"Building Better Relationships" part 4
The Power of Words (aka The Sermon On the Mouth)
by Greg Hanson

This morning, we’re going to be talking about something very practical… something that relates to every one of us. We’re going to talk about talking... about the things we say and how we say them.

We're in the middle of a serious about Building Better Relationships, and what affects relationships more our words? Very little.

And let's be honest here... We all have trouble with this from time to time, don't we? We all make mistakes in what we say and how we say it. I do and you do. The Bible says…

James 3:2 (NLT)
Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect…

And very few of us are perfect. In fact, it can get pretty lonely sometimes. No, I know I’m not perfect. Sometimes I say stupid things. Anybody want to join me in that confession? Sometimes when we're tired or we're frustrated or we're angry... Or sometimes when we're just plain ol' insensitive, we can say things that are stupid and hurtful and mean. And what's the result? We offend others and damage--or even destroy--our relationships.

The book of James in the New Testament has a lot to say about it. In fact, everything James writes about seems to be so relevant and applicable to my life. Because of that, it just may be my favorite book. And in chapter three James takes aim at the things we say and how we say them.

James highlights three reasons why this whole discussion is important. If you have your notes, you can follow along and fill in the blanks.

Why My Words Matter:

A.    My words direct the course of my life.

Have you ever said something, and the minute you said it you wished you could take it back? Of course you have. We've all been there, because we don't like where our words are taking us. The words we say determine where we go in life. James illustrated it this way...

James 3:3-5a (NLT)
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

The tiny bit in the mouth of a powerful horse determine where that horse goes, the small rudder of a huge ship determines what direction the ship goes, and that tongue in your mouth determines the course of your life. Do you like where your words are taking you?

B.    My words have the power to destroy lives, including my own.

Words can do serious damage. We've probably al experienced the destructive power of words. As James put it...

James 3:5b-6 (NLT)
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

When you are careless with the words you say, James says you're committing verbal arson. You're starting fires that can destroy lives.

C.    My words reveal my character.

Who you really are on the inside is shown on the outside by your words. The picture James gives of this one is a picture of a spring of water.

James 3:9-12 (NLT)
Sometimes [the tongue] praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can't draw fresh water from a salty spring.

You can tell what kind of spring it is by the water it produces… fresh water or bitter water. You can tell what kind of tree it is by the fruit it produces. And you can tell what kind of a person someone is by what comes out of their mouths. It displays who they really are. Jesus said something similar when He said…

Matthew 12:34 (NIV)
“…Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Whatever’s in your heart is going to spill out. If you're rotten inside, it's going to be revealed through your words. Oh, you might be able to fake it for a while, but it’s going to eventually come out. If you're a person of character and integrity, that's going to be shown through your words, too.

The words we use--what we say and how we say it--is important. Our words are powerful and when used carelessly and irresponsibly they can cause a lot of damage to our relationships. Plus, they say a lot about you as a person.

And let me point out, it's not just the words we say. In this age of email and texting and online forums, message boards, and commenting, everything we're talking this morning about also applies to all that. Even when you can post something anonymously, your words still matter and you are still responsible for them. It never ceases to amaze me how vindictive, inconsiderate, self-absorbed, self-righteous, and critical some people become when they're behind a keyboard or keypad.

So let's talk about how we can use our words wisely, whether those words are spoken or typed or transmitted telepathically or whatever.

How Can I Use My Words Wisely?

1.    Use honest words yet loving words.

Honest and loving. Now, my problem is that I find it a lot easier to be nice than to be honest. I expect a lot of you have the same problem. You don't want to offend anyone, you don't want to hurt anyone, you don't want to make anyone feel embarrassed... and so you're nice. I find it easier to be nice than to be honest. And truthfully, the people who find it easier to be honest than to be nice scare me just a bit. They often use honesty as an excuse to be unkind.

Was Jesus honest in the words He used? Always. He was relentlessly honest. He called people out on their sinfulness, on their hypocrisy, on their selfishness... but His motivation was always love. Love was the motivation for everything He did. Even with the Pharisees with whom Jesus had more than one verbal sparring match, Jesus' honesty was for their benefit, challenging and calling them to change.

You see, nice words don't change anything. Nice words don't move the relationship ahead. That's why your words need to both honest and loving. The apostle Paul emphasized this in his letter to the Church in Ephesus... Read it with me...

Ephesians 4:15 (NLT)
… We will speak the truth in love…

It takes honesty and it takes love. It takes them both. It can’t be one or the other. Now, some people, all they have is truth. And they're going to proclaim that truth and they don't care who gets hurt. They don’t tell the truth; they aim the truth. They use it as a weapon. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about truth but you also need love with it.

Proverbs 27:5 (NLT)
An open rebuke is better than hidden love.

You’ve got to have love, but love that hides the truth isn’t really love at all. Love is honest, even if it means you have to use tough love and have some difficult conversations. Don't just be honest, and don't just be loving. Be honest and loving.

Proverbs 24:26 (NIV)
An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

2.    Use restraint in what and how much you say.

You've heard the term, "verbal diarrhea?" Some people just don't know when to keep their mouths shut. There's no filter on what they say. Whatever pops into their mind pops into their mouth at the same time. Here's a verse we looked at last week...

Proverbs 21:23 (NLT)
Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.

Pretty practical verse, don't you think? Here are a few more...

Proverbs 17:28 (NLT)
Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

That’s a pretty good strategy, isn’t it? Don’t try to impress people with what you say; impress them with what you don’t say. Here's another one…

Proverbs 10:19 (NLT)
Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

And one more... Read it with me...

Proverbs 13:3 (NLT)
Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.

There are three times in particular that I think we need to be especially careful in what and how much we say...

Three Occasions that Call for Restraint:

•    When you are being critical.

It's okay to be critical, as long as your criticism is constructive rather than destructive. What's the difference? Constructive criticism helps the person get better. It's motivated by a genuine concern for the person and it suggests practical solutions. Ultimately, constructive criticism is actually encouraging.

Destructive criticism, on the other hand, only serves to tear the person down. It's not motivated by love but by pride. People who are hypercritical like to criticize because it makes them feel better about themselves. It makes them feel superior.

As we discussed earlier, too many people use honesty as an excuse for being brutally critical. Their criticism isn't meant to help the person get better; it's only to point out what's wrong and berate the person. Paul addressed this issue in Ephesians chapter four...

Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)
Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Underline the word "everything." Paul wasn't just suggesting something that'd be a good idea once in a while; he meant for this advice to be followed at all times. Everything you say, whenever you say it and to whomever you're saying it, should be for the person's benefit. If it's not, don't say it. Don't type it. Alternatively, Proverbs 10:21 says...

Proverbs 10:21 (NLT)
The words of the godly encourage many...

Does that describe your words? If not, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to change from being a discourager to being an encourager?

•    When you are angry.

Have you ever noticed how, when someone's angry, their punctuation keys always seem to get stuck on their keyboard? If you've ever gotten an angry email, you know that every sentence ends with a mix of a half-dozen exclamation points and question marks. Or worse, the entire email is in all-caps.

Well, when you get angry, that's not a time to spout off. It's actually a time for restraint. Guard the words you say and the things you type. Even if someone else is mouthing off at you, go ahead and let them make a fool of themselves. You don't have to join them.
We all get angry, and sometimes it's even justified. Even then, we need to be careful to not allow our anger to dictate our words. Here's some great advice from David...

Psalm 4:4 (NLT)
Don't sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.

But wow, that can be hard to do, can't it? When you're angry, you want to lash out then and there. But that's the exact opposite of what you should do. Instead, David says to restrain yourself and think about it overnight. Why? Because...

Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)
A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

Letting your anger determine your words is only going to make things worse. So restrain yourself and choose your words carefully. When you're angry with someone--particularly someone you care about--don’t speak out of that anger but out of your love and your desire to keep your relationship, your friendship, on the right track.

“Be careful of the words you say.
Keep them soft and sweet.
You never know from day to day,
which ones you’ll have to eat.”
~ Will Rogers

•    When you are tempted to gossip.

When is it okay to gossip? The correct answer is... never. Gossip is never a good thing, and so you should never participate in it. You should never start it, you should never condone it, and you should never join in. Why? Because gossip is all about destruction. Words spoken in love strengthen a friendship; words spoken in gossip can destroy a relationship, can destroy a reputation, and can destroy a person.

Proverbs 16:28 (NLT)
…Gossip separates the best of friends.

Now, you might think of gossip as just one of the "little" sins. But in reality, just a little bit of gossip can do a whole lot of damage. I think that's why the Bible takes gossip so seriously. Here… look at the company it keeps…

Romans 1:29-30 (NLT)
Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning…

That's quite a list, with gossip right in the middle. Now, I realize that no one here ever actually gossips. I mean, that’s just something we don’t do, isn’t it? But a lot of people do struggle with gossip. Or worse, then don’t struggle with it; they simply give into it.

Hey, here’s an idea: when it comes to talking about other people, don’t share anything with anyone who’s not part of the solution. That’s a pretty good way of cutting down on the gossip, isn't it?

Here's another idea: If you tend to gossip through emails or text-messages… and some people do this a lot… ask yourself, "Would I be comfortable carbon-copying this to the person I’m talking about? Or would I say what I’m saying about them differently?"

If you tend to gossip, then be honest about it. Recognize it. And when it happens, apologize for it. A few apologies, and you’ll stop doing it.

Okay, so you use honest yet loving words, you use some restraint, and you…

3.    Use words for the benefit of others.

We've already touched on this. Use words that build others up. We looked at Ephesians 4:29 earlier from the New Living Translation; here it is again from the New International Version...

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Isn’t that a great principle for determining what you say? Don’t say anything that's going to tear people down; only say things that build others up.

Oh, and notice a very important phrase... “according to their needs.” What does the person need to hear? Sometimes what a person needs to hear might sting a bit. Remember those honest words we talked about earlier? But if you say it with love then you’re going to say it in a way that helps to build the person up instead of tearing the person down.

This requires a bit of a change in your mindset. Instead of only saying what you want to say, say what the other person needs to hear. Consider how that person is going to receive your words.

Along that same line, an Old Testament Proverb states...

Proverbs 12:25 (NIV)
An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

So how do your words affect your relationships? Words can build a marriage or they can tear it down. Words can build a child’s self-esteem or they can tear it down. Words can build a friendship or they can tear it down. Your words matter; what kind of words do you use?

Basically, what it comes down to is, we need to think before we speak. So just as we finish up, let me give you an acrostic that might be helpful.

T – Is it Truthful?

Or do you embellish it or twist it a bit to make yourself look better? Is it truthful?

H – Is it Helpful?

Or is it going to do more harm than good?

I – Is it Inspirational?

Is it going to build them up? Is it going to give them hope and encouragement?

N – Is it Necessary?

This is that thing of talking too much. Some things aren’t necessarily wrong to say; they’re just not necessary.

K – is it Kind?

Not necessarily nice, but kind. And there is a difference. Nice words are for your own benefit to make you look good; kind words are for the benefit of the hearer, even it they might be tough for you to say or for them to hear.

So THINK. Think before you speak.

[Much of this message was adapted from material by Rick Warren in 40 Days of Love]


Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson