“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth. From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:14, 16)
Ever since the fall, we have struggled with words. Of course, many won’t admit this, but if you recognize, like the Bible writers, that there is still a war of words going on in your life, then you will realize your desperate need for cleansing and renewal in your speech.
Many of us may not realise why there is such an urgent need for this. Since we are made in the image of God – and God is a God who speaks – our speech is meant to reflect the moral qualities of our Creator. It is also meant to be consistent with His purpose of bringing blessing to the whole creation. In some ways, speech is God’s greatest gift to us and the tragic thing about sin is that always ruins what is best in us. This is why both prophets and apostles remind us constantly that our speech needs to be cleaned up.
This is made clear in the account of the prophet Isaiah’s call. Isaiah realized his own depravity when he reflected on the words that came out of his mouth. “I am ruined,” he said, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” (Isa 6:5). James also puts his finger on the problem when he says that the human tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas 3:7-8).
When prophets and apostles describe our speech in these ways they are telling us that our communication problems cannot be dealt with in a superficial way. If we want our speech renewed, then something radical has to be done. Learning some new communication technique is not enough; nor is changing where we live, or work or socialize. The painful truth is that our communication must be cleansed at the deepest level of the heart.
But how? Isaiah gives us a clue when he says that “one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘see, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’ ” (Isa 6:6). Cleaning up our speech begins when our sin is forgiven through an atonement provided by God.
The question is: “How do we receive this?” The apostle John gives us a clue when he tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The early church fathers saw this reference to the incarnation of the Great Speaker as our only hope. The Word was born as a man to die in the place of sinners so that He could redeem us. St Athanasius puts it like this: “When a king founds a city which is then beset by bandits, he reclaims his work. In the same way, God the Word does not abandon the human race, which is His work. Instead, He blots out the death that arises from sin by offering His own body; corrects us by His own teaching, and then restores all that was ours by His own power.” (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei)
Here is the solution to our communication problems: Christ has come not only to forgive our sins of speech, but also to teach us how to speak aright and to give us the power to do it.