“I don’t think that anything reveals the state of a person’s soul more clearly than the words that come out of his mouth.”R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of The Lord
If you’re like me, you probably put your foot in your mouth more often than you’d care to admit. Certainly, making an ill-timed comment is an inescapable element of our humanity, but in my case, I often find that my impulsive speech can be not merely ill-timed, but also careless, inconsiderate, and even demeaning. Many times over the past six months, the Holy Spirit has consumed me with the conviction to simply stop talking. Naturally, my flesh hates this, arguing that I must stay true to all my impulses – in the name of supposed “authenticity” (read: hastiness). How dare I be asked to sacrifice my quippy comments and expression of opinions, the very things that brand me as ME here on Earth!?
In reality, while the Lord purposefully creates, celebrates, and honors our distinct individuality, we are called to submission and obedience above all else. Jesus himself couldn’t have been more clear in Matthew 16 – “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” The word “obey” in Greek is commonly translated to “hupakouo”, a word that literally means, “to listen under.” I find it notable that the preeminent calling on our lives – obedience – requires listening, rather than speaking.
Words are a form of worship. Ephesians 5 says we are to be filled with the spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father. The behavior described is not happenstance, but purposeful – a result of minds and hearts that are fixed upon the Lord. Obedience to Christ requires that we take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). It only follows that the outward overflow of our thoughts be taken captive too.
Not only should we survey our speech out of reverence for the Lord, but also to honor and encourage people, submitting to one another out of reverence for God (Ephesians 5:21). As Romans 12:10 reminds us, we are quite literally supposed to outdo one another in showing honor. What better way to do so than carefully consider and communicate that which might exhort and build each other up?
Additionally, words are the most observable way to live above reproach in the world. In every sentence, we have the opportunity to testify to what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable – not only in verbal content, but in our disposition, demeanor, tone, and intention (Philippians 2:14). Our speech is an outward indicator of inward transformation, meant to be “full of grace and seasoned with salt” so that we may thoughtfully and wisely consider our responses to everyone, as Colossians 4:6 reminds us. Being specific and thoughtful in every response is not something that we should see as burdensome, but as an opportunity to set ourselves apart. In a society where people are all fighting for their words to garner attention, to survive a media cycle, to be deemed significant, believers can rest in the far superior, final Word of Christ himself.
I don’t mean to assert that we must always refrain from speaking in order to honor the Lord, or that we have to subdue our thoughts to be kind to each other. Often, Christians fall prey to the opposite problem – we forgo speech in critical moments, failing to protect the vulnerable, advocate for justice, encourage those around us, equip the called, instruct the curious, welcome the overlooked. Speaking directly and honestly is an essential part of honoring God and one another. If we are to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:2), a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:1), the very aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2:15), there is compelling reason for the careful consideration of our every spoken word.
Ultimately, we know that the posture of our heart determines the spoken words that flow out of it (Matthew 12:34). We must not only lay down our speech, but our whole lives, in order to follow Christ. In the reverent surrender of our every characteristic, we create space for the gentle and loving regeneration that God promises to all who love Him.
I pray that in the surrender of our speech, a greater work would be done – that our hearts would not be conformed to this world, but to the likeness of Christ as we pursue Him in adoration.