I was in high school working my first job and dealing with a big problem outside the home for the first time. Co-workers were stealing and damaging property. I knew who was guilty, but the boss did not. I did not want to be part of what was going on, nor did I want to be blamed for something I did not do. I knew I needed to talk to my boss and possibly my co-workers, but I was afraid.
I got up the courage to talk to my dad about what was happening. He agreed that I needed to talk to those involved, and then he said to me, "Be careful, Son, to choose your words carefully." It was a nice way to summarize all that it means to communicate with purpose and control. My father was saying, "Paul, words matter. They will either contribute to a solution or further the difficulty. Speak with caution and care." Winning the war of words involves choosing our words carefully. It is not just about the words we say, but also about the words we choose not to say.
Winning the war is about being prepared to say the right thing at the right moment, exercising self-control. It is refusing to let our talk be driven by passion and personal desire but communicating instead with God's purposes in view. It is exercising the faith necessary to be part of what God is doing at that moment.
Galatians 5 explains in detail what it means to gain a lasting victory in the war of words. Here are six principles taken from that passage to help you win the war.
1. Winning the war involves recognizing the destructive power of words (Galatians 5:15) . Paul warns us, "Watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." We will never win the war of words as long as we minimize how critical a battle it is.
The most powerful way we influence each other is through words, which encourage, rebuke, explain, teach, define, condemn, love, question, divide, unite, sell, counsel, judge, reconcile, war, worship, slander, and edify. People have influence and words have power. It is the way God meant it to be.
As I write this, it grieves me to think about the amount of talk in my family that does not recognize the seriousness Paul gives it here. No, we don't have "knock-down-drag-out" battles, but there is a lot of thoughtless, unkind, irritated, and complaining talk that slips by every day. I think we are like many Christian families—we minimize these "little" sins of talk because our home is free of physical and verbal abuse and we really do love one another. But Paul's words yank us back to reality. Words that "bite and devour" are words that destroy. They are not okay.
2. Winning the war means affirming our freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:13). It is right to glory in the fact that God's grace frees us from the unbearable weight of the law (verses 1-6). We are accepted into God's family solely on the basis of the righteous life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His righteousness has been assigned to our account. In this way we are happily free from the law.
But we cannot stop here. We have been freed not only from the requirement of the law for salvation, but from the bondage to sin in everyday living. We have been freed from the weight of the law to live a godly life. We cannot glory in what grace takes us from without also accepting what it calls us to (see Romans 6:1-14; Titus 2:11-14).
Self-indulgent, sin-indulgent talk contradicts our identity as the children of grace. It turns us back toward the very bondage from which we have been freed. It forgets the position we have been given by Christ and the power He has given us by His Spirit. This leads to Paul's next point.
3. Winning the war means saying no to the sinful nature (Galatians 5:13, 24). The mastery of my sinful nature over me has been forever broken in Christ. For the first time, I can offer the parts of my body as instruments of righteousness—including my mouth (see Romans 6:1-14). So Paul says, in effect (Galatians 5:13), "Don't indulge the sinful nature. Don't feed its passions and desires. Don't allow your words to be dictated by powerful feelings and cravings. Remember, because of what Christ has done, you have the power to say no."
Few truths are more important in winning the war for the heart. As sinners in a sinful world, we will be tempted and provoked, and in those moments powerful emotions and desires will grip us. But because of our identification with Christ, we have the power to say no. If we are living under the rule of emotion or the rule of desire, we are denying the gracious, rescuing work of our Savior.
There will be the little situations. My wife, Luella, and I are in bed with sleep fast approaching and the phone rings. It is our son Justin at the train station. He needs a ride home. Luella says to me, "Won't you please go?" I am immediately hit with powerful emotions and powerful desires. I am irritated that it just happens to be the coldest night of the year. I feel as if it's always me who has to go. I want to stay in bed! I want someone else to be the chauffeur for a change.
If I allow my heart to be ruled by these emotions and desires, there is no way I will communicate as I should. My words will be selfish, angry, accusatory, and full of self-pity. But for this moment I have been given Christ. Sure, this is a little situation, but we all live in little moments like this. They really do determine the character of our talk.
4. Winning the war means speaking to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13-14). We say no to the rules of passions and desires not only because Christ gives us the power to do so, but also because we have been called to serve. We are called to put off self-indulgent talk and to put on talk that flows out of a love for others.
Ephesians 4:29 describes what it means to speak out of love: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Unwholesome talk forgets the other person and concentrates on what I feel and what I want. But Paul calls us to talk that is other-oriented.
If I am going to serve another with my words, Paul says there are three things to consider: First, I must consider the person ("only what is helpful for building others up"). What do I know about this individual that would shape what I say? Second, I must consider the problem ("according to their needs"). What is this person's real need in this situation, and how should it guide what I say? Third, I must consider the process ("that it may benefit those who listen"). I am not just spouting off. My communication should have a redemptive purpose; it should benefit the listener.
Frankly, in our own strength, none of us are this nice! Sin makes us intensely selfish people. We instinctively think about our own needs and wants. We are primarily committed to our own welfare. But as we humbly admit our selfishness, we can begin to appreciate and rely upon the enabling grace of Christ. He has broken the mastery of our sinful passions and desires. He does equip us by His Spirit to speak as his ambassadors. We can speak out of a commitment to serve others in love.
5. Winning the war means speaking "in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25) . Keeping in step with the Spirit means speaking in a way that reflects his work in me and encourages His work in you. In this passage the Spirit's work is made quite clear. He is working to produce in us a harvest consistent with the character of Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As an act of faith and submission, I hold my speaking up to the standard of this fruit. I look at difficult situations as God-given opportunities to see this fruit mature in me. Problems are not obstacles to the development of this fruit, but opportunities to see it grow.
6. Winning the war means speaking with a goal to restore (Galatians 6:1-2). Paul says, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently …" Let's be sure we understand these words. Notice first that Paul does not say, "If you catch someone in a sin …" He is not talking about sneaking up on someone to catch him in the act! Rather, he is talking about how we as sinners get "caught"—that is, entrapped and ensnared in sin.
Paul then says, "You who are spiritual should restore him gently." Is he talking about some super-spiritual elite corps of restorers? No, not at all! This word "spiritual" is not being used to refer only to a biblically mature person. It really embraces every believer. It is referring back to Galatians 5:25, where Paul said that we are to "keep in step with the Spirit," that is, to be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing in us and others. When we are "keeping in step with the Spirit" we position ourselves to serve as his restorers. All of us, if we are living lives worthy of our calling, are positioning ourselves to be God's agents of rescue and restoration.
Winning the war means choosing our words carefully. We do not want to give any room in our talk to the passions and desires of the sinful nature. In our own conceit and envy, we do not want to provoke one another to sin. We do not want to bite and devour one another with words. Rather, we are committed to serve one another in love with all of our talk. We want to speak in step with what the Spirit is producing in us and in others. We want to speak in a way that encourages the growth of that fruit. Finally, we want to speak as gentle, humble agents of restoration, as burden-bearers committed to live by Christ's rule of love.
What radical revival, reconciliation, and restoration would result if we carried this call into every relationship in our lives! How different things would be if we were consistently committed to this kind of communication! How transformed our relationships would be if we spoke to one another with words of redemption! A commitment to winning the war of words calls us to choose our words well.
Adapted by permission from War of Words, by Paul David Tripp, P&R Publishing, 2001.
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