By Mark A. Taylor
I’ve never succeeded because of what I could do with my body.
I was no star athlete in high school.
I’m all thumbs with a hammer and nails. My wife hangs the pictures and does the painting at our house. My son-in-law fixed the plumbing when he visited not long ago.
If I have any power, it’s in my words. With a turn of a phrase or a well-placed pun, I go for the laugh. I like to tell stories. I enjoy speaking in front of people, teaching a class, or leading a workshop. I can’t lift much weight or build a deck or fix a faulty faucet—but I can talk.
Who Am I Honoring?
Like most conscientious Christians, I’ve found ways to use my strength for God. Sometimes at church I offer a meditation or prayer. The guys in my small group thank me for my leadership. As an editor I worked with words on the printed page for more than four decades.
So when I come across the words of Jesus recorded in John 7, I’m more than a little taken aback. “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory,” Jesus said, “but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth” (v. 18).
I’m forced to ask myself, How often do I speak to gain honor for myself instead of choosing words to honor God?
This isn’t the only Bible quote to inspire such a question. Look up tongue in your concordance, and you’ll find a long list of warnings about how we talk. Proverbs is full of them; here’s one pointed example: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
Most Christians know what James said: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (1:26). The writer calls the tongue “a world of evil,” “full of deadly poison” (3:1-10).
Christ’s Words Are Consistent
But in John’s account, Jesus was doing more than encouraging people to watch how they talk. He was telling those who heard him that his words did not originate in a human mind; they were the words of God because he himself was God. The “one who chooses to do God’s will” understands that Christ’s words are true because he is the truth.
That changes everything. Christ’s words are always consistent with who he is, and they are always a perfect statement of what God wants. “I and the Father are one,” he said (John 10:30).
That unity presents a challenging example for my own life. How wonderful it is when my words perfectly reflect the truth of God because they come from a life surrendered to him. This is my challenge: Does everything I say—every remark, every response—reflect the character of Christ? Or do I speak in an effort to make myself seem important? Am I hiding some truth about myself? Do my words build up and encourage; do I think about the impact of what I say on those who will hear it?
Do the words of my mouth honestly reflect the desires of my heart? Or am I busy speaking what I think a Christian is supposed to say without first attending to what God wants me to be?
In every area of life, God is seeking in us a holiness that comes from the inside out, obedience driven by a commitment to making him Lord. For me, the first and largest challenge to achieving this is with my words.
Mark A. Taylor, former editor and publisher of The Lookout and Christian Standard, recently retired after serving Standard Publishing/Christian Standard Media for more than 40 years.