Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
(Ephesians 4:29, The Message)
I grew up watching my mischievous little brother occasionally get his mouth washed out with a bar of soap. As the firstborn perfectionistic good girl, the chunk of Ivory never made its appearance near my tastebuds, so I was free to snicker quietly as the suds abounded in my little archenemy.
But as I grew up, my tongue began taking on a life of its own. No, profanity was never my issue; sarcasm was. I became an expert on unleashing a little barb here, a bit of an arrow there, all with tone and language. A wall was built around my heart for protection, and sarcasm was the guard of the door. I didn’t realize how much I depended on it until I decided to give it up for Lent one year. (I’m obviously not Catholic—I just thought it might be interesting to ditch one bad habit for a while as a personal experiment.) Let’s just say it was an eye-opener.
God says that the way we speak holds the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Sarcasm isn’t the only weapon forged and wielded by the tongue. Other life-draining daggers can come in the form of complaining, arguing, being rude (or just plain mean), gossiping, cursing, lying, telling dirty jokes, and bragging. Scripture talks about each one of these areas, so if you’re interested, take a while and study it more in depth. Being around someone who constantly engages any of these habits can really have a negative impact on your own attitudes and speech patterns. Likewise, if you are constantly engaging any of these areas, your tongue is being given the power to bring death rather than life to those around you. Take back the reins and keep an in-mouth filter on whatever is allowed to come out.
So the death part makes sense, right? If you are known as a gossip (or complainer or liar or whatever), others may struggle with opening up to you. This brings death to both them and you, cheating you out of a thriving, safe friendship with them. So what about the life-giving part? You can speak truth and beauty and compassion and gratitude and encouragement and prayer and purity into someone’s life. Think for a minute about those you come into contact with on a daily basis. Chances are pretty slim that they are surrounded by life-givers all the time. But as a redeemed child of the King who gives life abundantly, you can be that oasis. If you want to make an impact in the world, start with your mouth. Keep bad things from coming out and let the good things flow freely. If you’re feeling brave, ask a close friend or family member to be honest about the way you speak. Do you typically bring life or death to others?
When we give our lives over to the direction of Jesus, that includes our tongue (and our fingers if we are “speaking” via social media). Believers should talk differently than everyone else because we are the only ones who have experienced rescue at the deepest level possible. Joy, not profanity, should be familiar to your mouth. Gratitude, not complaining, needs to become a habit. The tongue plays a part in salvation (Romans 10:9-10), so let the Spirit do some refining in that area. Just preferably not with a bar of Ivory soap.