Jesus knew that one day His brother James would write, “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (Paraphrased, James 3:2) The Lord knew the tongue has the power to encourage or discourage; heal or wound; direct or deceive; comfort or discomfort; inspire or demoralize; preach truth or falsity; build up or tear down. Let us examine ideas that Jesus had for using speech as a tool for God’s greater purposes while avoiding its worse abuses.
Jesus taught people that how we say things is often as important as what we say. The Lord knew that a harsh word stirs up anger, but a soft word turns away wrath. (Prov. 15:1) When we are able to speak in a kindly tone we are able to avoid unnecessarily irritating our listeners.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for pretending to serve the Lord with their lips while failing to give their heartfelt commitment to God. Jesus said, “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'” (Matt. 15:6-9) Christ hated the sin of pretension. He taught that thinking Christians should first ask God for help in deciding what to say before speaking. The Lord Jesus chastened the Pharisees for using cleverly crafted words to manipulate special advantages for themselves. When you speak, do it as to the Lord rather than to please people.
Jesus spoke in such a way that His followers identified Him with His speech. The Good Shepherd said, “The Good Shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger.” (John 10:3-5) We develop a reputation based upon how we speak and reply to people’s requests. Learn to speak in a way that is consistently loving, gracious, and truthful.
Jesus was admired for not only what He said, but why He said it, how He spoke and because His words came from an authoritative source. “When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matt. 7:28,29) The Lord spoke in a way that sharply contrasted with the predictable speaking of other teachers. The Lord spoke with such conviction, vitality, and energy that people knew He was communicating a message from God.
Jesus recognized the importance of letting the Holy Spirit speak to each believer before they could be able to speak on His behalf. The Lord said, “When you are brought before the synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:12) God provides us with ideas from the Holy Spirit to guide us to speak the truth in love in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Jesus recognized the importance of being around all types of people in His body, the church, to complement our unique individual gifts. The Lord said, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23) As all of the spiritual gifts in the church work in synchronization, we are able to maximize one another’s contributions.
Jesus knew the importance of public praise, prayer, and testimonies to reinforce the power of our corporate worship. The Lord knew that Paul would write, “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ. From Him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grow and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:15,16) Regular practice of assembling together for mutual edification is an important nutrient for all believers.
Jesus focused believer’s speech toward being His witnesses to a world dying in their sins. He said, “You shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.” (Acts 1:8)
Conclusion: We do not have to be eloquent, but we are required to faithfully testify what the Lord has done to those people who are in our concentric circles of responsibility. Trust the Lord to use you in ways that will edify (build up) people with your tongue.