Serving God in our speech

It was a Tuesday evening and I had just come back from a hard day at work. I was tired, my feet hurt and I felt ill. I thought I’d had enough already but then my sister did something, something very minor, it didn’t really matter, it wasn’t a sin, but it still annoyed me. At that moment, I had a perfect opportunity to respond as Jesus would have. I opened my mouth and words came flowing out. Not caring, kind, ‘don’t worry, it doesn’t matter’ words but angry, dissatisfied, ‘don’t you understand how much I have to deal with’ words. My sinful human nature overtook everything in me that wanted to do the right thing as I told my sister off in no uncertain terms. I knew it was wrong as I did it and even more so after it had ended but it was only a while after that I began to realise just how wrong it was.

Scripture has a wealth of verses that make reference to how we should speak. The most obvious passage is James 3:1-12 about taming our tongues. Every time I read it I realise what a hypocrite I am – just like the Pharisees who I sit and mock. Perhaps I ‘do’ my hypocrisy in a slightly less obvious way but then again perhaps I’m the only one being fooled. Most days I use my tongue to ‘bless my Lord and Father’1. I sit and pray and praise God for all he is and does. Don’t think for a moment that I’m saying this is a bad thing. God is awesome, his deeds are wonderful and it is right to praise him. But (here’s the crucial bit) I need to realise that while most days I praise the Lord, every day, with the same tongue, I put down a person made in his image. Whether that putting down comes in the form of speaking to my siblings grumpily or putting the phone down and launching into a tirade against the person on the other end who ‘doesn’t know what they’re doing’ or getting cross with the car driver who pulled out in front of me, it’s all the same thing. Every day, in so many different ways, I hurt God by speaking wrongly, unfairly and angrily to one or more of his people. And then I have the cheek to sit down and use all the right phrases and the long Scripture quotations to praise God without a thought of the damage I’ve just done.

I’ve been thinking over the past while about speech and language and have come up with a few things that have helped me as I ponder how to change my speech.

1) Speech and language are gifts from God

Let’s start with the basics. The Oxford English Dictionary says that a gift is ‘a thing given; a present.’2 A true gift is something freely given without needing payment. Speech and language are gifts from God. They are good gifts from our loving Creator God.

Imagine not being able to speak, not being able to make your voice be heard, not being able to communicate in that way with others. That would be awful. Then imagine if no one could speak, how much worse that would be. Speech is a gift that we need to use in the right way – God’s way.

Language is also a gift. Languages are beautiful things. I know it may not seem like that as you are poring over vocab lists or trying desperately to understand that tricky bit of grammar but, honestly, they are. In each language there are different sounds, intonations, words and sentence structures all coming together to make a system by which humans understand each other. Language enables books to be written, songs to be sung, letters to be read and so much more. Language moves cultures on and encourages learning. Language is a gift.

2) God speaks

‘And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.’3 God made us in His image and as part of that He made us able to speak as He does. God uses speech to communicate with his people. He brought the world into being by His word, He gave His commands by speech and He tells us how we should live by His written word. God as man, Jesus, speaks to the world. He tells people of the good news, He speaks to heal, He speaks to encourage and build up but He also speaks to condemn righteously. As He speaks, so should we.

3) Speech is powerful

In some ways our speech is similar to God’s speech. When God speaks things are created, things come into being and things are changed. When we speak the world changes.4 Every time I open my mouth and say something the world has changed in some way. The difference is that when God speaks, only good comes of it.5 But when we speak, sometimes things change for the better but often they change for the worse. It is our duty (and should be our pleasure) to make sure that we change the world for good, for the glory of God when we speak. The way we speak can convince someone that we really do live out our faith or not. The way we speak can (in God’s hands) change someone’s heart. Speech is important.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m perfect, I still say so many things every day that I regret but I look forward to the day when I will speak and only good things will come out of my mouth, things that glorify and honour God, things that build others up. I believe that God, in His kindness, will bring me (and all other believers) to that day and until then my job is to be learning the art of speech from the One who speaks all things perfectly.

By Ruth Field

1James 3:9
2Oxford English Dictionary pub.1996
3Genesis 1:3
4 Taken from David Field’s sermon ‘Graceful Conversation’, point 4b. Notes found here:
5Genesis 1:31

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  1. David van den Broek17 October 2009 at 23:14

    Thanks for that Ruth! I have been thinking recently about how central speech and language are to everything that we do; our understanding of who God is how we can please him is bound up in language because it is how he chooses to communicate with us!

    And aren’t our words powerful! We can pull down as well as build up (Eph 4v29).

    It could be that the reason that swearing is such a serious sin (leaving aside taking God's name in vain) is because God will hold us accountable for every word that comes out of our mouths. There are so many ways in which my speech can be dishonouring to Christ -it is a matter for prayer.

  2. Another great challenge, thanks Ruth. Some things are easy to miss unless you are looking out for them, one such thing is speech.

    It is great how we can look forward to the new heavens and new earth but isn't it also great the encouragement we have...
    1 Corinthians 10v13
    "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." Praise the LORD he helps us in our fight against the natural inclinations of our hearts to backbite with our tongues!!

  3. Ruth,

    Thanks ever so much for this great article. You're totally right; our speech is very important. It can build up and can also destroy. I've recently memorized James 3, and you have explained it very well.
    Having three siblings, it is very hard not to speak cruelly/harshly to them, this article helps. If we speak evil of a brother(in the family or church) we can see in James that this is judging them(James 4). We must not speak evil of them because
    1. It doesn't glorify God
    2. It doesn't help our family members/ brothers in Christ
    Thanks very much for this article, I look forward to reading more of your articles.



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