Years ago in university, I was sending an email about a faculty award. I’d chosen the words carefully, agonizing over how to come across as intelligent. Finally, I thought it was perfect, and I hit send, only to gasp in horror as I realized I’d signed off the email, not with a professional “sincerely”, or “regards”, but with “Love”! I remember frantically clicking the back button, even hitting “control z”, desperately hoping I could undo those wrongly chosen words, even though I knew it was impossible. This is a funny example, but every one of us can recall times when our words have accidentally or intentionally hurt others. We all know that with email and text messaging, once we hit send, it’s out there, and we can’t take it back. It can be easy to forget in the moment that our words are the same way. There’s no undo button for a word that wounds.
In Pastor Ken’s sermon two weeks ago, we learned that control of our tongues is vital if we are going to follow God’s direction for our lives. “By putting a bit in the mouth of a horse, we can turn the horse in different directions”, (James 3:3 CEV) and in the same way, the words we speak directly influence our course through life, and the lives of others too! Imagine a horse without a bit or bridle, with its rider unable to control where its strength is directed. James suggests that we are going through life in this way, while our uncontrolled tongues (and typing fingers) wreak havoc. I tremble when I think of what damage my unbridled words have caused. If we want to avoid causing harm, we need to remember “All of us do many wrong things. But if you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body” (James 3:2, CEV).
In the book of John, it says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV). When God (And Jesus with Him), spoke, the universe came into being. From the perfect word of God, life was created, and life continues to be found in the words of the Bible every day. God has created us in His image (Genesis 1:27), and like him, our words can have great power as well. Proverbs 18:21 reads, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” (NIV) In a much lesser, but still very powerful way, we too can speak life or death to those around us.
David was very aware of the tongue’s potential to build up or destroy when he prayed, “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). He goes on to make the connection between what we speak and where we go in the next verse, “Do not let my heart be drawn to evil (Psalm 141:4). Once again we see that our tongues determine our direction and that if we want to avoid evil, we need to choose our words very carefully. It’s also important to remember that we can’t achieve this control from our own strength. We need God’s forgiveness and power to tame our tongues.
If you, like me, feel convicted when you think about the times you have spoken death instead of life, or hell instead of heaven, you are not alone. Isaiah, when he saw a vision of the Lord in his temple, cried out “I’m doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord All-Powerful.” (Isaiah 6:5 CEV). Perhaps you wonder if the words of your past will disqualify you from being used by God. But the verse goes on:
“One of the flaming creatures flew over to me with burning coal that it had taken from the altar with a pair of metal tongs. It touched my lips with the hot coal and said, “This has touched your lips. Your sins are forgiven, and you are no longer guilty.” After this, I heard the Lord ask, “Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?”
“I’ll go,” I answered. “Send me!”
Isaiah 6:6-8 CEV
Jesus’ sacrifice has cleansed our lips, just as the hot coal purified Isaiah. As soon as his unclean words had been dealt with, Isaiah responds “Send me!” If we have ever spoken death instead of life, we only need to come to Jesus. He releases us to be sent out to speak life in His Name! Let’s not be held back by past sins, but remember this year’s theme verse:
Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me.
Philippians 3:13 ERV
Let’s press on, keep our focus on him, and speak life!