Modesty in Speech: Reflecting God’s Image in What We Say

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Introduction

Do words matter? Framed in another way, is there a fundamental connection between speaking and God? Again, is there a spiritual component to communication? Consider the following. The Bible asserts that the universe came into existence at the command of God, “God said” (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 29). The Hebrew writer asserts, “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear” (11:3). [All Scripture references are from the American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.] In fact, both the origin and the dissolution of the universe is subject to the declaration –“word”– of God (2 Pet 3:5-7). Communicating is, then, a core activity of God; in other words, God speaks His Mind.

There are people in this world who seek for a chance to hear God speak to them. God has spoken, in his wisdom, through two monumental venues. The first is creation; the second, are the Scriptures. In Romans 1:20, Paul affirms, “For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse.” The world essentially speaks of a powerful supernatural eternal being Who is the origin of all that is seen; in a nutshell, the “heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psa 19:1).

Second, God has spoken his mind and has preserved it in the Scriptures. It is written, “For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God” (1 Cor 2:11-12). In fact, the unveiling of God’s mind is the cause which brought about the Scriptures. It is written, “Every scripture inspired of God” (2 Tim 3:16). God has spoken his unique message through his prophets, who have committed those oracles to print (Eph 3:1-6; 2 Pet 1:19). King David once said of himself, “The Spirit of Jehovah spake by me, And his word was upon my tongue” (2 Sam 23:2).

What this discussion points to is a fundamental truth about God. Inasmuch as God is the source of love, it is equally true that God is the source of disclosure. In other words, communicating and disclosing the eternal mind is fundamental to the nature of God. This is important for a proper understanding of human communication because humanity is made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). God’s people are expected to reflect their Creator’s nature. In fact, Peter writes, “but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16). Little wonder that Peter would further admonish, “if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11). Every aspect of godly living is to be set apart for God’s purposes (Rom 6:17-18), and this includes how a person speaks.

Speaking is a process which discloses the thoughts and movements within a person’s heart; it reveals what is in the heart (Matt 6:22-23; Mark 7:20-23). All things being equal, regardless of the truths or lies a person speaks, it derives from the inner workings of the heart. Since communication is a spiritual matter and reflects one’s heart, it is not surprising that Jesus would state the following: “And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt 12:36-37; cf. Rev 21:8; Rom 14:12, 10-12; 2 Cor 5:10; Eccl 12:14; Acts 17:30-31).

What a person “says” matters because it reflects a spiritual truth about a person’s heart. The heart is the touchstone upon which Jesus makes his case for a higher level of spirituality as addressed in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-37, 43-48). When someone tells the truth, or lies, or uses a swear word, there is a corresponding spiritual truth which points to how one reflects the image of God. If one wishes to be a faithful child of God, one must “adorn” God’s teaching on modest speech (Tit 2:10). Our speech must reflect that we are made in the image of God, and it must exemplify the gracious and righteous nature of the gospel message.

Our Speech is to Reflect the Image of God

In writing to the Christians in Colossae, Paul walks through the conversion process (Col 2:10-3.4). They went through “the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism” (2:11-12). In this “working of God” they were “raised with him” (2:12), and made “alive together with him” for forgiveness (2:13). To reinforce their commitment, Paul urges them to “put to death” their past vices: “now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not on to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col 3:8-10).

A child of God should so speak from the heart that it reflects God’s image rebranded upon them. There is a deep truth here to unpack. The Lord Jesus warns and instructs how Christians are to treat others. One should not insult his brother (“Raca” Matt 5:22); instead, Christians are to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13). Unfortunately, some are so good at the craft of sarcasm and caustic acidity that though they have not transgressed moral boundaries with their vocabulary, they are quite adept at verbally abusing their brethren. Instead, Christians should “receive one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).

Our Speech is to be Exemplary

In writing to his protégé, Paul extends to Timothy an encouraging word for his ministry in Ephesus. He admonishes, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). The nature of Timothy’s “youth” (neotatos) is a matter of speculation, but based on inscriptional evidence he may have been in his twenties if not early thirties. He needed this instruction to dissuade those that would be critical of Timothy’s ministry due to his age; namely, Timothy’s moral and spiritual reputation would be established by the moral pattern of his “word” (i.e. “speech”). Timothy’s speech is to be exemplary, a template. In these words to Timothy, when it comes to their speech Christians are enjoined upon to be a “model citizen.”

Does this mean that one is required to always speak as if they were a graduate from a charm or etiquette school? Hardly, but it does mean that God’s people should be proactive in speaking appropriately. There is room to be culturally flexible provided it is moral. Paul writes, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one” (Col 4:6). Ultimately, a Christian’s speech and vocabulary ought to create an attractive environment to their neighbors so that all may feel welcomed in their presence. The obvious illusion is to create an atmosphere where evangelism may occur (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:14). Since it is God’s goodness that leads people to repentance (Rom 2:4), then it is also true that a Christian’s goodness can point others to their good God (Matt 5:16).

Concluding Thoughts

The biblical evidence shows that speaking and communicating the thoughts of one’s heart is an important spiritual component to being created in the image of God. Communication comes with a great challenge, “If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also” (Jas 3:2). The entire course of one’s future can be directed by the outpouring of the thoughts and intentions of the heart when spoken (Jas 3:3-12). The most important aspect of what a person can do is to use one’s words to praise God and his son Jesus the Christ. As it is written, “Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).

This is a slightly reformatted version of the article which originally published in The Glendale Gleaner (Newbern, TN: Glendale church of Christ).

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