Editor's Note: This post is Part 5 of a 5-part series entitled, "Using Your Words Wisely." Click to read previous posts in the series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
If you want to have any control over your tongue, the content of the Bible must become the constant meditations of your thought life. In Philippians 4:8 Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
The operative word is “think.” Paul knows that the real engine room of all that you and I say is the mind. You must turn your thoughts into fighters if you want to speak life. You have to fight for every single thought (1 Corinthians 10:5). You want to bring your thoughts under subjection. Capture them for Christ and for your obedience to him as your Captain and King. Marshall your thoughts as soldiers in the fight against sin and for holiness. Your mind space is akin to extraordinarily valuable real estate—real estate that you have to fight for. This is the most important real estate you have.
Turn Your Thoughts into Fighters
The mind is a great invisible battlefield. If you don’t line up the Word of God against your sinful impulses, you will utterly fail in the Christian life—which, as an aside, means you’ll continue to hurt people with your words. You must get a considerable measure of Bible into your system if you’re going to have a fighting chance on the battlefield of the mind. Memorize Scripture. Listen to Scripture. Read Scripture. Hear Scripture preached. Pray Scripture.
When tempted in the desert, Jesus met Satan at every impasse with basic Bible passages. That’s how he fought temptation. Therefore, you too must employ your thoughts as Legionnaires against your sin. Put them to work in the trenches, and feed your ranks with Bible. But to the converse, you’ll undoubtedly live an anemic Christian life if you treat your thought life flippantly. If you are going to succeed in speaking life into other’s lives, you must take your thought life as seriously as Paul does in Philippians 4:8.
If you are going to live like you are saved, you must fight with your thoughts AND for your thoughts. It’s at that subconscious level that we either win or lose the battle. As covered in the first post, there is no such thing as a neutral word and therefore no neutral thoughts, either.
In the text, Paul is intentionally repetitive with the word “whatever.” He fires off eight different characteristics, which all exemplify a Christ-like mind. These characteristics are the rightful inhabitants of the valuable mental real estate I referenced earlier: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, commendableness, excellence, and that which is worthy of praise; these are all habits of the mind that should permeate your thoughts. Paul goes into the imperative mood with “think” or “dwell” on these things.
Paul knows that deeds—and for our purpose words—all naturally follow our thought patterns. You could say “as goes the brain, so goes the body.” Paul wants to get our minds right, because if our minds habitually focus on the characteristics of Christ laid out by Paul, then our words will naturally follow. This is where the principle of Matthew 12:34 (“out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”) is seen. When the reality that your true address is on high in heaven with Christ, then you will think, live and talk as such here on earth (Colossians 3:1).
Because of Christ’s defeat of sin at the cross, you, in turn, don’t have to live under the death blade of the battle with Satan any longer. You have the Spirit of Almighty God dwelling in you and through the Scriptures; He is transforming you into the image of His Son.
Thinking Drives Talking
If you constantly think of yourself in vain, narcissistic, prideful ways, it is neither “honorable” nor “praiseworthy.” That is not what Jesus meant when he said, “If you want to gain your life, you have to lose it” (Matthew 16:25). In your mind, then, you have to begin to slowly replace your narcissism with thoughts and plans to serve others. Your words will then follow and show kindness, care, and love.
If you struggle with lust, your mouth will likely be filled with inappropriate jesting. This should chasten you to guard your mind by guarding the gates of your mind—your eyes. Exchange unwholesome TV shows, music, and images for wholesome God-honoring entertainment. You will find that the unwholesome jesting will dry up on its own. You’ll begin to speak with courtesy and kindness. You want the soundtrack to your life to be biblically themed. When that happens you’ll find that your focus is centered on “pure” and “lovely” things.
Let’s talk about “excellence” for a moment. If you are in a work environment and your habit is to cut corners, try to cover up mistakes, not show up on time, or if you work with a noticeably bad attitude, then begin to meditate on the good gift of work. Ask the Lord that he give you contentment in your work. And when God changes your heart, you’ll be able to rejoice as Paul tells us to here in this passage.
The quickest way to eliminate slander is to focus on that which is “commendable” in others. If you focus on the bad in people, what do you think is going to happen? You’ll slander them. Practice affirmation in your mind and heart, and then do it. Say it!
Tips for Your Talk
Conformity to Christ is soul-bending work. It’s a commitment to daily warfare. As we come to the end of these five posts, I want to try to put five tips for your talk into your pack that you might take with you. We want to work in Jesus’ work by reading the Word, trusting God to change us, and then be doers of the Word by changing our words to his kind of words.
- There’s no such thing as a neutral word: Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Every word you say is an investment of life or death in the ears and hearts of your hearers. Thus, it’s not hyperbole to say you’ve yet to speak a neutral word in this life! Remember that. It just might help you consider what you ought to say and what you ought not to.
- Pressure squeezes out the real you: Pressure has a way of testing you and drawing out of you what was always sitting just under the surface. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:24), so you will be squeezed and tempted to sin verbally when the pressure is turned up at work, with your spouse, your parents, or fellow church members. Be watchful and on guard. You know it’s coming.
- Be slow to speak. That’s just good biblical smarts, isn’t it? When you’re surfing the waves of social media, be thoughtful. Are you going to help anyone’s sanctification if you post this? Do I need to verbalize what’s skiing through my head right now? Do you stand to lose more by saying this, than you stand to lose by not saying it? Take time to consider the fact that every word you’re about to speak is going on record in heaven (Matthew 12:33-37). I am an off-the-charts extrovert, so I take this statement very seriously. I regularly have to tell myself, “Stop talking so much, Sam.” Calculate, love, and seriously consider what you are saying. Be slow to speak.
- Fill your mouth with something else: Paul’s logic in Colossians 3 is that Christians should empty their lives of godlessness and fill them with Christlikeness. In essence, his argument is to fill your mouth with something else: thankfulness instead of greed, slander, and covetousness; prayer instead of venom, malice, and crude joking; singing, affirmation of others, and encouragement instead of slander and negativity.
- Watch your mental diet: The most important principle to remember in this fight is that you watch your mental diet. Draw out good treasure from your converted heart. You probably need to clean out some things you have downloaded to your iTunes library or YouTube account. That’s Christian repentance and discipline, not legalism. If it is in no way honorable, true, praiseworthy, lovely, commendable or excellent, delete it! This isn’t hard: “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). What is digested and meditated on in your mind finds its way out in your talk. Guard your heart for it is the engine room of your whole being.
You overcome sin when you address it with the truth of the Word, so speak truth to your mental impulses. Think through what you are tempted to say and then diagnose it. “Is this lovely?” “Is this pure?” “Is this honoring to God?” “Is what I am about to say commendable?”
Remember, Christian, you are a combatant. So do combat with your sin. Take every thought captive. And when you’ve come to the end of your war with sin—you will be buried on that battlefield—you will rise in the presence of the Master of your fate, the Captain of your soul, Jesus Christ.