Many of you reading this article are Christians, maybe you’ve been a Christian for several years and might even be mature Christian leaders. But when it comes to the sin of the tongue, it is a sin that needs a special guarding against. It is so pervasive that even mature Christians don’t realize how many times they sin with their words. The pandemic has caused many in our society to work from home. Therefore men and women have spent more time talking to each other more than they were probably used to. Due to the lockdown, I as a pastor have seen conflict in families and couples who have sinned against each other with their words. So, I think it is apt to remind ourselves of the Bible’s teaching regarding the tongue. This article will discuss God’s purposes for the pastor’s tongue.
1. We Are To Speak Words That Make Alive
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” Prov. 15:4
Words can heal. Words are like fruit or food for us; we need them to live. Most of us remember, even after many years have passed, the words from a passage in a book. Or something said by a friend or teacher that “turned on a light” or that implanted new ideas that we never forgot.
God’s intention for our tongue from the Garden until now is that our words be truthful.
I still remember a sentence in a sermon that a pastor preached many years ago. It was so powerful, it “turned on a light” in my heart. His sentence was so convicting that I was compelled to quit my job and move to the other side of the world. Words are powerful.
God’s purposes for us, especially pastors, is to speak words that give life. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, which means that God intended for Adam and Eve to speak words that give life. Moreover, the only word that gives life is God’s word. So God intends for people to be spiritually healed and sustained through speaking God’s word to one another.
God wants us to use words that give life.
2. We Are To Speak Truthful Words
“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” Prov. 24:26
A kiss on the lips was and even now is an act of special intimacy. If an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips, then a lie is like a slap on the face. That means that if you lie to someone then you don’t really love that person. Joy Davidman wrote, “The lies of gossip make haters out of us, the lies of advertising make money out of us, and the lies of politicians make power out of us.”
Every lie uses a person rather than loving a person. By keeping the truth from someone, you keep that person in a dependent posture and exploit them. God’s intention for our tongue from the Garden until now is that our words be truthful. Why? In order to show our love and intimacy with one another. We were created to be truthful if we are to be like God, because God only speaks the truth. God always means exactly what He says and says exactly what He means.
When I was a pastoral intern, I had to preach in front of some of the elders and staff of the church. I thought the sermon I had prepared was an amazing sermon. However, after I preached it, the elders shook their heads and said I had made some serious errors in my handling of the text. For two days, I was depressed. But after those couple of days, I agreed with their assessment. Looking back on it, I am so thankful that they spoke truth to me. Even though it was painful, their feedback has helped me improve handling God’s word.
God wants us to use words that are truthful.
3. We Are To Speak Kind Words
“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Prov. 12:25
If an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips, then a lie is like a slap on the face.
Another mark of a good speech is kindness. It is not enough for words to be truthful. The word kind means pleasant and sweet, timely and thoughtful. God never intended for our words to be used as weapons, so that we can win an argument, to punish or pay back another person, or to defend our pride or look good to others. Paul says that every word should pass the kindness test of benefiting those who listen according to their needs (Eph. 4:29). God intended for our words to always have a ministry motive.
I have a friend Dr. Saji who exemplifies this. He speaks with such kindness that I can feel love even in a rebuke.
God wants us to use words that are kind.
4. We Are To Speak Gentle Words
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Prov. 15:1
A kind word talks about the motives of our speech, but a gentle word talks about our tone or demeanour. Being gentle does not mean always agreeing, rather it means to be respectful and friendly. God’s purpose is for us to speak gently even when people are arguing with us instead of responding with harsh words. This is difficult. If you respond gently, you might appear weak. Rehoboam was afraid of looking weak, so he gave a harsh answer which cost him his kingdom.
Pastors are shepherds. Shepherds by their very function should be gentle. I remember being at a pastoral conference a couple of years ago. The speaker, an elderly pastor in his seventies, said when he was a young pastor, he was so harsh with his sheep. Many times he left them bloody and even more wounded than when they first saw him. He said how much he regretted acting this way later on in life.
God’s will for pastors is that we don’t curse when people curse us, in the church or in traffic (Rom. 12:14). When we do this, it de-escalates the argument. When we respond gently, there’s a good chance that the angry person will think, “Oh, I don’t like what this fellow is saying, but the way he’s talking shows that he cares about me.”
God wants us to use words that are gentle.
5. We Are To Speak Apt Words
“The lips of the righteous know what finds favour…” Prov. 10:32a
God intends for our words to be apt. In other words, our words should appeal to the listener and persuade. God’s will for our tongue is to fit our words to the listener’s circumstances, temperament and culture. In this way, they will be persuasive and attractive.
I remember an incident two years ago with the same elderly pastor I had previously mentioned. At the pastoral conference, he spoke about the pastor’s duty to spend time on his knees in secret. I was convicted of my sin of prayerlessness. It felt like he was holding a machine gun and the bullets were piercing my soul. After the session, I went to thank him and began to confess my sin of prayerlessness. While doing so, I began to choke up. He grabbed my shoulder and then spoke a soft, gentle word of encouragement. It was one of the most aptly timed encouragements I can remember.
Words take craftsmanship. God intends for us to use truthful, kind, and gentle words. He also wants us to use apt, appropriate, and beautiful words.
In this article, I’ve briefly mentioned five ways in which God intends for us to use our tongue. Unfortunately, as fallen, sinful creatures, we have all rebelled against God and His purposes for our tongue. In the next article, we will take a look at how the tongue is sinfully used.
To read Part 2 of this series of articles (The Pastor’s sinful use of his Tongue’), click here.To read Part 3 of this series of articles (How the Gospel redeems the Tongue), click here.