Your tongue devises destruction,
Like a sharp razor, O worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
Falsehood more than speaking what is right. Selah.
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue. (Psalm 52:2-4)
Words are powerful. We manipulate with words. We explain with words. We build relationships with words, and we tear them down with words. The “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a lie. Words hurt. And they comfort. They allow us to connect.
What does it mean to “love all words that devour”? We could keep it simple by making an “off limits” list of words. That’s what we like to do…get legalistic and put something on paper, posting it for all to abide by. It makes obedience simple, because infractions are easy to identify. Perhaps you had such a list, written or unwritten, in your house growing up or while your children were young: “We don’t say that word in our house!”
But it’s not just the words we choose to say. We can manipulate just about any sweet-as-sugar word to sound horrific or coat a nasty word with enough sugar to make it somewhat palatable. At the evening dinner table, my parents would sometimes have us share something that happened that day. If my sisters and I weren’t getting along for some reason, they’d alter the exercise and challenged us to say something nice about each other. One sister turned to me and said, “You have the most beautiful, nicest sister in the world.” That ended that family dinner table exercise. What she said was delivered with a smile, but the intent behind it wasn’t as wonderful as it sounded.
When we love words that devour, we either blatantly tear others down or take a subtle approach into veiled judgments and passive-aggressiveness. If someone typed our words and read them back without emotion or context, no one would likely identify the subtleties. The intent gets stripped away. But the intent and emotion behind the words we deliver are what cuts so deeply.
Christians are often at fault for loving words that devour, or at least, using words with the intent to devour. If someone who doesn’t honor God with her life doesn’t honor God with her words and interactions, at least there’s consistency, but when someone who claims the name of Jesus as the central figure of her life uses words that bite, there’s a problem. Is it fair to hold Christians to a higher standard? Absolutely. God does! Do we always live up to that higher standard. Absolutely not.
When have you said something that you shouldn’t have said? When have you said something that you said to someone you shouldn’t have? When have you spoken with anger and thrown darts at someone? When have you made an accusation or assumption that had no firm foundation except whatever limited information you decided was enough? When have you spoken instead of listened? When could you have asked better questions for clarity? When has jealousy, anxiety, or frustration driven your words?
Convicting, isn’t it?
We can’t weed out a love for words that devour unless we have a love for words that honor God. Again, it’s not just about the specific words we choose. It’s about how and when we choose to use them. It’s about choosing to love God so much that we’ll only speak when, how, and to whom He says. When we choose Him, we choose His ways. It’s not legalism; it’s a relationship.
The words God guides us to say aren’t going to be easy. They’re not sappy or sugar-coated. God is truth, and He will have us speak nothing other than truth. He just knows how and when it needs to be delivered for maximum impact. It might not make sense to us, but since He sees every behind-the-scenes details, including what’s in our hearts, what our emotional state is, what our experiences are, etc., it all makes sense to Him. Nothing that He has us say devours anyone, even when there is pain involved. His words build us and others up. And obeying Him in the process builds our relationships with Him. He gets all the glory.
Dear God, I have so often let my own moods and preferences take over my mouth, and if I’m being really honest, I’ve sometimes had a love of words that devour. I’ve spoken unkindness and rationalized it because of my hurt. I’ve retaliated when I should have reconciled. I’ve accused based on assumptions instead of asking questions and listening. I’ve driven a wedge in relationships, even in Your body of believers, instead of looking to You, trusting You, and letting You guide me to build up others. I’ve done it my way instead of Yours, and I’m relinquishing control to You. I am Yours, and I want my words to reflect You.