Communication [keh-mew-neh-ka-shon], noun: a process of sharing information with another person in such a way that the sender’s message is understood in the way he intended it to be understood.

In a previous article, we introduced the subject of communication. We looked at the nature of communication (using the definition above), and we considered what a precious gift communication is.

The introduction continues with this article. Before turning in future articles to specific principles of good communication, I want in this article to continue to lay the groundwork by considering the importance of communication and the source of it.


The importance of communication

The importance of communication for our earthly relationships can hardly be overstated. There is an inseparable connection between the nature of one’s communication with another person and the strength of your relationship to that person. Good communication is an indicator that a healthy relationship exists; poor communication is an indicator that an unhealthy relationship exists.

The Bible speaks often of the importance and power of our words. The book of Proverbs is filled with references both to the negative and positive power of our words. Read carefully and reflect on the following verses:

  • “An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbor: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered” (11:9).
  • “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health” (12:18).
  • “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit” (15:4).
  • “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (15:23).
  • “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (16:24).
  • “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (18:21)
  • “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (25:11).

Another important passage on the subject of the power of our words is James 3:1-12. There the tongue is compared to the bit in a horse’s mouth and to the rudder of a ship. A bit is a small piece of metal placed in the mouth of a horse, but with that small bit the rider is able to turn the powerful horse in whatever direction he pleases. A rudder is a relatively small piece on a large ship, but with that small rudder the helmsman is able to turn the great ship in whatever direction he pleases. So is the tongue a small member of our body, but a member with great power: “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing” (3:9, 10a).

Where there is sinful communication in a relationship, the relationship suffers. For example, if your communication with your parents is characterized by lying and angry speech, your relationship with them suffers. If your communication with a friend remains on the surface level, the relationship will not grow. Consider the following consequences of ineffective communication on our relationships:1

  • The relationship remains superficial and shallow. We do not really get to know each other. The development of deep unity and intimacy is hindered.
  • Simple disagreements blow up and become huge.
  • Important issues remain unclarified.
  • Wrong ideas are uncorrected.
  • Matters that need attention are neglected.
  • Conflicts and misunderstandings are unresolved.
  • Wise decision-making is thwarted.
  • Love and affection are not expressed.
  • We do not receive spiritual help from each other.

Boredom and discontentment with the relationship develop. Suspicions are aroused. Frustration arises and turns into bitterness, resentment, hatred, and a desire for revenge.

On the other hand, good communication promotes health in a relationship. For example, if there is good communication with your parents, your relationship with them is healthy. If your communication with a friend is proper, the friendship grows. Consider now the opposite effects of good communication in our relationships:

  • The relationship is deepened. We really get to know each other. There is the development of deep unity and intimacy.
  • Simple disagreements are worked through and do not become huge.
  • Important issues are clarified.
  • Wrong ideas are corrected.
  • Matters that need attention are addressed.
  • Conflicts and misunderstandings are resolved.
  • Wise decision-making is promoted.
  • Love and affection are expressed.
  • Spiritual help is given and received.
  • The relationship is characterized by joy and mutual trust.

An appreciation for the power and value of words lends itself to our using them well. Think of this in terms of a good kitchen knife (after all, Prov. 12:18 refers to our words as a sword). If you appreciate the power of the knife, you know that it is a sharp instrument for cutting that can be used for great good (for example, prepping meals) or for great harm (for example, slicing a finger). Knowing this, you will use the knife carefully and only for the purposes for which it was designed. An appreciation of the power of our words both for good and evil ought to lend itself to our using them carefully and for the purposes for which God designed them.

Knowing the power of our words, how urgently and regularly we pray: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). Knowing the power of our words, how zealously we strive: “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Ps. 39:1).


The source of communication

The words we speak come forth from our mouths, which means it is necessary for us constantly to learn to guard our lips and bridle our tongues. But the mouth is not the ultimate source of our communication. The source is much deeper. The source is the heart.

The heart is the source from which flows the whole stream of our life. Proverbs 4:23 exhorts us, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” This is true of our thoughts, emotions, and actions, as well as our words. Proverbs 16:23 says with respect to our words, “The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.” One of the clearest statements of this truth is found in Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:34-35, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” Later Jesus says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:18-19).

The source of all sinful communication is not ultimately in the mouth but in the sinful heart of man. Wicked words are motivated by sinful pride and selfishness. Why did I lie to my parents about where I was and what I did on Friday night? Because in my heart I’m concerned about saving my own skin from the consequences of my sins. Why did I blow up and speak angry words to my sibling? Because I did not get my way and my idol of comfort was being threatened. Why did I gossip about that other member of the church? Because in my pride I want others to think less of her and more of me. Those things which proceed out of my mouth come forth from my heart!

In contrast, the source of all holy communication is the grace of God in the regenerated hearts of His children. By the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in us, we have been given new hearts. Those new hearts beat with love for Him who has first loved us, with holy fear and reverence of the all-seeing God, and with gratitude for His gracious saving of us from sin. Out of love, holy fear, and gratitude, we sing praises to Him and confess His name. Out of love, holy fear, and gratitude, we speak the truth in love to our neighbor, to instruct, comfort, encourage, or correct him. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things!

What this means for you and me practically is that the “war of words” is fought not at the level of the mouth so much as at the level of the heart. Yes, we must learn to guard our lips and apply proper principles of good communication in our relationships. But we must also come to recognize the deeper struggle in our hearts. Knowing this, we seek forgiveness at the foot of the cross for the pride and selfishness of our hearts, we pray for grace to guard our hearts, and we beseech the Lord that He would work in us increased love, holy fear, and gratitude. And from hearts filled with such love for God, holy fear, and gratitude, the inevitable outflow will be words like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

1 Taken, with some adaptations, from Wayne Mack, Strengthening Your Marriage (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999), 75; and an unpublished article by John Kruis entitled, “Communication.”