertheless, many believers today choose to disregard God’s warning about the dangers of “profane and vain babblings.” Like moths drawn to a flame, they avidly pursue almost every new teaching that comes along, regardless of the fact that most of these teachings clearly fall into the category of “profane and vain babblings,” that is, wicked and fruitless surmisings of men—particularly those who are religious in nature. In 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul uses the same expression when warning against the “vain babblings” of “science falsely so-called.” The natural man is quick to take pride in his vain imaginations. So many extol religious scholars and secular scientists, regardless of how profane and vain their babblings are when examined in the light of God’s Word. The Lord not only says that such words cannot profit (v. 14), but He also warns that failure to turn from such words can lead to dangerous consequences (vv. 16-18).
Words that Please the Lord (Ephesians 4:29-32)
LIFE AFTER DEATH AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE
As believers, our speech always needs to demonstrate God’s grace without omitting the necessary salt of scriptural reproof and rebuke. All Christians should seek to speak the truth—but to speak it “in love” (v. 15). We must be careful to talk in a sincere, kind way toward others so that they will be edified and blessed. Sound, God-honoring speech is necessary in order for us to know “how [we] ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6), that is, how to graciously speak on God’s behalf—both to the lost and to fellow believers—in such a way that brings glory to our Savior; this is how we “ought to speak” (Col. 4:4). We often are tempted to say only that which is pleasing to others (or ourselves); but God is the One whom we are to please with our speech, not man. Are we speaking that which is “acceptable in [His] sight” (Psa. 19:14)? We also must ask God to help us know when to speak. Timing is vital, and “a word spoken in due season” brings blessings (Prov. 15:23). In addition, we should pray for our speech to be trustworthy, not “yes and no” (2 Cor. 1:18-20). In these days, when pressures increase and patience wears thin, tempers often flare, and harsh words flow at the slightest provocation. It is easy to become involved in a battle of words, both in the church and in the world. This makes it all the more important for believers, who are ambassadors for Christ, to know how to respond properly. God’s Word gives two simple but important exhortations: “A soft answer turneth away wrath…” (Prov. 15:1) and “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). Are the words we speak pleasing to our God?
— By M. H. Reynolds Jr. Adapted from Feature: A Daily Bible Study Guide