You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that one of the most damaging dynamics in personal relationships is unleashed by the hurtful things that we say to each other. We all have a dragon in our dentures that is flat out hard to get under control. Itemizing the major categories of destructive speech is not a hard task. Gossip, slander, and lying always make it to the top of our “most wanted” list of speech criminals. But there are some additional troublemakers lurking in the dark corners of our wicked little hearts.
One of these stealth tigers in your tongue is “contentious words.”
I recall watching a butcher prepare a chicken for selling at the market. His sharp cleaver chopped away with well-timed strokes until the bird lay in a pile of pieces. Contentious words are just like that. They are the meat cleaver of relationships. They have the power to tear friends and family apart until there’s not much left. I suppose that’s why someone “who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Proverbs 6:19) makes the infamous list of things the Lord hates.
Contentious hearts look for things to criticize and for opportunities to tear down a person, program, or idea. They destroy the essential commodities of happy and productive relationships. When we unleash a volley of contentious verbiage, things like trust, thinking the best of each other, and loving attitudes all get buried under our contentious words.
It’s no wonder that Paul warned the Christians in Galatia about the danger of this kind of talk. He wrote, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).
The damage of contentious talk becomes especially significant when we remember that our relationships with each other are pictured in Scripture as the body of Christ. As Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 12, followers of Jesus are meant to be working as one, in cooperative harmony. Have you ever seen a body divided into several parts but still functioning well? Division destroys the reflection of God’s love among us and the power of His unity through us. Words that work against our unity as His body are the meat cleavers in Satan’s hand.
The joyful unity that is enhanced by eliminating contentious speech is vital to the good health of our homes as well. When we refuse to let contentious words pollute the atmosphere of our marriage, God preserves the power of our home to be a living picture of Christ’s relationship to us as His bride (Ephesians 5: 1-33). He never divides Himself from His bride. His unconditional love, patience, tolerance of our weaknesses, and acceptance are all factors that draw us into a positive relationship with Him. His words to the church promote healing and growth. A home where love prevails over contention is a powerful testimony to God’s unifying love for us.
Let’s face it: divisive words among God’s people give Satan a tremendous advantage in stifling God’s purpose and power through our lives. Our usefulness, joy, peace, and loving unity are all at risk when our tongues get out of control.
I’m quite sure that Satan didn’t coin the phrase “divide and conquer.” But he sure knows how to get the job done when he has our words under his control.
– Be honest: Are you prone to use words to sow discord, or are you among the blessed few who use their words to heal, help, and encourage?
– Memorize Paul’s timeless advice in Ephesians 4:29: “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.”
– Plan today to target a significant relationship, which you may be tempted to poison with contentious words, and then be intentional about pouring loving words into that person’s heart.
– Make this your prayer: “Lord, speak to me about the way I speak to others.”