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First Thoughts

Five Ways to Love with Our Words

Our tongue is an amazing piece of God’s creative handiwork in our bodies! In one sense, it is an anatomical anomaly. The tongue is the only body part that contains muscles that are not attached to a bone at both ends. Unlike your biceps, which are attached to your elbow and shoulder joints, the tongue is an intertwined matrix of muscles that pull on each other, giving it the flexibility to twist and turn into a seemingly endless array of shapes and sizes. It also possesses tremendous stamina as it works tirelessly throughout the day in the activities of talking, eating, and removing food from your teeth. I mean, when was the last time you said, “Boy, my tongue is tired,” or “Man, my tongue muscles are sore!” Probably never.


But not only is the tongue an intricate mass of muscles, but God also gave us our tongue to be a powerful tool of communication, and the Bible has much to say about the potential of our words. Proverbs warns us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) and that words are like sword thrusts, but wise words bring healing (Proverbs 12:18). James says that the tongue can be used to both bless or curse (James 3:10). Jesus even teaches that our words will be used as evidence of our justification or our condemnation (Matthew 12:36-37).


From the verses above, we can see that the Bible calls us to use our words to bring life, healing, and blessing to those around us. It has been said that communication is the lifeblood of any relationship, which means that the way we speak is one of the most important, if not the most important, ways we can love one another. Thus, to be people who love well, we need to be people who communicate love with our words. Again, we turn to the Bible for guidance as Ephesians 4 provides us with five guidelines for loving one another with our words.


First, when it comes to godly, loving communication, we must listen patiently. We start here because implied in communication is not only speaking but also listening. And to speak words of love, we must first know who we are speaking to and understand the meaning behind the words they use with us, and that understanding comes only by listening. Ephesians 4:2-3 says that we are to “walk…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We patiently listen by asking questions to draw out information, seeking clarification on areas of confusion, and focusing on what the other person is saying instead of only thinking about what we will say.


Second, we must speak lovingly. Ephesians 4:15 says that we are to speak the truth in love as we help each other grow in Christ, and in verse 25, we are to speak the truth with our neighbor, “for we are members one of another.” Since we have the ability and the responsibility to communicate, we cannot shy away from saying what needs to be said, but when we speak, we cannot be harsh. Our words must be used in ways that convey honesty, yet at the same time, seeks the best for the one spoken to because we are to help each other be more like Christ.


Third, we are to communicate constantly. Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The force of Paul’s exhortation is to deal with today’s problems today, not allowing issues to fester. The warning of this passage is that if we do not communicate when we should, we open the door for the evil one to work and do damage to our relationships. However, by staying current in our communication and constantly talking with each other, we give room for the grace of God to work in our lives and in the lives of others.


The fourth guideline is to edify graciously. In verse 29, Paul commands, “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 who hear.” Sinful words corrode and pollute our interactions with others and suck the life out of any relationship. In contrast, the Lord wants us to speak in such a way that builds up and gives grace. As Proverbs says, “A word fitly spoken…refreshes the soul” (Proverbs 25:11-13).


Fifth, Paul calls us to act kindly. In Ephesians 4:31-32, we read that we are to be skilled in the actions of kindness and tenderheartedness rather than bitterness, anger, and wrath. Our world is well-versed in these sinful reactions, seen every night on the news or on social media. These words flow from selfish hearts that seek to attack others. Christians have been given a new heart and are to shine the light of the gospel through words of kindness and compassion that flow from hearts full of love because of the forgiveness received from God in Christ.


What do these five guidelines look like practically? Here are three helpful questions to ask yourself about your words: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? To put it another way, is what I am about to say honest, or is there any hint of deceit, exaggeration, or half-truths? Does what I am about to say need to be said right now, or at all, or can it wait for a better time? Is what I am about to say meant to show love and build up, or will my words hurt and tear down? And if our words fail any one of those three tests, those words are probably better left unsaid.


Our God loves and communicates lovingly. He spoke this world into existence, and he speaks to us through his Word. But the greatest expression of his loving communication was when he sent his Son, who is The Word, to rescue us from our sin (John 1:12-14). In Christ, we have been unfathomably loved. As those who have been greatly loved, we are to greatly love others. Through the gracious gift of our tongue, we can use our words to bring blessing and share the love of Christ with others. May we love others well with our words!

Ryan Trzeciak (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves First Baptist Church as the Director of First Counseling.

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