The Importance of Words

Colossians 3:16–17 holds an important truth: “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (emphasis added). Couples are to teach and counsel each other in the context of their marriage. They should be learning from each other and growing in the grace of God together. After all, they’re on the same team, made one by the vows exchanged in the presence of God and others.

That, I know, is easier said than done. Too often our tongues get us into trouble. There is a story that illustrates this point perfectly:

A man with six children was proud of his “achievement” and developed the habit of referring to his wife as “mother of six.” Much to his wife’s chagrin, he never called her “honey,” “sweetheart,” or “darling,” even when they were out in public. One night at a dinner party, when it was time to leave, the man called loudly to his wife, “It is time to go home, mother of six,” to which his exasperated bride answered, “Whenever you’re ready, father of four.”

Yes, “the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity . . . and sets on fire the course of our life” (James 3:6, NASB). Who among us has never had poorly chosen words get away from us? Unfortunately, we all do that from time to time. As Scripture warns us, “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” (Prov. 18:21). That is key to the marriage relationship. With your tongue, you can bless or curse your spouse, build up or tear down, encourage or discourage. Its power is remarkable and even frightening. Never forget this sober truth about your words: What you say to and about your mate will soon become what is believed.

Repeated often enough, words become truth to not only the one who speaks them, but also to those who hear them. Do you remember the early days of your marriage, how sweetly you and your spouse spoke to each other? If you’re like many other couples, you probably developed a pet name just for your own use. Maybe you started calling each other “honey” or “baby,” or maybe you were more creative and came up with something gooey, like “sugar bunny” or “snookie-poo.” The term chosen really doesn’t matter. The point is, it is a term of endearment exclusive to your spouse. When spoken, it evokes feelings of warmth and belonging.

Unfortunately and far too often, those warm, fuzzy feelings fade, and before long, “sugar bunny” has become the “old lady,” and “snookie-poo” is the “good-for-nothing loafer.” With the change in words comes a shift of perspective. What we say is vitally important to the long-term health and stability of our marriage.

Think about it this way: When your spouse is going to meet your coworkers for the first time, they should be expecting to meet someone special because of the words you have spoken about him or her. But men, if you constantly talk about the “old ball and chain,” what do you expect your fellow workers to see when they finally meet your wife? Or ladies, what will your friends see when they meet the “couch potato” for the first time? It won’t be a knight in shining armor, will it?

The words that husband and wife speak to each other in their home become a self- fulfilling prophecy. Call someone a ball and chain often enough and that’s exactly what they’ll soon seem like to you—and maybe even to them too. Call your spouse “love of my life” and soon enough that’s what they’ll be in your eyes and theirs too. You see, your words determine your perspective. Ask yourself today, “Am I speaking life, or am I speaking death into my marriage?”

If you’ve fallen into the habit of speaking to or about your spouse in a derogatory way (even in “fun”), change that pattern today. As Philippians 4:8 instructs us, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” How can you do this? Well, for starters, men, have you ever considered that the “old ball and chain” has kept you from wandering outside of God’s will? That’s an admirable thought worthy of giving God praise. Ladies, are you aware that the “couch potato” is at least parked on your couch and not on a barstool somewhere? That is a true thought to defuse resentment that builds when your husband doesn’t measure up to your expectations.

Men and women of God, you will see in your spouse what your tongue has spoken about them. Put on the bond of perfection, which is love, and your marriage can be a great marriage. There are enough difficulties brought on by life without creating more by speaking silly or disrespectful words over your spouse. Remember what Proverbs 11:29 admonishes: “He who troubles his own house will inherit wind, and the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted” (NASB).

All this also holds true for singles who are dating. The man or woman who is critical of others when with you will likely become critical to others about you should you someday say “I do.” Keep that in mind. If you want to test the possibility of change, then speak an encouraging word to them and see how they respond. If they change, there is hope; if not, you may be dealing with someone who struggles with pride or with an unteachable spirit. Remember, none of us are perfect, but don’t settle for a project when you should be waiting for a product. If ungodly behavior is part of a person’s makeup now, it is unlikely to improve after marriage. To be sure, we all grow in our relationship with the Lord, but when contemplating marriage, you should have an expectation of basic Christian behavior now, not the hope that it will develop later.

Excerpt from “Happily… Even After” now available on Amazon.

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