Words are like jackhammers. They make an impact. You may think what you have spoken had no real effect on its hearers but don’t be too sure. What jackhammers weaken is often revealed weeks later. Words matter because inevitably they put the ram in ramifications – whether good or bad.
Think about it. With your words you land a job. With your words you build intimacy. Your words have put you smack in the middle of some kinda trouble. Your words, even one word, stirred hatred in another’s heart. Your words have gotten you a date and your words may have lost you that same date, right?
I will never forget when my wife Gretchen sort of sealed our fate as a couple. She was so in love with me that she, yes, she, actually popped the question to me. I’ll never forget her words. Looking me straight in the eye with those blue eyes of hers, right in front of her own mother, and at her parent’s own kitchen table she actually asked, “Timothy Soukup, will you — let me get you another bowl of ice cream?” That was it! I was in. Words matter because they really do have an impact. You simply must use them, my friend, with extreme care.
James the just has a meaningful metaphor and an explanation to illustrate this truth in his epistle. Here is what the half-brother of Jesus says in James 3:3 and 5 – “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 5 – Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:3-5).
A husband and his wife were riding along together in a car. They had been quarreling and hadn’t spoken for a long time. Finally, they passed a mule in a pasture. The man pointed to the mule and asked his wife, “A relative of yours?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she responded, “Yes, by marriage.”
The story might bring a smile only because we all know mules are what? Stubborn. Well, so are mustangs. Did you know that? Mustangs left to themselves are unusable. Pretty to look at, run snortin’ fast, but left wild mustangs are useless for any task. You have to break a mustang before you get meaningful production.
This happens in part with a bit in the mustang’s mouth. Either a spade bit or a half-breed bit does the trick. That little piece of metal either one contains lies flat on the mustang’s tongue. By pulling on that small bit to the right or the left you basically control a 1, 500 to 2, 000 pound stallion of muscle and fury. Just that tiny bit in the mouth controls the whole beast.
“Our lives,” James is saying, “left to themselves are mustangs.” Wild and out of control in the sinful flesh we are at best a walking horse of inconsistency. One moment we are apparently morally good and the next we are abhorrently evil. Often the bit that controls the whole mustang of our lives riding against God and his will is that small bit of our mouth or more specifically our tongue. Just like the metal bit in the horse’s mouth that little itty bitty bit of a tongue impacts the whole of our lives.
In 1984, there was a British writer and scrabble fanatic (Wouldn’t that be a great way to be remembered?) by the name of Gyles Brandreth. He predicted in the average lifetime a person will speak 860, 341, 500 words. Just as a reference point that is roughly equivalent to the number of words you would speak if you read through the Bible 1, 110 times out loud.
The point James is making with the stubborn horse bit analogy is those 800 million-plus words, those sentences, may seem trivial but taken as a whole they will determine the trajectory of your life. They will determine where you end up and impact others all along the way. James switches metaphors and says that like this a little later: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 – The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5b, 6).
At this point it is wise to stop and consider questions I hope are on the table before you. What kind of impact are you having on others with your words? What kind of realities are you giving shape to with the words you most frequently speak? How would your kids or grandkids answer those questions? What direction is your tongue taking you in life? How would the people who surround you at work answer that question?
“Jesus loves me.” “Jesus loves you.” “Wow, I am so grateful God has forgiven me in Christ so that I have the power to forgive you.” “Let’s pray about it.” Please, forgive me. I was wrong.” “You are always welcome to come worship with our church family.” “You my granddaughter are God’s radiant beauty by his grace.” “God is good … all the time!” Are words like these found most often falling from your lips? Make it happen. Get that bit that controls the mustang-self of your flesh mastered because words matter more than you know. How?
We have to change where we stand. Let me explain. In Psalm 19:14 there is this compelling prayer, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Notice that the first part of this prayer is a petition that God would align what we say, the literal words that come out of our mouths, with what delights God according to his will. When I place my words on your altar LORD may they be acceptable to you.
The second part of that verse is a humble acknowledgement. They declare, “The LORD is my Rock and Redeemer.” They certify that spoken words that are acceptable to God are heard from only someone who stands on the truth that God is his/her Rock and Redeemer. You see, here’s the thing. Unless, by God’s grace and Spirit, we first receive God’s blessing we cannot bless others. Unless the forgiving, converting love of God in Christ has caused us to believe salvation from our sin is ours in Christ and he is our Rock and Redeemer our struggle with words will be forever a losing battle. Why?
Because only God can transform the human heart from evil to good. Hence the Psalmist prays, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart…” Only God can give us the power to not only believe in Jesus as our Savior from sin but to express his love and kindness in action and word from the inside out. As Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Banana trees can’t produce watermelons. Old mustang-selves repeat the same old tawdry words.
So you see, we have to change where we stand before we might change what we speak. Or better yet, God in his grace changes our standing before him with faith in Jesus as our Savior from sin that now we might speak like the one who saved us and indwells us.
In the future when you are tempted to gossip or inflict pain on another with your words just stop for a moment. Stop and say to yourself, “The LORD is my Rock and my Redeemer.” Sit in that truth. Know your right standing in his love. Then be free to bless with your words that really do matter so much. Here is a closing short story I pray will remind you that the over eight million words you speak in your life can be very powerfully used by your Rock and Redeemer to be words of life to others as empowered by his love.
In 1991 Rabbi Michael Weisser moved to the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with his wife and 5 children. Just a day after they moved in the phone rang and the voice on the other end started spewing racial insults at the rabbi, calling him “Jew boy” and threatening his family and loved ones.
The next day a package arrived at the rabbi’s home containing anti-Semitic materials and an unsigned car that read, “The KKK is watching you scum.” Larry Trapp was a man living in the local community near Rabbi Weisser and he was widely known as the leader of the local KKK chapter. Rabbi Weisser kind of guessed that these threats were coming from Larry. He was right. So Rabbi Weisser found Larry’s phone number and once a week he left Larry a phone message.
Larry never picked up the phone, so every week the rabbi simply left another message, words of encouragement or love. He would say things like, “There’s a lot of love in the LORD, Larry, and I think you need it.” “I love you Larry and I am praying for you.” “If there is any way I can help you please, let me do so and I sincerely mean that.” “You can let go of the hate Larry the LORD will help you love and forgives you.” Then Rabbi Weisser would hang up and call again the next week.
This went on for months. No answer. Then late one night, the Rabbi’s phone rang and it was Larry Trapp. He was crying. Larry simply said, “I want to get out of what I am doing, but I don’t know how.” That night Rabbi Weisser and his family drove to Larry’s home. They spent 3 hours talking with the KKK leader and a friendship was formed.
Over the next several months, Mr. Trapp left the Klan. He made public apologies to those he had harmed as the words of the gospel began to have a transformational effect on his heart. Soon Larry’s health took a turn for the worse. He eventually moved inot the Rabbi’s house where he was cared for by Rabbi Weisser and his family until his eventual death. Right there in the Rabbi’s home, the very same place where he originally spoke words of hate, he died embraced by friendship with words of love and hope in Christ being spoken to him as he died. Now you please, think about that my friend. Get that image in your mind and then tell me that words don’t matter. They do. They really do. Words matter.