Words are weapons. They are either weapons used in the service of God and His kingdom—weapons that are brandished in love for God and our neighbor—or they are weapons used in the service of the kingdom of this fallen and sinful world—weapons wielded in love of self and hatred of God and neighbor. This is simply the reality of what words are. In our current context, this reality powerfully confronts us, and we struggle with how to wield our words. We live in the middle of a swirling vortex of political conflict, social unrest, clashing values systems, a culture war, and a global pandemic, and the power of words as weapons through social media has been exponentially increased. Through the means of various forms of social media, words as weapons are used to mobilize, encourage, scare, advocate, anger, inform, judge, punish, reward, lament, and rejoice, and all on a massive scale and with dizzying speed. How do we navigate through this daunting and sometimes overwhelming reality, and how do we ourselves wield a weapon like this that is powerful and so easily and readily available?
The ninth commandment (Ex. 20:16; Deut. 5:20) speaks into this reality and shows us the way forward, and it shows us the gospel for life. It says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This is courtroom language, where one can serve as a witness who brings testimony that is false and brings harm and even death to another person. The commandment is stated negatively (what God calls us not to do) but it can also be stated positively (what God wants us to do). Throughout Scripture, God calls us to protect, build up, restore, and heal others with our words. Read through Proverbs (especially chs.12–14) to see how words are to bring life and not death, to be used by the wise in contrast to their use by the fool. Our words are to be gracious, seasoned with salt (Col. 4:5–6); they are to be truth and they are to build up, as fits the occasion, that they may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:25–32).
The way we use our words reveals our hearts, it reveals the kingdom values that govern us, and it reveals the principle of life that animates us and forms and directs our hearts. A saltwater spring or a freshwater spring, a good tree or a bad tree, a heart that is earthly or fleshly—operating according to the principles and practices of fallen Adam—or a heart that is heavenly and spiritual—redeemed in Christ and renewed by the Holy Spirit and operating by the principles and practices of the new life we have in Jesus Christ. In the ninth commandment, God essentially says, “Because this is who I am—the almighty God who deeply and dearly loves you and who has saved you and made you His own people—this is how you must use your words when you walk with me: Your words are to be spoken in love, and they are to protect and promote life and true human flourishing.”
Here we need to brutally and honestly confront and work through our use of words as weapons. Is it possible—in what we believe to be service to Jesus Christ in the new life we have in Him—that the use of our words actually operates on the principles of a kingdom opposed to Jesus Christ and the way of the Spirit? If you could spread a lie, promote a false narrative, break someone down, or promote hatred of someone who is opposed to the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and in doing that you would achieve an end that was good for Christians or for the church, would you? If it meant the right politician got into power, would you do it? If they had accomplished your goal, would you care about your words if you found out after the fact that what you said was wrong or harmful?
Perhaps your response is that mainstream media is liberal and anti-Christian, that the dominant popular culture—social media influencers, athletes, and entertainers—don’t have a problem doing the same thing. They promote a narrative and social climate that affirms and even absolutizes their views of science and faith, human sexuality, gender identity, and abortion rights, and they brutally cancel those who hold to the teaching of Scripture in these areas. And you’re right; they do.
That doesn’t change our responsibility to be wise and careful with our words, for they not only reflect what is in our hearts, but they can also, if used foolishly and carelessly, change and distort our hearts, dishonor God, hate our neighbors, and ultimately promote the cause of Satan’s kingdom. James speaks of the tongue as lit by the fire of hell, a world of evil or unrighteousness, a restless evil (James 3:6, 9). If, in fighting the good fight, we begin to look like the world in our use of words—if we become saltless salt and lightless light—what purpose do we have in the kingdom? We may be fighting for Christ but not have the spirit of Christ.
To be clear, this is not about being a mild-mannered pushover, about being passive, about not speaking, and it is not for the faint of heart. It will require a courage we may not think that we have. Some of you are reading this right now and have so identified your way of speaking with the cause of Christ that you cannot imagine that you could be wrong. This way of speaking has provided you with purpose, comfort, and a community. It will take courage for us to examine our hearts, to test the spirits, and to change our source of comfort. It will take courage to step away from the community of like-minded speakers who have liked our posts. Some of us have been keeping our heads down and contenting ourselves with not speaking at all and leaving no digital footprint. It will take courage for us to learn how to speak and leave a positive gospel-shaped digital footprint as you walk forward in Christ.
In this moment—when words have so much power, both against us and in our hands—we may feel small, powerless, threatened, and overwhelmed, and there is such a temptation to find our hope in the use of our words as weapons. In the ninth commandment, God tells us what it looks like to follow Him in the use of our words, and that means that our hope is not about winning the battle with our words but about belonging to Him. In this moment, our hope is in Jesus Christ, the One who loves us and who has already won the battle. The gospel message of King Jesus necessarily defines the way we use our words as weapons. All that energy and power of our words is now controlled by the principle of new kingdom life in Christ and so must be in step with the Spirit. Let us step forward as those who belong to the King and speak in hope—secure, unafraid, and at rest in the knowledge of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us use our words with the accent of heaven.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 18, 2021.