Voices: The words we use and how we use them

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In his amazing novel Beartown, Fredrik Backman wrote, “Words are not small things.” This one line has stuck with me since I read it.

Maybe this line sticks with me because I was reading the book of Proverbs as I read Beartown. Throughout Proverbs, we continually see a call to watch our words, to be prudent with our speech, to speak graciously and thoughtfully.

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11). “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3). “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

From these and other verses, it is clear God cares about our words and the way we use them.

Our words reveal our hearts

Jesus said our words reveal the true nature of our hearts. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What do your words say about your heart?

As followers of Jesus, we are to speak truth and grace. Our words are meant to build up the body of Christ and reveal God’s love to a needy world. We have to be mindful of the words we use, the way we use those words, and what those words reveal about our hearts.

Technology and our words

This task has become even more difficult with the advance of technology. Now, not only do we communicate words through face-to-face conversations and phone calls, we also text and post our thoughts on social media for the world to see. What do our text messages and our tweets say about our hearts?

The call of Proverbs to be prudent and gracious with our words should transform the way we use our words in every context.

As Backman wrote, “Words are not small things.” Our words matter. So, what does this mean for our everyday lives as ambassadors of Christ?

Speak the truth in love

For one, we must stop the divisiveness and anger on social media. If our call is to speak the truth in love, then we have to do a better job of thinking through what we post online.

So much of what is posted on social media is not the truth. Fake news stories abound. It doesn’t take long to research the truth of a claim. Please, do the work it takes to make sure the words you are sharing with the world under your name are true.

Our witness to the world really does depend on our words being reliable. Just because a post agrees with your political leaning doesn’t mean it is true, and even if it is true, you don’t have to share it. Are the words you write and speak true?

When we do speak the truth, we must do so with love. Are the words you write and share on social media sprinkled with grace, or do they tear down? Are they building up the church? Are they giving life? Are they pointing others to Jesus?

As followers of Jesus, we can’t care simply about the truth of the words we speak and write and share. Our words also must be filled with grace, kindness and love. We should follow the example of Jesus, who came in grace and truth. We must speak what is true, and we must do so with love.

Our words matter

What you say to your family, to your friends, to your acquaintances in your everyday life and online matters. Your words can tear down, or they can build up. Your words can give life, or they can destroy. Your words can point others to Jesus where grace and truth meet, or they can lead others away from Jesus. “Words are not small things.” Our words matter.

Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.

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