That God’s Word Is Opened Up TO Our Heart
The Power of Words (Proverbs 18:21) Sunday School Lesson
In this lesson from Proverbs 18:21, kids will learn about the power of words.
This is a continuation of lessons from Proverbs. This lesson focuses on the tongue and the power of our words to bring life and death. Students will discover that we need God to use our tongues wisely.
Bible Passage: (Selected Scriptures)
Bible Story Title: Proverbs-The Power of Words
Target Age Group: Ages 5-11 (K-5th Grade U.S.A.)
Target Time Frame: 60 Minutes
Original Teaching Context: Sunday School
Supply List: Bibles, word puzzle and coloring page, markers/crayons, slips of paper with the Scriptures regarding words that bring life and words that bring death for students to read during the lesson, copies of ways to pray for our words
Learning Goal: Students will learn that we need God to use our tongues wisely
Learning Activity #1: Word puzzle & Coloring page
Learning Activity #2: After the lesson have students act out scenarios where one student uses unkind words and another chooses kind words to respond.
Take Home: At the end of the lesson there is a sheet (Daily Prayers to use our words wisely) to help students to pray.
Memory Verse: Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Bible Lesson: Proverbs-The Power of Words
(Begin with prayer)
Play the guessing game ‘What am I’? I can hide or I can show myself. I am made up of many muscles. I am usually always wet. I can hurt people or help people. I can be curled. I help people taste food. I am usually pink. (Ask questions until a student answers a tongue)
God created each of us with a tongue. A tongue is an important part of our body. A tongue helps us to eat our food and speak. When used to speak our tongues are very powerful.Let’s read our memory verse together: Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Have you ever been hurt by someone’s words? (Allow time to share) Have you ever been helped by someone’s words? This verse is talking about the two powers our tongues have. We can use our power to bring death. Death comes when we use our tongues for evil and harming others. We can use our power to bring life when we use our tongues for good by helping others.
1. Words that bring life
Let’s go to the Book of Genesis to look for evidence that words have the power. Read Genesis 1:3. How did God create light? (He used His words to speak it into existence) The rest of the chapter is filled with God said, ‘Let there be’ and the world and all that is in it was created. God’s Words are so powerful that they have power to create life!
God the Father spoke to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our ness.” (Genesis 1:26) Man was created in God’s image. God made the first man from the dust of the ground and breathed His breath into his nostrils and he became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
Before sin entered the world Adam and Eve walked in the garden and talked with God. Being made in the image of God, Adam and Eve had the power to use their words to speak life and glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Let’s look at Scriptures that show us how our words can bring life (if you made slips of these verses have students read their verse):
Proverbs 16:24 “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
Proverbs 10:11a “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life”
Proverbs 12:18b “The tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
2. Words that bring death
In the beginning of God’s creation death did not exist. In the beginning Adam and Eve’s words could only be life giving words. When sin entered the world it brought death and words now had the power of life and the power of death.
Let’s look in our Bibles to see how God describes our tongues:
James 3:3-9 “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue.
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the ness of God.
What did you learn about our tongues as we read this passage of Scripture? (Allow responses)
Here are some Scriptures that teach us that our tongues have the power of death (if you made slips of these verses have students read their verse):
Proverbs 12:18 “There is one whose rash words are sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” When we are not careful with our tongues our words are stabbing someone in the heart with a sword.
Psalm 55:21 “His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” Sometimes we pretend to be kind with our words but we are being dishonest and are ready to harm others with our words. (Flattery)
Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When we choose to use harsh words we stir up anger.
3. We need God to use our tongues wisely
Our tongues are powerful! The verses in James 3 showed us that our tongues are powerful and cannot be tamed. What a great reminder that we need God to use our tongues wisely!
We learned a few weeks ago that we need to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, and from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Proverbs 21:23 tells us something similar about our tongues. “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself trouble.”
We need God to save us from sin and change our hearts. Our ‘hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jer.17:9) When we put our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). As a new creation we now have the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us.
He gives us the power to obey what God teaches us so that we can daily walk in wisdom.
We need to spend time reading, studying and meditating on God’s Word so His truth is filling our hearts, guarding us from sin. When our hearts are filled with God’s Word our mouths will speak life because God’s Words are life.
(The good person the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person his evil treasure produces evil, for the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45) We will have His power to share the Good News with others so that when they believe the power of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection will save them. (Romans 1:16-17)
Scriptures we can use to help us pray for God to help us use our tongues wisely (if you made copies of the daily prayers for life giving words. Hand them to the students to look at together. There are 7 prayers that you can pray one for each day of the week or all seven every day):
- Make my words and the thoughts of my heart acceptable in Your sight. Psalm19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
- Keep me from speaking when what I say could get me in trouble. Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself trouble.”
- Help me to be committed not to sin with my mouth. Psalm 17:3b “I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.”
- Keep my words focused on praising You and pointing others to You. Psalm 71:15 “My mouth will tell of Your righteous acts, of Your deeds of salvation all the day,”
- Fill my heart with your Word so that my tongue will speak your truth in my conversations. (Luke 6:45)
- Help me to share your Words that bring eternal life. (“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” John 6:68)
- Help me speak words that build up others. Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come your mouths, but only such as is good for building up,”
As we close in prayer let’s take a few minutes to pray silently to the Lord. If He has shown you sin in the words you speak, take this time to confess your sin and turn from it and ask for His help to speak words that bring life.
(Close in prayer)
Daily Prayers to use my words wisely
1. Lord, please make my words and the thoughts of my heart acceptable in Your sight. Psalm19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
2. Lord, please keep me from speaking when what I say could get me in trouble. Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself trouble.”3. Lord, help me not to sin with my mouth. Psalm 17:3b “I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.”
4. Lord, please keep my words focused on praising You and pointing others to You. Psalm 71:15 “My mouth will tell of Your righteous acts, of Your deeds of salvation all the day,”
5. Please fill my heart with your Word so that my tongue will speak your Truth in my conversations. (“The good person the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person his evil treasure produces evil, for the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45)
6. Help me to share your Words that bring eternal life. (“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” John 6:68)
7. Help me speak words that build up others. Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come your mouths, but only such as is good for building up,”
For more inspiration, browse these related lesson ideas from our website:
When God Searches Our Hearts and Minds
King David understood how important our thoughts, motivations and the intents of our minds are to God. He wrote:
“You understand my thought afar off. … Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:2, 23-24, emphasis added throughout).
Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains that David is “asking for God to discern his motives and actions. … The psalmist desires nothing less than conformity to God’s will; therefore he prays for God’s examination of his spiritual condition” (revised edition, p. 964).
Evil people had accused David, causing him anxieties. He wanted to be sure that it was not the result of his own doing and that his heart was right before God. He asked God to show him if he was possibly in the wrong.
King Solomon’s heart not right with God
David passed on this vital knowledge of how God looks on our hearts and minds to his son Solomon:
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9).
Sadly, Solomon did not follow his father’s advice toward the end of his life: “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. … So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel” (1 Kings 11:4, 9).
A lesson from the life of King Hezekiah
In 2 Chronicles 32 we are given an insight into how God at certain times may deal with us. For example, when King Hezekiah received envoys from Babylon, God withdrew from Hezekiah, to see what he would say and do. This incident afforded God an opportunity to find out more about the true character of the king.
“However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart” (verse 31).
From this example, we can learn that there are times God does not intervene immediately, but allows us to persevere through difficult and testing circumstances.
This gives Him an opportunity over time to see our minds at work. How we individually deal with various issues tells God a lot about us and how much we are learning to think He does.How much are we preparing for the responsibilities He has in mind for us in His Kingdom?
Unfortunately, what God witnessed in the heart of Hezekiah in this case did not please Him, as evidenced by the rebuke of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 39:1-7). The king did not pass this test! The thoughts of his mind were not pleasing to God, though in general Hezekiah “did what was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 29:2).
What about us?
When we find ourselves in situations where our minds are challenged—for example, employment difficulties, financial distresses, relationships with others, health concerns and so on—God may step back for a while to see how desirous we are to deal with these issues according to His will. Does the outcome of our actions reflect the mind of Christ or our own selfish, carnal responses?
It is clear from the Scriptures that God searches our minds in order to determine the intents and purposes behind our thoughts and actions (see Proverbs 17:3; Jeremiah 17:10).
We recognize that at times our hearts are not as godly and spiritual as we would them to be. Physically, we understand that a diseased heart may result in severe physical health issues. So, too, a spiritually diseased heart can cause spiritual problems!
So what steps should we take to make sure our hearts are spiritually healthy in the sight of God?
We need an attitude of repentance
David was aware of how absolutely vital the thoughts and intents of his heart were to God. He had grievously sinned against God by committing adultery with Bathsheba. He changed his thoughts and took action in order to renew his relationship with God.
What was required? God wanted him to have “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6).
David beseeched God: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast [constant] spirit within me” (verse 10).One of the most difficult steps for us to take is to admit our hearts are not always right in God’s sight.Psalm 51 is a psalm of David’s repentance—a central teaching in the Bible. Jesus Christ consistently placed a great deal of emphasis on the subject of repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; learn more in our article “How to Repent”).
It was only after David repented (Psalm 51:1-4) that God forgave him of his sins (2 Samuel 12:13).
Not easy to admit the sins in our hearts
One of the most difficult steps for us to take is to admit our hearts are not always right in God’s sight. At times we refuse to acknowledge our transgressions and the sins that lurk in our hearts—“the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Notice what the apostle John wrote: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [ David did], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
We do ourselves a great disservice by hiding our sins or allowing our egos to convince us that our hearts are clean and pure. Notice how King David rejoiced when he declared his sins before God:
“When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. … I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:3, 5).
The joy of his life returned to him: “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (verse 11).
A spiritual examination for all Christians
Take careful note of the following scriptures. How do we measure up to these teachings?
- “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). An excellent question! Can we truthfully answer and acknowledge that wickedness does from time to time reside in our hearts?
- “Examine yourselves [not others] as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Unless we do, we are in danger of finding ourselves “disqualified” or rejected by God (same verse).
- The apostle John toward the end of the first century gave a definition of what sin is: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). He later stated that if we love God, we will keep His commandments, which are not burdensome as some claim (1 John 5:3). Are we sure we are observing all of God’s laws, and not nonbiblical traditions taught by humans in the name of religion?
- Jesus Christ stated: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Unless we do the will of the Father, Christ will declare, “I never knew you” (verse 23). Are we convinced that we are living according to the will of our Heavenly Father?
- King David understood that secret sins—sins he was unaware of—possibly existed in his life. If so, he wanted God to show him what those sins were: “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13). David’s desire was: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (verse 14). Each of us should consider that, David, we may have secret sins in our lives that we need God to reveal to us so we can repent and change.
God’s offer to each person
Acknowledging and admitting our sins, followed by genuinely repenting, are foundational tenets of true Christianity. It is the way to forgiveness of sins leading to eternal life, as opposed to eternal death (Romans 6:23).
God sets before us choices:
- Life or death.
- Blessing or cursing.
He speaks to each person: “Therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Take God at His word, and give yourself a spiritual heart examination. It will not only lead to a sense of joy and happiness in your life, but will open the door to a future beyond your wildest dreams.
In the book of Revelation we read: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). God is preparing us for a future of service and accomplishment (read more in our article “Born to Be a King”)!What transpires in our minds and hearts will largely determine if we will be one of those claiming this promise.
Learn more about the vitally important steps God lays out for transforming our hearts and minds in the free booklet Change Your Life!
What is Your Heart According to the Bible and How Can You Exercise It?
What is your heart according to the Bible? Also, how can you exercise your heart so that it functions normally toward God?
Since knowing our heart is basic to our experience of Christ and of God’s salvation, we need to give this point our first consideration. Then it’s also vital to learn how to exercise our heart, that is, to deal with our heart, so that it functions properly to love the Lord.
So in this post we’ll focus on these two important matters—1) knowing what our heart is and 2) knowing how we can exercise our heart so that it fulfills it’s God-created function.
What is your heart according to the Bible?
The Bible reveals that your heart is your loving organ. It’s that part of your inner being that enables you to love God and what He loves. Since love is the basis for all our experience of the Lord, we need to start with our heart.
You can see from the Bible, that God created you with only three main parts—spirit, soul and body (1 Thes. 5:23).
So actually, your heart is not a separate organ. It’s simply a composition of the three parts of your soul—mind, will and emotion—plus your conscience—the leading part of your spirit.
To confirm this–let’s look at what the Bible says about the parts of the heart:
Mind–“thinking in your heart”
The Lord told the religious scribes who were reasoning against Him,
“Why are you thinking evil in your hearts” (Matt. 9:4).
Thinking is the function of your mind. But here it speaks of “thinking… in your hearts.” From this verse you can see that your mind is a part of your heart.
Will–“intentions of the heart”
Hebrews 4:12, actually confirms that both your mind and will are parts of your heart. This verse says,
“For the word of God is living and operative…and able to discern the thoughts and the intentions of the heart.”
First, it confirms that the thoughts are of the heart. We just covered this. Then it goes on to mention “the intentions of the heart.” Since intention is a function of your will, you can see from this verse that your will is also a part of your heart.
Emotion–“your heart will rejoice”
Before the Lord Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples,
“Therefore you also now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 16:22).
Since rejoicing is an expression of emotion, for your heart to rejoice means that your emotion is also a part of your heart.
Conscience–“hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience”
Finally, you can see from Hebrews 10:22 that your conscience is also a part of your heart. That verse says,
“Let us come forward to the Holy of Holies, with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…”
“Having your heart sprinkled from an evil conscience” implies that your conscience is also a part your heart. Practically, to come forward to God, you need to have a heart free from condemnation. And to do this you need to have your conscience sprinkled with the Lord’s cleansing blood.
How can you exercise your heart so that it functions normally?
Now that you’ve seen the composition, the parts of your heart, let’s go on to consider how you can exercise your heart so that it functions normally—so that it loves the Lord fervently.
The following four steps are the best heart exercise, the spiritual “cardio work out” that you need to make your heart healthy for it to function normally in loving the Lord.
First, exercise your heart to turn to the Lord.
Second Corinthians 3:16 says,
“But whenever their heart turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”
This is the best way to begin your day. You can turn your heart to the Lord by calling on His name, singing a spiritual song, or uttering a short prayer this,
“Lord Jesus, I turn my heart to You right now.”
Here is a spiritual song on the verse I mentioned to help you turn your heart to the Lord.
Second, exercise faith in your heart.
Romans 10:9 says,
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
We need to exercise faith to believe what God has spoken in His Word. One of the best ways I know to exercise faith is to pray with God’s Word, to pray-read the Bible.
After you turn your heart to the Lord, simply open your Bible, and with your eyes on the verses of Scripture, pray them back to the Lord. Try saying “Amen” to the Word of God. This is great way to exercise faith in your heart.
Third, exercise to deal with your conscience so there is no condemnation in your heart.
FromHebrews 10:22, we saw that we need to have “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…”
The more you exercise faith in God and God’s Word, the more you’ll sense you’re wrong in many things.
When you sense condemnation in your heart, simply confess any offense on your conscience to the Lord and receive the cleansing of His blood. This will cause your heart to be at peace.
Finally, your heart will be renewed.
Ezekiel 36:26 says,
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”
What is this “new heart” that the Lord gives us? Actually, it is simply our old heart that has been renewed by the exercise of the three foregoing steps: turning our heart to the Lord, exercising faith in the Lord and in His Word, and having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience by the precious blood of Jesus.
Practicing the above steps will cause your heart to function normally–to love the Lord. In this way the first commandment spoken of by the Lord Jesus in Mark 12:30 will spontaneously be fulfilled in you,
“And you shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart…”
“Lord Jesus, thank You for showing me that I have a heart especially made to love You. Lord help me to daily turn my heart to You and to believe in You and in Your living Word. Teach me to daily confess my sins, that my heart may be sprinkled from an evil conscience and be continually renewed to love You as You have commanded me.”
If you have been helped by the points in this post, please share your appreciation with a short comment.
References and Further Reading:
Why God Made Your Mouth
The average person speaks at least 7,000 words a day, or about 50,000 words a week — the length of a short book. We are authors, all of us, publishing 52 books a year from this printing press called the mouth.
Which should make us pause occasionally to consider what kind of words we’re sending out into the world.
Is it a better place because of our words, or worse? Do we wound others, or heal them (Proverbs 12:18)? Do we commend the fear of the Lord, or pour out folly (Proverbs 15:2)? Do we refresh others’ spirits, or break them (Proverbs 15:4)? For how little we often think of our words, they hold the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).
If we’re going to steward our speech well, we need to regularly remember why God gave us words at all. Perhaps no one verse captures his purpose clearer than a command from Paul to the Ephesians:
Let no corrupting talk come your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
Here is a charter for the dinner table, the classroom, the smartphone, the office, and everywhere else we open our mouths: give grace.
Given all that Paul says about grace in Ephesians, he could scarcely have handed our mouths a higher calling. Grace is that redeeming quality of God by which he saves us, seals us, and sanctifies us.
By grace, God has blessed us in his beloved Son (Ephesians 1:6), raised us from the dead (Ephesians 2:5–6), and rescued us from our sins (Ephesians 2:8). God’s grace is rich, overflowing, immeasurable.
Eternity will not exhaust his storehouses (Ephesians 1:7; 2:7).
Now, Paul says, let your mouth give that. Take the grace you have received from God, and let it change the accent of your soul. Then take your little words, flavored with grace, and use them to carry on Jesus’s redeeming work in someone’s life.
Whenever God makes someone an object of grace, he also makes them an agent of grace.
Just as Paul received a “stewardship of God’s grace” to preach the gospel (Ephesians 3:1–2, 7–8), so too “grace was given to each one of us” (Ephesians 4:7).
Even if we should feel as slow of speech as Moses (Exodus 4:10), if we have the Holy Spirit, we have a whisper of heaven in our hearts and on our tongues. We have grace to give.
Built Up in Jesus
Practically, giving grace means speaking words that are “good for building up” (Ephesians 4:29). Gracious words straighten bent-over saints, strengthen tottering legs, bind up bruised arms, and grow each other into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
“Give grace,” in other words, is a call to imitate the God whose words make worlds bloom into being (Psalm 8:3). Give life. See the image-bearer in front of you, and skillfully apply “the truth . . . in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).
Match specific words from God to specific needs in others. Give your words weight; make them meaningful; say something worth saying.
All to the end that others might grow up into Jesus — protected from lies, established in truth, rooted and grounded in grace.Such grace is not confined to the sermon or the Bible study. Paul’s command rests over every Christian and every conversation.
Give grace when you kneel beside your child’s bed, when you eat lunch with coworkers, when you sit around the campfire with friends, when you walk with your wife in the evening, when you stand in line at the grocery store, when you send your thirtieth email of the afternoon.
Lest we misconstrue the character of these gracious words, let’s add two qualifications: gracious words are not always nice, and gracious words are never easy.
Tough and Tender Grace
First, gracious words are not always nice. Despite the testimony of many thousands of cross-stitched pillows and greeting cards, grace is not the fluffy thing we sometimes make it out to be. Grace is not always comfortable, not always cozy, not always nice. Whereas nice words aim to make us feel good, gracious words have higher ambitions: to make us actually good — actually Christ.
At times, then, gracious words will be tough words. The same apostle who told us to “give grace” did not refrain from reminding us that we were once dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), nor from exhorting us to stand firm against the devil (Ephesians 6:10–11), nor from warning us of God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6).
Neither did our Savior, the man whose words were ever “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Sometimes grace fell from his mouth tender as the dew, and sometimes it thundered with the force of a prophet. Sometimes it bound up bruised reeds, and sometimes it pruned vines with a slice. Sometimes it said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), and sometimes, “Take up your cross” (Luke 9:23).
We too must sometimes broach conversations that make us feel running away. For if our words are always nice, always pleasing, always politically correct, we are giving no more than half a grace.
What Gracious Words Cost
For all their variety, however, gracious words are not capricious, as if we speak a tough word here, a tender word there, hoping to strike the balance. No, grace tailors its words to the needs of the moment; it searches for speech that “fits the occasion” (Ephesians 4:29). Which means such words never come easily.
Gracious words are always specific words — words that match this situation, not that one; words that fit this person, not another. We must move beyond our favorite promises and favorite stories to ransack “the truth . . .
in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21), applying appropriate parts of God’s multifaceted truth to our multifaceted experience.As we talk with others, we must go to work in the mines of our mind, passing words through the fire of careful thought, and smelting from them fresh, pointed truth.
Too often, my words fail to give grace because I haven’t first given due attention to the person in front of me. I drift in and the conversation, my mind drawn to all manner of irrelevancies: What’s for lunch? What am I going to do tonight? I’m not sure that shirt fits him. Words that come from a distracted mind are graceless words, words as weightless as the air that carries them.
Our tongues do not drift into giving grace. Words worth speaking come at the cost of fully engaged attention, wise discernment, creative thought, emotional investment. But oh, what a reward they bring! Gracious words drop from someone’s mouth fruit from a tree of life, satisfying giver and receiver a (Proverbs 15:4; 18:21).
Question and Prayer
How shall we cultivate this kind of speech? We know from Jesus that grace will come our mouths only if grace is already living in our hearts (Matthew 12:34). But even when grace is doing its work of demolishing, building, and renovating inside us, learning how to package that grace into words often takes practice.
As a simple first step, consider stopping for a moment the next time you are about to enter a conversation, and take up a question and a prayer.
Question: What does this person need? What kind of words will “fit the occasion”? The need will not always be obvious, but even asking the question can posture us to pay attention.
Prayer: Lord, keep corrupting words from coming my mouth. Fill my mouth with grace.
Then walk into the conversation, remembering (wonder of wonders!) that you — weak, struggling you — have grace to give. In God’s hands, your words can become a means of carving a brother or sister into the image of Jesus Christ. Then listen, give your attention, ask perceptive questions, activate the gears of your mind. And when the time comes, open your mouth and give grace.