Is your speech harmful?
To answer that question, you have to be able to identify harmful speech. One way to do that is to think of specific examples of that kind of talk. Another way to do that however is to think about what is at the root of harmful speech.
There are at least three wrong attitudes that are at the core of corrupting speech and you can evaluate your talk by looking at whether or not it comes from one of these three places – and if it does come from one of these three places, you can be sure it is going to be the kind of speech that corrupts others.
First of all, is it speech that is motivated by pride?
I have been saved for the glory of God, not the glory of me and so if my speech is motivated by pride it is going to be unwholesome, so in other words, am I using my speech as a way of pursuing my own glory, is this conversation a tool to exalt self, if so, it is going to corrupt others, is my speech a way I am using to protect my appearance in the eyes of others, that is motivated by pride, I am talking about people who are using their words to put up a hypocritical front to maintain their appearance in the eyes of others, or do my words flow out of a distorted sense of self, a proud sense of self, am I speaking because I am proud, as if I were more than I am, how can I tell whether that is happening, am I speaking now as if I had the attributes of God, specifically the incommunicable attributes of God, we sometimes speak as if we were omniscient, as if we knew everything, this is where people say I know why you did that, or where you speak as if you were absolutely holy, like God is absolutely holy, as if you had never struggled with sin, as if you somehow like God were purely perfect, or where you speak as if you deserve everyone’s life to revolve around you, this is where anger comes from, you listen to them speaking, and they are speaking as if they were the center of the universe, and they are trying to get with their words everyone else to act like that, and because you are not acting like I am the center of the universe, I will punish you with my words, and so one way to evaluate whether or not you are speaking unwholesome words, is simply to evaluate whether or not they are motivated by pride? Am I using them to pursue my own glory, to protect my appearance, are my words flowing out of a distorted sense of self?
A second attitude you might check, is my speech motivated by selfishness?
Am I speaking in a way that is not concerned about the good of others? Am I speaking as if what I wanted was the most important thing in the world? Or am I viewing my words as a servant to other person? Am I using my words as a means to get the other person to get what I want. We have probably been trying to do this since we were children. Is my speech coming from a person who is absorbed in himself, that is going to be unwholesome, corrupting. I heard someone described recently this is Lorraines world and we all just live in it. That is how some people communicate. There is no concern about the interest of others, they are only concerned about their own interests, those are going to be unwholesome words. Am I using my words to justify myself? Am I using my words to center other people’s attention on myself. This is look at me speech.
A third question, is my speech motivated by unbelief?
There are many times where we speak in ways that deny the very things we say we believe and one of the most specific ways is we doubt God with our speech, ask yourself, does the way I am talking fit with what we say we believe about God. For example, many times with our speech we deny the fact that God is in control. You say how do I do that? Every time you complain you do that. Every time you complain you are saying I don’t believe God is in control or you are saying I don’t believe God is good. Complaining is a proof of unbelief. Or is the way I am speaking denying what I believe about the grace of God. Am I speaking in such a way that sounds like I deserve better than hell. How does the person who deserves hell complain about anything while he is alive? Am I speaking to other people in a way that denies that I was an enemy of God and have been saved by the grace of God. I have seen many husbands who would sing amazing grace louder than anyone else but when they go home they act as if they earn their own salvation when they speak to their wives because they speak to their wives with such a sense of superiority.
Another way unbelieving speech shows up, we deny or distort God’s Word with our speech. You want to be careful when you start giving advice to others, you want to listen to yourself, that you are not as you give counsel denying or distorting the Word of God. I can’t tell you how often I have heard people in difficult marriages say they felt like they had a right to get divorced because my friends tell me God just wants me to be happy and what kind of speech is that, it is unwholesome, corrupting, Scripture denying speech and you want to be careful if you have been saved by the grace of God for the glory of God that you don’t speak in such a way where you are saying the opposite of what the Savior who bought you says.
Another kind of speech that is motivated by unbelief is speech where you are trying to do for yourself through your words that you should be trusting God about. James talks about this in James 4. He talks to people who are having fights and quarrels and he tells them, you know why you are having all these fights, you are having these fights because you are trying to use your words to get what you want, when you should in fact be going to God in prayer and depending on Him to give you what is best for you. Instead of trying to force the other person to do what you want, you should be on your knees, asking God for your desires. But if you want to know speech that is motivated by unbelief, look for speech where you are acting as if you were in control and you had to fix the situation through your words instead of going to God and humbly looking to Him to do for you what you cannot.
And the reason I bring all of this up, is because what needs to happen if we are going to put off corrupting speech, is not simply that we carry a little checklist in our back pockets with examples of corrupting speech, what needs to happen is you need the Holy Spirit to deal with these heart attitudes of pride, selfishness and unbelief. Really what you need to do is take what you have learned from the gospel and apply it to your speech. For example, you need to look at the way you are talking and ask does the way I am talking match up with what I believe about the purpose of life. Ephesians tells us we are saved for the praise of His glorious grace. Well as I am speaking now am I magnifying God? Do my words make God look great and His grace look great in the lives of others? Does the way I am speaking reflect an accurate view of salvation? Am I talking like someone God sent His Son to die for? Am I talking right now like someone who has every spiritual blessing, who has been adopted into God’s family? Does my speech reflect an accurate view of self? Someone who was dead in his sins and yet dearly loved by God. Does the way I am speaking reflect an accurate view of church? That I am one body with these other people if they are believers. Think about your brother or sister, does your speech reflect what you believe about the church?
What we believe has to show up in the way we speak and that means first that we have to put off harmful speech, speech that is motivated by pride, selfishness and unbelief.