Words with Wisdom
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
I love words. Apparently, I always have. My mother tells a story about hearing me, as an infant, lying in my crib, prattling on nonsensically to my stuffed animals. As I grew, the nonsense developed into fully formed words, but evidently the prattling never ceased. I remember my grandmother once telling me, “Please hush! You could talk the ears off a fencepost.” My 1st grade teacher certainly would have agreed. She called me the “Mouth of the South” and to prove her point, gave me an “N” for “needs improvement” in “controls talking” on my first report card.
I think I love words so much because they were never just nonsense to me, and I love printed words because once you see them, you can feel their weight and importance. It broke my heart when they taught us in newswriting at journalism school to cut our verbiage to the most concise, necessary details to tell the story. Magazine writing was more my speed. It allowed us to be descriptive and creative, and I could use my beloved adjectives and adverbs.
Although, I tell the story about my 1st grade teacher lightly and with a chuckle, the nickname she gave me hurt, and it followed me right up through 6th grade until I finally moved on to middle school, where I became known as “Dictionary Lady” because I loved to read and had a rather advanced vocabulary for my age. I quickly learned that my vocabulary came in handy at “winning” arguments, and there are a few of my classmates that I wish I could find and apologize to for the way I embarrassed them. I once added insult to injury when I told a girl who’d begun crying, “Spare me the affectations of your martyrdom.” See what I mean?
I can’t count all the apologies I’ve had to make to my husband over the years. Thank the Lord I am married to a loving, patient, forgiving man who is also highly intelligent because it wasn’t long before he started giving as good as he got, and I got a taste of my own medicine. (My high falootin’ words didn’t go over his head for long!)
Words have power. The most powerful being in the universe, the creator of all things, is called “The Word!” (John 1:1-3) And yet, we often use words thoughtlessly, especially in today’s digital age where we feel a sense of detachment from the other person, not having to look at their face and see their reaction to our meanness. It’s so easy to make a hurtful or snide comment on social media or in a text, where tone is subjective, and we can pretend that we didn’t mean it the way it was taken.
“Friends” or “followers” are quick to jump in with their opinion, rashly typing out the first words that spring to mind without consideration or care, trying to verbally shame or bully someone out of their opinion because they aren’t having to look that person in the eye. After all, we can just “unfriend” them, right?
The apostle James wrote a whole section of Scripture on taming the tongue. In James 3:2, 8-9, he wrote, “2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body… 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”
At first glance, it doesn’t sound very promising for us mere mortals, does it? But let’s look a little closer. James wrote that “no human being can tame the tongue.” He’s very specific to say, “no human being.” He didn’t say “no one” can tame the tongue, but that no “human” can do it. Which indicates that there is Someone who can help us tame our tongues by guiding us to give thought to our words.
If we keep reading in James, we find just a few verses down, in verse 13, he begins writing about wisdom. (He’d already told his readers in 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God.) Now in 3:17 he says wisdom is from above, meaning from God, and goes on to describe Godly wisdom: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, [Italics mine.] gentle, open to reason, full of mercy…” He lists other attributes of Godly wisdom, then in verse 18 he says, “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
There’s that word “peace” again. When I looked up the section of James dealing with the tongue in my MacArthur Study Bible, I found several references to scriptures in Psalms and Proverbs that also refer to the evil of the tongue, but Psalms 34:13, 14 also refers to peace, “13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” It makes sense that in light of these verses, both in James and Psalms, that keeping your mouth shut is often referred to as “keeping your peace.”
Whether intentional or not, when we are careless with our words we have the potential to cause hurt feelings, arguments, division, and strife, and if we who are Godly are not careful in our speech, we tend to turn people away from Christianity, as well. But as James says, if we seek wisdom from above, “we’ll reap a harvest of righteousness sown in peace.”
In his prophecy about Jesus’ coming, Isaiah referred to Him as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), and in Psalm 85:8, the Bible says, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.”
Peaceful words, kind words, uplifting, encouraging, sympathetic words, gently reproving words…this is the speech of the man or woman of God, and Jesus says in Matthew 12:36, 37, “36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Unfortunately, I'll probably be standing there for quite a while.
It’s not easy, nor does it come naturally, just as James 3 makes clear, but James 2:19 says we are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” So, we should listen to what the other person is saying, not just hear while thinking of a rebuttal, but listen to understand. Then we should think about our words before speaking, and hold our anger until we know it’s justified, but even in anger we have to choose our words wisely.
As Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those that hear.”
My almost daily prayer on my own behalf is Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” In this time when negative and hateful words permeate our social media, the news, and the campaigns, my prayer for all of us is that we’ll remember who we are in Christ and use our words wisely when confronted with someone who may not agree with our opinions and beliefs. May God grant you grace, wisdom, and peace in the name of the Lord Jesus.
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