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It is said that the average woman speaks around 5,000 words per day whereas the average male speaks around 2,000. For men who work full time outside of the home, the number increases to as many as 3,000 words a day, and 10,000 to 20,000 words a day for the average woman working full time outside of her home. Furthermore, we send innumerable emails in addition to spending countless hours on the telephone. In short, we communicate a lot, in both spoken and printed words.
Proverbs has a great deal to say about what we say; it likely addresses the subject of our speech more than any other book of the Bible. It is a good place to start for those wanting to spend considerable time in Scripture examining the subject. According to James, Jesus’ brother, our tongue is often the last part of our body to get sanctified (James 3). He compares the power of our tongue to the bit in a horse’s mouth, the rudder on a ship, a wild beast, and a small spark that could set a fire of destruction as big as hell itself. In Ephesians 4:29 we are told to speak only “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Jesus said that “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37). In meditating on this verse, it occurred to me how much I will have to answer for, considering that I speak roughly 60,000 words each Sunday, or what the average man speaks in a month!
The Bible is filled with examples of condemnable speech, including cursing God, blasphemy, making false accusations, perversity, rashness, harshness, wickedness, boasting, lying, flattering, bitterness, nitpicking, adulterous flirtation, busy-bodying, gossip, nagging, whining, complaining, needless quarreling, and plain old foolish stupidity in its innumerable forms. On the other hand, the Bible also describes speech as an opportunity for worship, prayer, grace, teaching, counsel, preaching, kindness, truth, comfort, love, healing, sweetness, encouragement, mercy, hope, gentleness, conviction, and faith. As Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”
An Indicator of the Heart
In many ways, the tongue is an indicator of the heart because, as Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” The disciple of Jesus learns to speak under the discipline of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables Christians to speak truthfully in love – not too much or too little – in a manner that is appropriate for both the hearer and Jesus, who is listening in on our words. Sometimes, the key is to get our time to listen silently to God through His Word so that when we do speak, we echo Jesus.