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Your Words: Do They Start Fires or Heal Hearts?

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
We need to understand how our careless words have the potential to devastate and destroy others.

Family Counseling Ministries   -

Do you know someone who can’t seem to get control of his or her tongue? Do you personally struggle with gossiping, criticizing, speaking careless words that tear down rather than build up? In the first of four articles on the power of edifying speech, Dr. Don Dunlap discusses biblical ways to practically tame the tongue.

Words that are carelessly spoken can be devastating and destructive. Katie was a woman in our congregation who delighted in being the first to tell the latest tidbits of news to other people in the church. As soon as she heard, for example, that a couple had filed for a divorce, Katie phoned fellow church members as quickly as she could to tell them the scoop.

Katie wanted to be the first one to spread the news—both good and bad.

Or if a husband and wife discovered that they were expecting a baby they knew that the best way to get their good tidings out was to tell Katie. They could count on everyone knowing the news within hours. She seldom got her facts straight, however, and she often created a lot of confusion. She frequently exaggerated and “stretched the truth” in such a way that tended to render the actual story unrecognizable.

What made matters even worse was that Katie was an inattentive listener. She was easily distracted, and felt free to interrupt or whisper loudly when someone else was talking.


If she couldn’t ascertain all the facts pertaining to a “late-breaking” incident, she made them up. She used her vivid imagination to fill in all the sketchy details. Katie soon became known as a troublemaker, and someone to avoid.


She began to get a picture of the damage she had done with her careless words.

The day arrived when I, as her pastor, was compelled to confront her on the sinful use of her tongue. I began our meeting by telling Katie that I appreciated her enthusiastic desire to communicate with other church members. I explained, however, that I wanted to help her learn how to love them more effectively, by speaking only words that edify and uplift others.

I reminded Katie that God will one day require each one of us to give an account for every word that we have ever spoken. I read her Matthew 12:35,36,

The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.

I saw that I had Katie’s attention.

She expressed a willingness to learn to speak in a way that honored God, and edified other people.

I continued by reading the command in Ephesians 4:29,

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.


I encouraged Katie to examine her heart before God, to see if she had been guilty of speaking words that were inaccurate, critical, exaggerated, or unwholesome.


I concluded our first meeting by reading 2 Timothy 2:16, 17,

But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.

I assured Katie that I knew she did not want to intentionally harm the body of Christ, by speaking to fellow Believers in a way that displeased God. I told her that if she was willing to learn the steps to tame her tongue, God would grant her the grace to apply the truths to her daily life. She agreed to meet with me for several weeks to learn a biblical definition of “gossip,” and to study material related to giving good reports, and speaking words of edification.


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