Our focus today is on our words – what we say, what we write in emails, what we text.
According to one study the average person speaks about 16,000 words a day. It varies of course. The top talker used 47,000 words, and the least talkative only 700. (Study: Men Talk Just as Much as Women by Richard Knox; All Things Considered, July 5, 2007)
But if we go with the average of 16,000, then the yearly total of words for a person is almost 6 million! And the lifetime total for an average person, say from age 5 to age 70, is almost 400 million words! And if we add in what we write the totals are higher.
But with all of our talking and everybody else talking, millions and billions and trillions of words going in all directions – I think sometimes we fall into the idea, that what we say isn’t that big of a deal. They’re just words, right? And we think with all these words that, “Everyone says some things they shouldn’t.” Or, “At least I am not as bad as most people.” Or, “Most of what I say is fine.” It’s not a big deal.
And yet Jesus says, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:36-37. What this is saying is that God is going to sift through all 400 million of your words! For if even our careless ones are judged, how much more our intentional ones?
If God takes our words that seriously, then we should too. So what I want to do is highlight for you some areas of speech that I think we are especially vulnerable in, so that we can be admonished and encouraged this morning.
1. Our words are to honor God’s name
Scripture says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7. To “take in vain” means that you say the name in a deceitful, worthless or insincere way. There are many ways to do this, but I will just mention two.
- Using God’s name in profanity – or the name “Jesus” or “Christ.” We show our deep disrespect for God when we think that his name is a play thing that we can use for the expression of our anger or vulgarity; or for our desire to look cool or fit in.
- And then there is our biggest struggle, I think, which is using God’s name carelessly. We do this when we casually toss God’s name into phrases like, “O my God!” or “For God’s sake” – just for effect. You know, we don’t really mean it. We just use the name to spice up our conversation. We also use God’s name carelessly when we use it in our humor to make jokes and to get a laugh.
We need to attend to our words, all 16,000 of them a day, to make sure they honor God.
2. Our words are to be truthful
Paul says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor . . ..” – Ephesians 4:25. Obviously we go against this when we practice –
- Lying – taking advantage of the trust of others to get what we want.
God calls us to speak the truth, even to our own hurt; even when it gets us in trouble; or makes our life harder.
But short of all out lying, we can also fall into patterns that are not fully truthful even while we see ourselves as honest people. For instance engaging in
- half truths, where most of what we say is true, but some is not,
- or white lies which are supposed to be harmless, but involve deception,
- or exaggerations where we go beyond what is true.
These may seem minor to us, but God takes them seriously and we need to rid our lives of them.
3. Our words are to have integrity
Jesus said, “Let your word be ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ ‘No,’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:37. In context he is saying that we are not to swear promises, but rather just say “yes” or “no.”
But he is also saying, (which is our focus) when you say yes, let it truly be a yes. And when you say no, let it truly be a no. In other words –
- Keep your word. Don’t promise to do something lightly. Make sure your word is trustworthy and credible. Keep your word, even to your own hurt; even if it costs you.
We need to watch over our words to make sure they have integrity; to make sure that we have integrity.
4. Our words are to be free of boasting
Scripture says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” -Proverbs 27:2. Boasting is precisely when you give yourself praise.
- You can do this by bragging about your accomplishments; calling attention to yourself and lifting yourself up.
- Or you can do this by exaggerating things to make yourself look good.
We need to be careful to make sure that our words are free of boasting.
5. Our words are to build others up
They are definitely not tear people down. Paul says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29 (NRSV).
We build others up when we encourage them, bless them, help them through a problem. But often our words don’t build up. Here are two common examples to watch out for.
- Hateful, angry words that tear down. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5. He likens angry words that are meant to insult and destroy to murder.
- And then there is, of course, gossip. Scripture speaks of several kinds of gossip, but here I mean spreading true, but negative information about others for no reason other than to tear down their reputation.
These are common things in our culture and so we let down our guard. But we need to be alert and guard our mouths so that our words build up and give grace.
6. Our words are to be pure
Paul says, “But sexual immorality and all impurity . . . must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place . . ..” – Ephesians 5:3-4. Paul is talking here about –
- Words that lift up sexual immorality, that make it seem normal or alright.
- And also crude sexual language
We need to guard our words against impurity and filthiness and be pure in all that we say.
7. Our words are to be thankful
They are not to be focused on our problems and all that is bad. Paul says, “Do everything without complaining . . .” – Philippians 2:14. But he also said in another place, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
- It is so easy for us to fall into complaining where we talk about everything that is wrong in the world, in our lives and in the lives of others.
- or grumbling, nitpicking others and finding fault, especially with leaders.
Instead of all this we need to speak out words of thanksgivings for all of God’s blessings and love. And we should find the good in others and be thankful for them.
So these are some of the things Scripture teaches us about our words:
- Honor God’s name – no profanity or careless use
- Be truthful – no lies, half truths, white lies or exaggerations
- Have integrity – keep your word
- Be free of boasting – no bragging or exaggeration
- Build others up – not hateful angry words or gossip
- Be pure – not sexually immoral or crude words
- Be thankful – not complaining or grumbling
The question is, how do your words line up with this teaching as you talk with others at work or school; as you talk to your kids; as you make jokes with your friends? How do you your words line up as you text others; as you post on social media How do they line up when you are in a conflict with someone or when you are talking about someone who isn’t present?
The title this morning, “Just words?” raises the question of the seriousness of our words. And they are a big deal. But the question can also challenge us by asking, “Are our words just or righteous?”
What to do?
Let me end by encouraging you to –
1. Repent and seek forgiveness for where you have failed or allowed yourself to be lax with your words, and seek forgiveness. Whether your words have been unrighteous in relation to God or others, or both.
Yes, God is rigorously serious about our words, but God is also full of mercy to forgive us where we fail, when we turn away from the wrong. Seek God’s mercy and you will find it. And then, of course, make things right with others.
2. Ask God to do a work in your heart. As Jesus said in Matthew 12:35 your words come from your heart -or your treasure. He said, “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” The source of your words is your heart – your treasure; and if your words are off, it’s because your heart is off. You need God’s help to give you a new heart. Ask God to do a work in your heart.
3. Fill yourself with good things. Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Some things only God can do – like giving a new heart. But some things we need to do. Do your part to fill your heart and mind with good and righteous things. And over time your words will come to reflect this; this is what will come out.