The way children pick up language is amazing. Over a relatively short period time—something like 18 to 36 months—children go from cooing and babbling to speaking in simple, but complete, sentences. Some of these sentences are sweet and make parenting worth it: “I love you, mommy.” Others are a little hard to deal with: “Go away, daddy. Leave me alone.” Isn’t it amazing how even 2 and 3-year-olds can use their words to lift someone up or tear them down? Words have power, even when they’re wielded by a toddler.
The Bible also reveals the powerful nature of words. We see it in its explanation creation. When God created the world, He exercised His power through speech: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Gen. 1:3). We see it in God’s relationship with humanity. After creating Adam and Eve, “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Gen. 1:28). Later, when He called Abram from Ur, “the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1–3). Scripture tells us that God’s speech makes him unique, all other gods are like “scarecrows in a cucumber field…they cannot speak” (Jer. 10:5). God alone speaks to His people, giving them His instructions and revealing to them His saving power. The Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by Him and written down for our progress in spiritual maturity (2 Tim. 3:16). God exercises his power over creation and in relationship with His people through speech.
But God’s speech is significant, not just for the he uses it, but for how it reveals to us his nature. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This Word is the Son of God, revealed to us in the person of Jesus, who “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3).
If speech is inherently powerful and closely related to who God is and what God does, it is unsurprising that James would instruct Christians in its proper use. There is power in speech: the power to woo one’s lover, to instruct children in the proper way to live, to express hopes and dreams for the future. There’s also the power to “defile the entire body, and set on fire the course of our life” (James 3:6). Scripture tells us that we must put away unedifying speech (Eph. 4:29), and be diligent to speak as “from God” to the world (1 Jn. 4:5–6). To put it simply, human speech must become more like God’s speech, “always…gracious, as though seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).How does your speech compare to God’s speech? In what ways does your speech need to change?