From the moment we learn to talk, parents and preschool teachers alike constantly remind us: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
We learn not to tease and or call others names, and as we enter elementary school we learn about anti-bullying and kindness. We learn how to play nicely with others on the playground and we learn how to employ the timeless “Golden Rule:” treat others how you want to be treated.
But eventually, we grow up into temperamental teenagers, and then begin to change into adults who might attend college, enter the workforce, or even take some time to discern the next step or adventure. We walk deeper into life and into our spiritual journey but somewhere along the way we forget what we learned as a child. We forget that the words we speak hold an immense amount of power and that our tongues reflect our relationship with God. (You might think it is no coincidence that the tongue is arguably one of the most powerful muscles in the human body.)
According to James, “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” // James 3:3-5, NIV
With great power comes great responsibility. First, we have a responsibility to build one another up using our words. Several authors and speakers throughout the Bible prompt us to follow through with this task:
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” // Romans 12:10, NIV
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” // Ephesians 4:29, NIV
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” // 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV
But I ask, what are your words doing, if not building one another up? This is something I often personally consider within my own group of friends and acquaintances. We are so kind, genuine, and loving to those whom we do not know as well or who are new to the group, but as soon as we feel comfortable with one another, we use that comfort as an excuse to say hurtful and critical things, both jokingly and seriously. While our closeness with one another does provide a small buffer space within which we willingly accept and even egg on the jokes, when you reach the point at which your words are more destructive than constructive, the overall effect is mostly tearing down, and not building up. I have seen the same type of behavior occur in several churches and congregations—perhaps you can relate.
As an aside, we must remember that there is an aspect of constructive criticism that is important to the growth of an individual and even the growth of a church—but the keyword is constructive, or meant to build up, and not tear down.
Next, we have a responsibility to be an example and reminder to those around us! If the people surrounding you were consistently building each other up, wouldn’t you be reminded to speak in a similar way?
We have been given the power of words and must use them in a way that builds up our brothers and sisters in Christ also builds up the Church, and ultimately, the Kingdom of God. Let us speak with the kind of responsibility that the growth of the Kingdom of God requires.
Discussion Questions: How many times in a week do we say something destructive instead of constructive? What other responsibilities do we have as Christians in regards to the encouragement of others?
See more devotions from Megan and our other Young Adult writers, or find our how you can become a writer yourself at our By Young Adults for Young Adults devotion page.