One of the important “one another” commands in the New Testament is what we say to one another. It is easy to forget that it matters to God what we say to each other. Let us listen and consider some of the commands concerning what we say to other people.
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:8–10 ESV)
God tells us that we do not lie to one another or deceive one another because that is part of your old life. That is the sinful, worldly life. We do not lie to people anymore because we are putting on a new self that is being renewed after the image of our God and Father. How easy it is to lie when it is for our own advantage! How great the temptation is to deceive when it will help save our skin from trouble! But Christians do not lie because lying shows you have not put off the old self and that old way of life. Let us listen to another common regarding one another.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:25–26 ESV)
How easy it is to use our words to provoke people! This is an interesting Greek word that only occurs here in the New Testament. According to Mounce it means “to call out, challenge to fight; to provoke, irritate, with feelings of ungenerous rivalry.” We are big into this idea of “calling people out” today. The idea is to call someone out to embarrass them and elevate yourself. We are trying to provoke people. We are being irritating. We are challenging people. God says that if we belong to him and are walking according to the Spirit then we will not do this to other people. We will not provoke them, challenge them, or irritate them. We will not push people’s buttons with our words. We do not antagonize. We do not stir people up in a negative way. Consider another sin we fall into with our words.
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (James 5:9 ESV)
Oh, how we like to complain against other people! But there if there is one thing we see in the scriptures that God hates is complaining. He hates complaining against him and complaining against others. God reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:10 that he destroyed the people in the wilderness when they were complaining. We know that we should not complain, particularly about what other people are doing. But how hard it is to stop! We feel like we are so right and the other person is so wrong. Yet, notice the consequence James names for us complaining and grumbling about other people. Do not grumble so that you will not be judged. Complaining brings judgment on ourselves. God is going to judge us for complaining against others. Consider yet another sin in our words that God identifies.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11–12 ESV)
James also says to not speak against other people. Do not speak evil of them. Listen to the reasoning why we must not speak against other people. If you speak against another, you are speaking evil against the law and are judging the law. And, if you are judging the law, then you are not a doer of the law. When you speak evil of others you are elevating yourself over them and setting yourself up as judge over them. But listen to what James says. There is only one judge. There is only one lawgiver. If you set yourself up as judge, then you are usurp the authority of God. What a dangerous thing we are doing when we speak against other people! We are usurping God’s authority and elevating ourselves to the stature of judge. You now are a judge of the law and you speak evil of the law because the law tells you not to speak against others! Who do we think we are to pass such judge in our minds and hearts when we speak about other people like this! This is why James warns us about the need for watching our tongues and understand the power of our tongues.
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:5–12 ESV)
You hear the warning that James gives about our tongues. It is powerful. It is a fire. It stains our whole body. We can tame animals and all kinds of wild creatures. But no human being can tame the tongue. Just when you think you have a handle on your tongue you say something evil. James says that our tongues are a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
But what I want us to notice is the reason why we struggle with our tongues. Why do we complain against others? Why do we speak against other people? Why do we lie and deceive? Why do we provoke others and irritate others? Listen to what James says in verses 9-12 and consider what he asks. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree bear olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? A salt pond cannot yield fresh water. What is James telling us? What has happened if cursing and evil is coming out of our mouths? What does it mean if we speak evil and complain? It reveals that we have a problem with our source. The words are simply the outcome of the condition of our hearts. Our spring must be contaminated if we have a problem with our tongues. Turn to Matthew 12 and consider what Jesus taught about this concept.
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33–37 ESV)
A tree is known by its fruit. How can you speak good when you are evil. Now, notice the critical principle which is the issue for how we speak to others. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If the treasure inside of you is good then good is going to come out of the mouth. If the treasure inside of you is evil then evil is going to come out of the mouth. The reason why we struggle with complaining against others, speaking evil against others, provoking others, and lie and deceiving others is because we have not addressed the condition of our hearts. Our hearts are contaminated. Our hearts are not clean. The issue is deep down inside of us.
I want us to notice the seriousness of this sin. Too often we can think that it is just words. Our politicians do that to us. It is just words. So who cares what you say? Who cares if you lie? Who cares if you go back on your word? Who cares if you deceive? The answer is that God cares. Look at verse 36. People are going to give an account for every careless word spoken. Further, Jesus says that by our words we will be justified or condemned. Please stop and consider those words. Is that frightening?
Why would Jesus say that we would be justified or condemned by our words? The reason why is because our words reflect our hearts. What we say comes from what is inside of us. A salty spring produces salt water. Fig trees cannot produces olives. Vines cannot produce figs. A freshwater spring does not produce saltwater. Sinful words do not come from a clean heart. This is why we can be judged by our words. Further, notice that we are judged by our careless words. We need to be far more careful what we say. We need to listen to James who tells us to be slow to speak. Even our thoughtless and careless words will be judged by God.
What Must Be Do?
So what must we do to be able to not receive condemnation for our words? What do we need to do so that we can be justified by our words? We must address our hearts. We are not reading the word of God in a way so that we are transforming our hearts to be purer and clearer. We are not avoiding watching, listening to, and reading worldly things that encourage us to use our tongues in sinful ways. We have to detox our hearts if we are going to change the words that we say. We have to let God’s word and his grace perform radical surgery on our hearts. We have to read God’s word in a way so that we are broken by our failures and convicted by our sins. There are two responses you can have to God’s word when you read it and when you hear it. It can be blah blah blah or it can be eye opening and convicting. How do you read?
We have to read and listen to God’s word with the preparation for how this is going to change you today. I think that this has been missed historically for a long time among many brethren. Many do not see the value in studying books like Leviticus, Isaiah, or Song of Solomon because we are not approaching God’s word with the desire to be changed by God. We are reading and we are beholding the glory of the Lord that is change us into his image. If you no longer want to be mean to your spouse, you need to address your heart. If you want to no longer be mean to your children, you need to address your heart. If you want to be nice to your friends, you need to address your heart. If you want to be justified in the sight of your Lord, you need to address your heart. Your words will not change until you change your heart. Change what comes into your heart. Change what affects your heart. Change your influences. But most importantly, change your time with God and his word in a way so that you are affected for change when you spend time with him.