This article is part of our series on The Power of Words. Words have always had the power to create life or to create death. Just like sticks and stones can break our bones, words can also break our spirit and our communion with God and others. Our hope is that this series will encourage and enable you to speak life-giving words to others by being rooted deeply in God’s Word. Read previous articles in this series here:
- “Sticks and Stones and Words that Hurt” by Gretchen Saffles
- "Speaking from the Overflow” by Jessica Mathisen
Using My Words
I’m a person of many words. They trip up lightly from my heart and spill out all over my life. Sometimes my words bring life and laughter and redemption, but too often they breed destruction and dismay. Although my words flow freely and I work with words as my job, I spend very little time considering my words. By the time I start paying attention to them it’s too late; I’ve already hurt my family, or my words have run roughshod over a friend’s needs and feelings.
When my careless words wound, remorse and shame soon follow. I wish I had thought before I talked. If only I had kept my mouth shut. I wish I hadn’t yelled. If only I hadn’t treasured my good advice over her need to share. I wish I had shared the truth of the gospel instead of expecting perfection. So I pick up the sword of self-confidence and resolve to do battle against my words. I intend to talk less and listen better, to encourage rather than critique, to respond with gentleness instead of harsh language. I desperately want to do better, but no matter how hard I try, I keep failing. I’m in a war that will never be won because I’m fighting the wrong battle.
War of Words
A book about words once changed my mom’s life. No, that’s not hyperbole. She rightly credits War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp with teaching her a perspective on her own heart that has born good fruit in all areas of her life. So I picked it up and saw how it had shaped her life, and mine by proxy. It is full of gospel truths that I had never applied to my words. I needed them desperately. These concepts are only a taste of the freedom and redemption offered as Paul Tripp unpacks our struggle with communication through the lens of God’s Word, but I hope they will help you to pick up the sword of God’s Word and do battle in a way that will lead to true freedom.
God Values Words
God created words and he created the world by speaking. Our ability to speak is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals God made. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve spoke with their Creator. They needed the truth that God was teaching them. It wasn’t until Satan came that God’s Word was distorted and the first lie was told. Adam and Eve choose to follow the distortion and the Distorter instead of God because they were jealous of God’s power and rule (Gen. 3:5–6). In War of Words, Tripp says, “Sadly the world of Genesis 1 is long gone. The wonderful gift of communication has become the source of much sin and suffering.” The fall corrupted our words, but they can still be redeemed to reflect God’s glory to others.
Words Change when Hearts Change
I’ve failed to bridle my tongue more times than I could possibly count. In the war to communicate redemptively with the people around me, I’m losing. I feel like I’ve tried everything to fix this problem, and nothing helps. Instead of speaking the healing truth of the gospel, I brandish my words like a sword to injure. I can’t win this battle because I’m focusing on the wrong problem and the wrong solution.
We use our words to interpret and explain the world around us, which means everything that we say gets filtered through what’s happening in our hearts. As Tripp writes, “Word problems reveal heart problems. The people and situations around us do not make us say what we say; they are only the occasion for our hearts to reveal themselves in our words.” The real problem isn’t our difficult circumstances or relationships; the real problem is our hearts. We brandish our words like swords to help us accomplish the desires of our hearts.
When our primary desire is for a relationship with God and to share it with the world, our words fight to reflect God and his glory to those around us. When we let other desires (even good desires) eclipse our desire for God, our words go to battle against others to achieve our selfish goals. Sure, we can get our words under control by our own willpower for a short time, but ultimately our words always display what’s in our hearts. The only lasting solution for our problem with words is to come before God and ask for his help to reorder the desires of our hearts and reignite our desire for him.
Our Words are Acts of Service
Our words not only reveal our desires, but they also reveal who we are serving. God is King of the Universe, Creator of us and our words. He rules over all things for our good and for his glory. Yet we often pursue our own agenda. We set ourselves up as the sovereign of our lives, and our words act as our soldiers, working hard to carry out our plans to achieve our desires. Or we may follow God with the ultimate desire not to be in relationship with a holy God and serve in his kingdom on earth, but to get the good gifts he bestows on his children. This keeps us as the sovereign over our lives as we seek to manipulate our worlds and control our relationships to achieve our desires.
For many years, I longed for a daughter above all else. I let my good desire eclipse my desire for God. It wasn’t until I came face-to-face with the reality that it was unlikely I would ever get my desire that I realized I had placed it on the throne of my heart. Our words are always serving someone or something, which means we can use our words to identify places we’ve elevated the creation above the Creator.
Next time you find yourself in an argument or hurting others with your words, ask yourself, what am I wanting that I’m not getting? What goal are these words trying to achieve? The good news is that with a reordered heart and God on his rightful throne in our lives, we can see real change happen in our communication with others.
Start with Repentance
By this point in the book, I found myself wondering how to change. I’ve felt so defeated in the war to tame my tongue that I wanted a practical way forward. Instead of offering five steps to redeem our words, Tripp outlines the simple path forward by teaching biblical repentance. Tripp says, “Repentance in Scripture is defined as a radical change in your heart that leads to a radical change in your life.”
The truth is that our hearts and words can only change by the power of the gospel and the inworking of the Holy Spirit. The entire foundation of repentance is the gospel itself. Jesus came to change our hearts and our words. He is the Prince of Peace, offering us reconciliation with God and with others through the gospel. He offers mercy for sinners. In him, there is no condemnation. Because of Jesus’ work, we can repent and experience the unfailing love and acceptance of God. Then we can experience true change, as our hearts seek to honor God and the Holy Spirit works within us to produce good fruit.
There’s so Much More
This book offered so much more than what I can give you in this article. If you’ve found this taste helpful, I highly recommend picking up a copy to read for yourself. But even more so, I encourage you to pick up a book you already have on your shelf—God’s Word. Whatever your battle may look like today, there is wisdom and truth offered to you in the Word of God. Run to good books, like War of Words by Paul David Tripp, but run primarily to God and his Word. In it, you will find everything you need to experience the radical change offered by experiencing the gospel at work in your life.
Meet the Author:
Maggie Combs is the Content Editor at Well-Watered Women. She is also the author of Motherhood Without All the Rules: Trading Stressful Standards for Gospel Truths and Unsupermommy: Release Expectations, Embrace Imperfection, and Connect to God’s Superpower. Maggie is passionate about encouraging women to grow in holiness as they grow in relationship with God. She loves playing games with her husband and three boys, herding goats on their family farm, and reading young adult literature and cozy mysteries. It is her joy to disciple women in her local church and through her writing.