If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:1-11 [ESV]
I took the title of this post from a book by Carole Mayhall. The back cover says, “If we need proof of the tongue’s impact, we need look no further than our own lives and the hurts and wounds our callous speech has caused. The Bible tells us that our mouths are to be fountains of life, but our day-to-day interactions prove otherwise. So how do we address our hearts as well as our words?”
There is no truth to the children’s saying about words’ inability to hurt us. I think of my 6th grade teacher calling me dumb, or an angry man telling me I had gravely mistreated the church of which he was a member and I was pastor. I won’t even repeat his words. Sad. And hurtful. Maybe you’ve heard words of anger, bitterness, resentment, or judgment aimed at your heart. That is not the work of the Holy Spirit.
God’s word is clear here, “But now you must put…obscene talk from your mouth.” Likewise Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “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.” Jesus counsels, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36) God cares about our words.
Our words grow, moreover, not from a dictionary or thesaurus. Our words grow from our hearts. Evil speaks as evil thinks. And because we have died to the things of this world. Our hearts and minds are fixed on Christ. Out of that will come words of grace, kindness, mercy, love, truth, and hope. We will speak to each other in an attitude of gentleness and humility. In that we will honor God and express our identity as children of God.
But what if we don’t? What if we slip and speak unkind and hurtful words to our spouse or child? What if your best friend ends up hearing you berate her? What if your subordinate at work is the recipient of your verbal tirade? This ought not be. But sometimes we are reminded that although we’ve died to the passions of the flesh and the world’s ways, our sinful flesh remains. And once in a while it gets the better of us.
That’s when the pure goodness of God, his unwavering love for you and me, and his gracious kindness is such a comfort. For his words to those who realize their sin, and turn to him in repentance are words of mercy and grace that heal sin-sick souls. He says, “I do not condemn you. I forgive you. You are mine. Now, go and speak truth to your neighbor in kindness, gentleness, humility, and love. Those are words that heal.