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Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.

Have you ever wished you could take your words back? With your words you attacked a good friend and caused him deep hurt. Or with your words you turned a budding friendship back, a friendship that held much promise. Did you wonder where those words came from?

Or do you often find yourself in most unpleasant conversations, wondering how you got there? In the circle of your friends do you find yourself trash-talking someone outside your circle? Do you sometimes find yourself listening to the same old talk from your friends, trash-talking others? Perhaps there are times you engage each other in battle with your tongues, taking turns putting each other down and trading insults, sharpening your tongues on each other. Maybe you walk away thinking it was all in good fun. But you can’t help but feel hurt deep down or guilty that you must certainly have hurt the other’s feelings.

Do you know what Scripture has to say about all that language? James 3:8: “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” James 4:11: “Speak not evil one of another brethren.” Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Galatians 5:15: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”

You must allow those words to pass their judgment on your speech. Do not turn them aside with your own reasoning or justifications that “it’s just the way we show friendship”; “everybody knows we’re kidding”; or, “it’s what everybody does nowadays.” No, Scripture addresses your language with these passages. Feel the force of its rebuke.

You must also ask yourself from whence this kind of speech and language proceeds. No doubt the culture in which you live, broadcasted through your television screen, has its role. Television situation-comedies, especially family comedies, feature vicious putdowns. Children put down their parents. Wives put down their husbands. The more scathing the attack the more laughter ensues. Opponents in sports are known for trashing the opposition with their tongues before a game. As a willing audience, you take part vicariously in that talk, and that talk influences you. So, watch what you watch!

But you must go deeper. You must not think that you are merely a victim of your culture. Don’t think that the only reason you talk this way is that you have no control over yourself. This kind of language comes from your heart. This is the emphasis of the Lord over and over again. Matthew 15:18, 19: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

What is even more fearful is that in the use of such language you become the willing tool of your enemy, the devil. Do not be deceived! Satan, according to his name, is the slanderer or accuser of the brethren. Think of his nefarious words in Job 1:9. Think of his standing before the Lord, ready to accuse Joshua the high priest of his unworthiness to be a priest to the living God (Zech. 3:1). That is not all! You might not think of yourself as the tool of the devil when you speak contemptuous words of your fellow saints. But the devil rejoices to hear such words spoken of the people of God. You see, they are words that he can bring before God: “See what so-and-so thinks of thy son, thy daughter?!!” The devil delights to hear that speech because he uses it as a tool to divide between friends in the Lord, putting fear and doubt into a relationship where there ought to be love and trust. He delights in the froward speech and whisperings that separate chief friends (Prov. 16:28).

That last passage leads us to the kind of damage that this evil use of the tongue can cause. I am not going to say that you will have no friendships in which you speak to each other this way. You might have them, but those friendships will be shallow. Those friendships will revolve around superficial things. This lack of depth will prevent discussions of spiritual matters or matters of the heart. You will find little or no support and true encouragement in those relationships.

Why? Because relations that have such language cannot be based on trust, nor are they true friendships. The kind of language that mistreats friends destroys trust. It therefore makes true fellowship impossible. It is impossible to think that a person who talks to you that way will always and unconditionally seek your best interests. If you talk to others in this way, you likewise will be unable to earn their deepest trust.

This speech is highly displeasing to God. In Psalm 109:17-19, David addresses the wicked man according to his destructive speech: “As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones. Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.”

The reason why this speech is highly displeasing to God is that it contradicts the word of God. The word of God is a word that always builds up in every respect, aiming at the believer’s ultimate well-being and comfort. The word of God, most importantly, is a word of justification: declaring that person righteous in Jesus Christ. That language is the language of friendship in the Lord’s everlasting covenant of grace. By that speech God gives to His friend the highest status: good in the sight of God, acceptable, and worthy of every blessing, of eternal life itself.


For the proper use of the tongue we must begin with that speech of God in our justification. Your privilege by the grace of God is to believe and confess that glorious doctrine! Through that faith and confession you know your own justification before the bar of God’s justice. That language is delightful and lovely. How sweet it is to the believer’s ear, and how it brings healing and prosperity! With that language, and by the inner, gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, the believer seeks out the Lord and delights to hear this word from God in His presence. That language strengthens the believer’s faith and trust in the Lord. His fellowship with God grows stronger and more blessed.

The privilege of this word of justification is that it is not the sole possession of the individual believer. It is the gospel of God proclaimed through the ministry of the word to the church of Jesus Christ, His body. Together you hear that word. Together you believe it. Together you are justified. That sweet and delightful word is your common inheritance.

What a blessed word to reflect in our speech with each other! What a privilege to bring your speech into harmony with that language of God and the purpose of God! With such speech you become an instrument in the Lord’s hand to strengthen one another’s trust in the Lord. Many Scriptures there are that tell us how to use our tongues well, to treat each other well. Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt….” Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

How do you speak properly, then? When you think about it, all the ways that the tongue can be used for evil are mirrored by ways that are good.

Your tongue must be guided consciously by your love for your brother or sister. You must first develop a high regard for him or her. First, develop the same regard that God has. What are they in the sight of God? Elect, precious, of great value, through Christ. See them according to their true, spiritual status: in and prosperity! With that language, and by the inner, gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, the believer seeks out the Lord and delights to hear this word from God in His presence. That language strengthens the believer’s faith and trust in the Lord. His fellowship with God grows stronger and more blessed.

The privilege of this word of justification is that it is not the sole possession of the individual believer. It is the gospel of God proclaimed through the ministry of the word to the church of Jesus Christ, His body. Together you hear that word. Together you believe it. Together you are justified. That sweet and delightful word is your common inheritance.

What a blessed word to reflect in our speech with each other! What a privilege to bring your speech into harmony with that language of God and the purpose of God! With such speech you become an instrument in the Lord’s hand to strengthen one another’s trust in the Lord. Many Scriptures there are that tell us how to use our tongues well, to treat each other well. Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt….” Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

How do you speak properly, then? When you think about it, all the ways that the tongue can be used for evil are mirrored by ways that are good.

Your tongue must be guided consciously by your love for your brother or sister. You must first develop a high regard for him or her. First, develop the same regard that God has. What are they in the sight of God? Elect, precious, of great value, through Christ. See them according to their true, spiritual status: in

conver sation about others, you cover over a person’s weaknesses and failures. Instead you talk about their strengths and the fruits of the Spirit you observe in them. You talk about their contribution to the body of Christ, delighting in their spiritual virtues as the gifts of God that make the church prosperous.

The fruits and benefits of this proper use of the tongue are outstanding. Most of all, the Lord’s name is glorified. He has taken His name and in covenant mercy placed it upon you and upon your fellow saints. When you speak well of and to one another in the body, you speak well of God’s name. His gifts in you and in others are remembered and celebrated; His name is praised. Those same gifts are developed in part through encouragement. Their use is encouraged by the bonds of fellowship, which fellowship is strengthened through good speech. God receives glory and honor when His people use their gifts for one another’s well-being.

This good speech also bears the fruit of strengthened relations in the church. The unity of the body of Christ becomes more evident. It becomes plain through your speech that you are for one another. You have confidence in one another, and your hearts are filled with a stronger and richer peace toward each other. With these strong ties you are able to help each other because you can confide in each other. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).

Use your tongues well. Make them instruments of blessing and confidence toward each other. Through your tongues you will be strong.