The Weight of Your Words: Measuring the Impact of What You Say, by Joseph M. Stowell. Moody Press, 1998. Reviewed by Justin Koole.
Many books are written with a small percentage of the population in mind, whether it is parents, ministers, or those who struggle with alcoholism or depression, as a few examples. Very few books speak to every individual on the planet. This is one of them that does. Everyone has a tongue, and everyone uses it daily (well, almost everyone). And everyone has used his tongue in sin; this is a certainty.
The Weight of Your Words was originally published by Victor Books in 1983 titled as Tongue in Check. The second printing was republished by Moody Press in 1998. As many readers are aware, Dr. Stowell is the former president of Moody Bible Institute located in Chicago, IL and the current president of Cornerstone University (a Christian university located in Grand Rapids, MI).
This book is based on James 3 and is Stowell’s “attempt to address the issue” (p. 9) of how Christians’ talk is a destructive power in and outside the home, and undermines the work of Christ in the church. And he does a marvelous job of exactly that: expounding the Word of God plainly, using literally hundreds of Scripture passages to demonstrate his point. Sprinkled in are little quotes from a multitude of sources, as well as short stories based on his thirty-plus years experience in the pastorate. The stories and quotes make the book interesting and easy to read.
The book is neither a dogmatic nor a doctrinal dissertation on James 3. I characterize it more as a handbook, first on how the devil works through the use of one’s tongue and how the old man of sin often desecrates the tongue God gave man to glorify Himself; and second, what is the proper Christian behavior through proper speech.
Below are a several quotes that I personally enjoyed. They give a glimpse into how Stowell does not steer clear of difficult issues in order to avoid offending someone. (One can appreciate his directness when it comes to the sinfulness of human flesh.)
A raging river can be destructive and demolish everything in its path. But if the river is channeled to…produce electricity, the same power becomes beneficial and desirable (p. 10).
Having a tongue is like having dynamite in our dentures—it’s got to be reckoned with (p. 15).
We have an organized crime syndicate right in our mouths. Our tongues have the capacity to corrupt our entire beings. Nothing is exempt from the damage our tongues can cause (p. 19).
Stowell opens by summarizing James 3 in five principles, then continues by laying out the many sins the tongue and mouth commit, including, but not limited to, beguilement, deceit, lying, murmuring, slander, boasting, gossip, and taking God’s name in vain. Again, these six chapters are replete with Scripture passages. Stowell did his research in using Scripture as his rudder for laying out the many sins our tongue and mouth commit. Then, after laying out the many sins and the seriousness of them, Stowell delves into the origin of these sins, to demonstrate the necessity of a change of heart.
There is one area where I disagree with Stowell’s analysis. In dealing with the why and how of “God’s heart-transforming power” (p. 84), Stowell does mention the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts briefly on page 132. We know the Holy Spirit provides us a new life, so that we are able to follow His word. Stowell, in fact, often states that the power of God is the beginning of the new life for the transformation process, so that what is in the heart is shown through the spoken word. Yet, he stops short of, and fails to spend time showing, the effectual power of the Holy Spirit. That being said, he never insinuates or states that it is simply in man’s power to be able to overcome the devil and one’s own sinful flesh. It starts with daily prayer and the use of Scripture to change the heart.
Pick this book up and read it, and you will find yourself viewing your tongue (and really your heart) in a brand new light, for your spiritual benefit. One final quote: “Henry Ward Beecher said it well: ‘Speak when you are angry, and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever (emphasis mine—JMK) regret'” (p. 97)