School teachers spoke them. Friends. Siblings. Parents. Even strangers spoke them. Words. Words remembered for a lifetime. Words that crushed. Words that affected our view of ourselves, and many times, our future courage and our future actions. Words that left us feeling broken and torn. Words we wish we’d never had to hear.
But words don’t have to squelch, mangle, tear.
For words — held back because our heart yearns to honor the Lord, held back because we pray for patience and self-restraint, held back because we view the person in front of us as inestimably valuable before the Father and more important than ourselves — those words, never spoken, don’t crush or destroy (Phil. 2:3-8). Those words wither away as wisps of empty air; they’re carried off like dust fallen into dirt. Those words, not allowed to pass from our lips, not heard by another, bring God glory. They, in the dirt, unspoken, blossom forth with life. They spring up as gifts of heart-transformed, hard-fought-for obedience offered to the Lord (James 3:2-18, I Peter 3:9-17).
But how do we break ourselves of the desire to speak murderous words? We dig deep into our heart’s dark places — into the whys behind the words. We become broken ourselves: we crush the license we give ourselves, in our own quest for self-glory, to tear others down. So. We must do that first. We must dig deep. We must ask God to show us when we’re sinning with words.
But, as we’re seeking God, asking Him to transform our heart (so that transformed talk would follow) we must do this: We must obey. We must guard our tongue. We must spit crushing words into the dirt.
Amy Carmichael used a short formula when guarding her own tongue (Prov. 18:21, James 1:26). Before speaking out loud about someone else, she trained herself to think through three questions, or sieves:
Let nothing be said about anyone unless it passes through the three sieves:
- Is it true?
- It is kind?
- Is it necessary?
So we ask ourselves when tempted to slander, gossip, insinuate, or outright crush:
- Is this true? Maybe.
- But, is it kind? Maybe, if it edifies and builds up our listener in the end.
- And it may be true and kind, but is what I’m thinking of saying necessary? Will this sentence, this bit of information passed on, produce life?
For that’s what we want: Life, not death. Breezes of kindness, not tearing words spoken from self-absorbed motives. We want that which is true, kind and necessary spoken about us; and we only want to speak that which is true, kind and necessary about (and to) others (Phil. 4:8, Eph. 4:29, II Tim. 4:2).
We want to honor our Lord by our words.
We really do.