Our words hold more power than we realize. Words can heal. They can restore. They can breathe life. But they can also destroy. They can make us feel unnecessary guilt or pain. They can destroy a person’s confidence and sometimes even their faith. Our words hold the power of life and death. So are we building up? Or are we tearing down?
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul speaks on this very issue. He tells us that Jesus Christ should be our foundation, both corporately as the church but also individually. We have the responsibility as believers who are working in the Kingdom to build upon that foundation. We teach, we correct, and we help others grow in their faith.
…You are God’s building. Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 (NLT)
You see, the body of Christ is meant to grow and mature. Its purpose is to be strengthened and glorified. Yet so often, I see people within the body tearing each other down. We argue and disagree. We speak poorly about each other and to each other. When God calls us to edify and to build, we offend and criticize.
God is in the business of building up, and we are called to do the same.
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. – 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NLT)
In the early church there was a strong disagreement between the Jews who were converting to Christianity and the new Gentile believers. The issue at hand was none other than food. The Jews believed that they still had to honor the Mosaic Law and avoid certain meats, but the Gentiles were never under the Law so they felt no remorse over what they ate. This disagreement was tearing away at the body of Christ. It was causing disunity and above all, people were growing cruel over the issue. Paul addressed it directly in his letter to the Romans:
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. – Romans 14:17-20 (NLT)
It didn’t matter who was right or wrong. What mattered was how the church was treating the issue. They were tearing down instead of building up. As Paul said, our goal should be to “aim for harmony.” We won’t always agree, but we don’t have to be cruel.
As we serve God, never forget that the goal is growth. If God is in the business of building, than we should be as well. As we strive to build each other up, let’s choose to use the proper building materials – prayer, God’s Word, words of encouragement, acts of service, etc. And always speak the truth in love with a sincere heart. (On a side note: I think when Paul spoke of building with straw or hay he meant telling others what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. In that way, we appear to be building, but we aren’t building with proper materials. Even if we have good intentions, our building won’t be able to stand the heat. I’m reminded of the “Three Little Pigs.” They all had houses that stood for a time, but only one was strong enough to endure.)
Remember, our words hold a great deal of power. In all things (even an argument) choose to speak life, not death.