What does it mean that “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21)? How can you as a Christian communicate in a way that spreads life to those who hear you? Believe it not, having effective communication is not just for pastors and leaders in the church, it is an essential quality of the godly person. In our series on godly character, we have looked at our reputation, our passion, our thinking, our appetites, our dignity, and our responsiveness to needs. This time, we want to look at, or rather listen to, our speech. Scripture tells us to be “able to teach.”
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”1 Timothy 3:1-7
Many will be averse to this characteristic for at least two reasons. First, it appears in a list of qualifications for pastors, and you are not a pastor or a candidate for eldership. Second, the idea of public speaking is crippling, and you would rather play the background. I get it. But, this characteristic is not exclusively for pastors (learn why) nor is it about public speaking. It is about building a speech that instructs and is tempered with quality language.
What Does “Able to Teach” Mean?
Words are fundamental to our existence. God created the universe by His Word (Heb. 11:3). He sustains it by His word (Heb. 1:3). And, He designed us to live “by everything that proceeds out of His mouth” (Deut. 8:3).
Words are also essential to our lives. We use them to learn, to govern, to relate, and to instruct. Even those who cannot audibly speak, form words with their hands. We can’t escape communication. It is woven into every part of our lives.
So, it should come to no surprise that our words define us more than most things by revealing the condition of our heart. “Out of the abundance of the heart a man speaks” (Lk. 6:45). It should be obvious why our speech is so critical to our godliness.
In the original language, the phrase “able to teach” refers to the skill of articulating and applying the truth of God with clarity and fruitfulness. It literally means to possess the ability to communicate with the intention to teach. It causes us to recognize that we must be actively learning from reliable sources, applying what we learn to our lives, and developing a love for others who need to know what we learn. It also requires us to speak when truth is unpopular. This is particularly challenging in our day, but necessary and helpful. Furthermore, because it seeks to speak truth to others, it requires us to renounce forms of speech that are inappropriate for us to use.
Consider the importance of this skill within your various spheres of influence. If you are a father, think about how the content of your speech and the manner in which you deliver affect your children. If you are married, ask yourself if you are speaking with truth that is delivered with gentleness and love. If you manage other adults, consider how your communication is received by them. Are you speaking the truth? And, are you speaking truth in a way that is clear and fruitful?
Here are five ways to build a powerful speech.
Improvement in your speech begins with improvement to your mind. It is not only that you want to grow your vocabulary, but more importantly, that you grow your understanding of God’s truth. Having a consistent Bible study will help you. You may also want to enroll in some classes to further your education. Find good teaching and keep learning.
Be diligent about putting the truth you learn into practice and work on fine tuning your lifestyle. Truth is better received from those who are currently living it out. This will also enhance your understanding of it. Furthermore, regularly teach others. There are many in your sphere of influence that will listen to you like your children, your wife, your friends, your coworkers. And, if you are fortunate enough, teach others in the church as opportunities to lead arise. Teaching will help your understanding and living.
There are a lot of people who are giving their personal advice and much of it is inconsistent with God’s truth. So, when you hear of falsehoods, speak up and let the truth be known. By this, I don’t mean for you to become a watchdog, but for you to become a light when darkness overshadows. And, the more you speak up, the more you will reveal your own lack of understanding and position yourself to be corrected and grow more.
Later in the same book of the Bible, the apostle Paul tells Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching, for by doing so, you will save yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). It’s important to keep an eye and ear on your life and your words since they both influence those around you. Not only should your behavior line up with the truth you profess, but your speech itself should be full of words that are appropriate for your teaching. A coarse word could ruin the content of your speech.
You will be held accountable to God for how you use your words. Remember that God sees and hears everything you do and say. You are living life before Him. So, remember that first and foremost, God is your audience before anyone else is. Others will be informed and influenced by your words, but God is the supreme judge of what you say. So speak in a way that glorifies God, knowing that you will one day give an account to Him.