Never underestimate the effects of words. Words are spoken; they are not solid, physical things, so we say them and attach little importance to them. It is sometimes said that talk is cheap. The supply exceeds the demand!
Words can have eternal consequences. We speak to other people, each of whom has an immortal soul. Our words can be like poisoned darts, or they can be uplifting, encouraging, full of blessing and pointing the hearer to Christ. There may be an apology for words hastily spoken or written, but there is a sense in which they can never be withdrawn. An apology may be accepted and forgiveness extended, but somehow a trace remains.
Where do words come from? They apparently come from the heart – the innermost part of our being, the seat of our affections and motives. In Matthew 12:34-37 the Lord gives the clues: “For of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of the good treasure brings forth good things; and the wicked man out of the wicked treasure brings forth wicked things. But I say unto you, that every idle word which men shall say, they shall render an account in judgment-day: for by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words shalt thou be condemned.” Listen to a man speak for ten minutes and it soon becomes apparent what is “dear to his heart”. A heart that is full of Christ, His truth and His interests, will soon speak of those; a heart occupied with sport, or pleasure, or money will soon speak of those things.
Do all our words have then to be of one type? No; the great thing is to speak appropriately. Proverbs15:23, A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth; and a word in its season, how good is it! “In season” means, I believe, “as needed” or “according to what is required”.
When dealing with fellow Christians, Paul gives the following exhortation: 1 Thess. 5:14, “admonish the disorderly, comfort the faint-hearted, sustain the weak, be patient towards all”. When we speak to unbelievers, Paul instructs us in Colossians 4:6: “Let your word be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so as to know how ye ought to answer each one”. No doubt grace would touch the heart and the salt the conscience. When the Lord spoke in the synagogue in Luke 4:20-32, they wondered at the words of grace being uttered; but when he addressed their consciences by speaking of the “outsiders” (Naaman and the widow of Sarepta) who had been favoured above those in Israel, their consciences were affected and they wanted to throw Him over the precipice.
Study the words of Jesus in the gospels to find the perfect examples of what is appropriate – words of compassion for the needy, stern rebuke for the lack of faith of His own, and scathing words for hypocrisy amongst the religious leaders. Which brings us to James 3:1-12, where we have the warning “Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive greater judgment”, then James 1:19, “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”.
Let us be generous in our words of encouragement. A sincere compliment is not flattery. Note how the Lord spoke to persons, and about persons, by commenting on the feature or behaviour that was worthy. “O woman, thy faith is great”, or “Mary has chosen the good part”, rather than, “You are a wonderful woman”.
MM August 2007