“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45
It’s not lost on me even as I write this blog the power that words can have. They can bring life or they can bring death. They can tear down or they can lift up.
It’s a funny concept to think about giving glory or weight to our words, but I believe that’s exactly what we need to start doing during this time. We need to be more careful with our words and realize the power that they have. For months now I have seen people hiding behind their computer screens blasting one another on social media. From the safety of their kitchen table, they enter the world of the internet and speak hatred, cast judgment, spread lies and add fuel to arguments. Then they close their laptop and don’t think again about the consequences of those words.
It’s not that simple.
Words have weight. The Bible reminds us time and time again about the power of our words. In high school, my Bible class memorized the entire book of James. Crazy enough, I can still recite a lot of it by heart. And James 3 has been a resounding gong in my head not only as I’ve read what people are putting out there on social media but as I’ve started to put my own writing out there more.
James compares the tongue to a tiny, seemingly insignificant mechanism that has total power to take down an entire being. Like a bit that controls a 1,000-pound horse. Or a rudder that controls a massive ship. Or a single match that sets a forest ablaze. Likewise, the tongue can completely destroy a person’s character. James doesn’t mince his own words when he says in verse 6 that the tongue “corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell.” Yikes.
Like a bit, a rudder or a match, a single thoughtless post, comment or conversation can cause irrevocable damage. We’ve all seen it play out. Someone climbs on their soapbox, speaks their mind before thinking through what they’re saying and then acts surprised when chaos breaks out.
While it may seem safe to spout out your opinions and ideas from behind a computer screen, think about what it might look like if people were to act on those opinions and ideas. While it may seem like a harmless tweet or comment or article to re-share, know that people are watching. You can’t control what they do with your words, but you can control what you say. Don’t enable them. Don’t give them the power of your words. Don’t give them the opportunity to twist your words and act on them in violent or unjust means. Because the reality is, you cannot promote discord and expect peace.
More than your own words, don’t give others the chance to use the words of God to downplay their destructive decisions and dialogue. Posting a Bible verse may feel like the correct response but often causes more damage than good. People can quickly spot the hypocrisy, the same hypocrisy that James calls out in verses 9 and 10: “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.“
When injustices take place, we post Micah 6:8 but don’t actually do anything to help the situation. We throw around pretty sounding verses about loving our neighbor but then argue over the semantics of Black Lives Matter. We say God works in all situations but then do not take ownership for the devastating effect our own words may have had on those very situations. We proclaim “blessed are the peacemakers” but then continue to stir up drama and discord in our conversations. In doing so, we are reducing the Bible from the all-powerful word of God that it is to a shallow attempt to placate awful situations. This should not be.
My hope is that we all, myself included, begin to take inventory of the words that leave our mouths and know that if they are harmful or destructive in theory, they very well may cause harm and destruction in practice. May we return to using our words – whether spoken out loud or typed in silence – for purposes of edifying and encouraging rather than destroying and demeaning.