We all are evaluated by the way we talk to and about other people

by Kyle
published October 19, 2013


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One of my greatest failures in ministry came in the middle of a particularly hard mission trip.

Every now and then, you might get the opportunity to minister to someone who just gets it. They actually live like they love God and his people, and you can see them growing in leaps and bounds. They are natural leaders who draw other people in and make them feel comfortable in their own skin. They smile no matter what.

I had a young woman in my youth group who was exactly like that and I really loved working with her.

I, on the other hand, tend to put on sarcasm instead of a smile when I’m frustrated. I like to tell myself that most people who know me well know that I don’t really mean anything by my sarcasm. I found out that most people who know me well also hate my sarcasm.

One night, after a particularly hard day of this particularly hard mission trip, she asked me if she and a couple of the other youth could do something all the leaders on the trip had pretty consistently said no to. I thought that since “no” didn’t work, maybe a little bit of my trademark wit might make my point.

It did.

She came to me later in tears telling me just how well I had made my point. We talked, and I apologized. We remain friends to this day, but I still count that one of my biggest failures to date.

We all tend to tell ourselves lies about the words we use. We go so far as to use those lies to shape the way we think as a culture. We say things like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” How about, “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever bounces off me sticks to you?” Isn’t it interesting that we only think this way when we’ve actually been deeply wounded by words?

James begins the third chapter of his epistle making sure we understand this point. He points out how enormous ships are steered by a tiny rudder and how a little spark starts a huge fire. Horses are controlled by what is put in their mouths and we are controlled by what comes out of ours.

James also points out how we tend to use the same tongue to “bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” If our praise of God and prayers to him are effective, then why would we believe the lie that the words we use with other people aren’t?

This whole conversation about watching what we say with our mouths begins with a warning from James: “Not many of you should become teachers ... because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

This is why I count the failure I just wrote about, and so many like it, so terrible. I fail God in a special way because of my position.

But don’t get too comfortable.

The fact that your pastor or Sunday school teacher will be judged more strictly than you does not absolve you from responsibility. That teachers will be measured more strictly by the way they use their words implies that you, who are perhaps not a teacher, will still be evaluated primarily by the way you talk to and about other people.

If I might be blunt here, the way you and I talk to and about other people deeply wounds them and it needs to stop.

Further, we are the most damnable kinds of hypocrites if we praise God on the one hand and speak so abominably about the people he loves and died for.

So because our words are so powerful, should we focus on not saying bad things?


Nature abhors a vacuum. You can’t just stop a behavior without replacing it with another. Look at what Paul says about the way we use our mouths in Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but [only] what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

If we are going to “tame our tongues,” then we need not only to suppress the caustic and corrosive things we say, but we also need to replace them with encouragement, even when we need to encourage people who have messed up to be better. God used his words to build this universe in Genesis 1 and we are called to use our words to “build up” people.

People become better when they are encouraged instead of belittled. They believe the Gospel and come to know God because someone shares a message with them. Instead of gossiping and belittling, all for the sake of giving someone “a piece of our minds,” we can use what we say to profoundly improve this world.

So instead of breaking bones and hurting others, can we change that old familiar saying? “Sticks and stones may build houses, but words build people.”

What do you think?

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